Young. Fast. Athletic as hell. That's not a bad place for a young player to build from, especially if he shows that he has some of the tools needed to be effective at his position, even if they are a little raw.
Enter Jordon Ibe.
The 18 year old English winger joined Liverpool two and a half years ago in January of 2012, and immediately became one of the Academy's brightest stars, right up with the likes of Raheem Sterling in terms of pure talent. Ibe has taken a little longer to develop than Sterling has, but that's hardly shocking compared to Sterling's meteoric rise; Ibe is still on a fast track relative to most other young wingers like him, and made his senior squad debut last season, grabbing the assist in a 1-0 win over QPR in the last match of the campaign.
This season saw many fans piling hopes on to Ibe, looking to him as the next great thing from the Academy after Sterling got his first long run out with the team the year before. He frequently made the bench early in the season, but his only appearance in that time was when he played the full match in an extra time League Cup win over Nottingham County in August, where he grabbed another assist on Jordan Henderson's tie-sealing goal in the 110th minute.
Outside of Reserve League play, where Ibe put in five strong performances, the youngster only saw a few more minutes with Liverpool, coming in January at the end of the blowout win over Arsenal. A few weeks later, he was off to Birmingham City and the Championship on loan, where he played eleven matches, got a goal and an assist, and helped his temporary squad stave off relegation. All in all, Ibe's brief loan to Birmingham was a success, and he was rewarded with a start against lowly Shamrock Rovers in yesterday's post-season friendly/new away kit showoff session.
Even considering the dramatically lower level of competition involved, Ibe put on one heck of a display against the Irish side. Ibe consistently blew past whichever poor schlub was assigned the task of marking him, but he wasn't just making blind runs for the sake of making runs as we so often see in young wingers. Instead, he was making smart runs, driving at the box and in to areas where he'd be able to put in a ball to a teammate in position to score or further distribute the ball in to dangerous areas. He showed off a sweet little chipped cross on a number of occasions that twisted around defenders and served both Fabio Borini and Iago Aspas well to do their job with.
He also made a number of excellent runs without the ball, arriving around the six yard box to pounce on through balls and rebounds. Unfortunately, Ibe's finishing let him down at every asking, but with everything else he put on display, that can be forgiven. He had an eye-opening performance yesterday, and was very deservedly named the Man of the Match for his display.
What happens next for Ibe is up for debate. Considering where he is in his development process, a loan to get consistent starts and playing time would be best for him. He won't get enough minutes with the first team to get that time and would risk stagnating and becoming a wasted talent if he stays. Some point to Raheem Sterling's breakthrough with the first team as reason to keep him, but Sterling is the exception, not the rule; the relative quality of the squad gave him the opportunity for much more playing time than Ibe would have, who would be held back in no small part because of Sterling.
Either way, Ibe looks to have a bright future ahead of him. For the time being, sit back and enjoy the highlights of his Irish holiday yesterday.