One of the most promising names to come out of Liverpool's academy in the past ten years, Martin Kelly has at his best looked a threat to Glen Johnson's job at right back and a future anchor in the middle of defence. There's only been one thing stopping him from ever quite living up to the expectations engendered by the promise that, when he plays, he appears very capable of fulfilling: his inability to ever stay fit for very long.
Unfortunately for Kelly, his injury record has been as terrible as his promise has been evident, and he's missed more football than he's played over the past few seasons. After spending more than a full calendar year out of contention following a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament suffered against Manchester United last autumn, though, Kelly insists he's ready to do more than make the odd appearance with Liverpool's U21reserve side.
"I’m feeling a lot sharper," he told the Liverpool Echo. "I’ve been doing some additional training over the past few weeks and I’m ready to push on. It has taken longer than I hoped to get back to this level but that’s been brought on by us not being in the Europa League or having much of a run in the League Cup. It’s been difficult to get game time as the manager has to pick his best XI to start every game [but] I was just made up to get on against West Ham and now I need to keep progressing."
Injuries of the sort Kelly suffered can take a long time to recover from, but even accepting that, he has been sidelined for a worryingly long time, and that he's been largely stuck at the reserve level ever since returning is a further concern given Liverpool's injury depleted fullback position. Still, Kelly is looking on the bright side, and believes the time spent with Liverpool's U21 side has been just what he needed to get back to fitness—but that now he really is back and ready to contribute.
"I’ve been working hard and I feel a lot fitter than back in pre-season," he insisted. "I don’t think there’s been a mental barrier to get through as such, it’s more about not feeling as sharp as I wanted. Ask anyone who has had a long-term injury and they’ll tell you it’s tough to get back to that level you were at before the injury. It takes time and it comes back slowly. Now I’m back nearly to peak fitness and I’m ready to go."
Somewhat surprisingly, his latest return to action came at left back as a replacement for Jon Flanagan in the dying minutes of Liverpool's win over West Ham on the weekend. Given Kelly was always seen as a future centre half in his academy days and has only ever filled in at right back at the senior level, having the right footer making his return on the left seemed an odd choice. Kelly, though, insisted he was just happy for the chance.
"I'm happy playing anywhere across the back four for Liverpool," he said. "I’ll just concentrate on my own fitness and do all the extra work I can. It’s a case of biding my time, being patient and making sure that when the manager gives me another opportunity I am ready to take it."
It seems unlikely that Brendan Rodgers would throw Kelly into the starting lineup to face Tottenham on Sunday, but a home date against Cardiff on December 21st could be his chance to impress before a tough pair of away fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea round out the month and year.