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Young Turks

With a trio of shiny targets to aim at, Liverpool's young stars continue their bid for glory in Turkey tonight, with Jordon Ibe and Raheem Sterling hoping to be the focus of fans' praise.

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RS: "It's really not difficult to put the bib on properly, Mario." MB: "Look mate, I've got a cool 'tache, don't disrespect me."
RS: "It's really not difficult to put the bib on properly, Mario." MB: "Look mate, I've got a cool 'tache, don't disrespect me."
Julian Finney/Getty Images

'Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí,' is an old proverb in my native Gaelic tongue. Considerately translated, for fear of unfortunate idiomatic allusions, it means, praise the youth and it will flourish. This delightfully idealistic hypothesis was clearly conceived in a more grounded time, when a clip around the ear was a far more common parental gesture. Even in the 1980s of my own youth, I recall a different climate in which approbation was a rare commodity, hard earned. Once, after I had scissor-kicked home from 20 yards, my brother and I celebrated wildly. My father, embarrassed by this display of mutual admiration, disapprovingly admonished us for "praising each other." Cheers Dad. Definitely no resultant issues from that type of thing. Nope.

These days, by marked contrast, many parents, guilt-ridden by their physical and emotional absence from the lives of their offspring, often overcompensate by baselessly insisting to them that they can be the Astronaut President of the World, if that's what their little heart desires. An entire generation is growing up with a blithe self-delusion about their potential and the attendant sense of expectation can be shocking to behold. In sport, however, only excellence can prevail, but that does not negate the value of occasional positive reinforcement from those entrusted with guidance.

Empty praise, as suggested earlier, is utterly pointless, but even justifiable commendation is incomplete without a display of trust in the young people in question. Not even his most feral critic could deny that Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers has lavished an abundance of both plaudits and faith upon the young footballers of Liverpool Football Club. Since the beginning of his tenure, the manager has shown considerable bravery and conviction in his belief in the old adage that if you're good enough, you're old enough. The list of beneficiaries over almost three seasons, from Raheem Sterling to Jordon Ibe, is extensive but the club has been the major winner with an admirable raft of youthful talent now forming the bulk of the first team squad.

As the manager looks to guide his charges past the considerable obstacle posed by Besiktas in tonight's second leg Europa League tie, he is quick to acknowledge the magnitude of the task and the resonance of the location but there is a purposeful mention of the excellence of those young footballers, whose own resilience and spry joie de vivre has been central to the dramatic turnaround in the club's fortunes.

"It was an historic night for the club and everyone associated with Liverpool respects that," Rodgers insisted. "Of course, it was a little while ago and there won't be too many of our players that were involved at that time. But certainly it is a really iconic stadium for the club and a big part of that history. For us to go there and play with a lot of young players and a new squad, against a good team, we'll look forward to. It's a big pitch, which suits our style. If you look at the size of the field, in terms of the Premier League it would be the third-biggest pitch. So in terms of the pace that we have in our team, and the movement and technical players that we have, the pitch should suit us quite well."

The young player most associated with Rodgers' reign has been Raheem Sterling. From the cringeworthy altercation on an American training pitch captured in the infamous Being: Liverpool, through the rocky period where he seemed a little awry in his personal life, to the current incarnation of the player as the club's brightest star on the European map, Sterling's evolution has been stunning to behold. A player with almost no ceiling on what he can achieve, the 20 year old has shown remarkable maturity and ability over the current campaign, adapting his game and shouldering responsibility, whilst marrying a new physicality to his prodigious talent. Few sights in modern football are as thrilling as the image of the young Londoner, Tyrannosurus arms akimbo and backside tilted, as he bears down ominously on the opposition's goal.

"I think it's going to be a really difficult game," averred the attacker. "Coming away to play in Turkey, it's going to be difficult and we know that. We've got to stick to our gameplan that the manager has set out for us. That's no different for tomorrow night. We'll be trying to play possession football and try to play really attacking football at the same time. I think it should be a really good game and hopefully we can just play the football that we know we can play.

"The support in Turkey looks incredible," he went on. "It's going to be a really exciting game -- for me personally as well, as I've always wanted to play in Turkey and see what the fans are like. Everyone says how amazing they are. People say, 'you might get intimidated,' but I think the fans at Anfield are quite intimidating as well. So I don't think it will be too different. But I'm really excited to play in Turkey.

The newest of Liverpool's many talented youngsters to sample first team action, is Jordon Ibe. A young man cut from a similar cloth as Sterling, the recall of Ibe from his successful loan spell at Derby County has given Liverpool a valuable shot of youthful brio at a time when it was most apposite. The 19 year old is already physically stronger than most opponents he will face and the beautiful directness of his play is what has enthused fans most, but that attacking élan is allied to a canny on-pitch presence which belies his years. Sterling, when asked about his role as mentor to the emergent Ibe, chose to present himself as an equal and praised his colleague's impressive beginning in a red shirt.

"We both like to get at players, we both like to be direct and score goals," insisted the forward who is recently sporting an uncharacteristically sensible crop. "Jordon is a great player and he’s doing well. It’s not a case of really helping him, we’re nearly the same age, we just talk. It’s not me telling him that he should do this or that. I’m not a senior professional, I haven’t played 200 odd games for Liverpool or anything like that. (He's played a remarkable 112, however) I just try to give him advice and tell him to keep doing what he does, whether it is for the reserves, the under-18s or the seniors.

"The manager has blooded a lot of young players like myself and Jordon. He puts you in at the deep end and it seems like at that moment you are ready. You look at Jordon against Everton, he was the best player on the pitch which is credit to the manager as well. Every young player is getting a chance when they show they are working hard on the training pitch and that is credit to the manager for giving them the chance to shine at the highest level."

With as many as eight regular first-team squad members absent, angst-ridden Liverpool fans will have their megrims alleviated considerably by the prospect of Ibe and Sterling in the same line-up and the attendant attacking potential that comes with their inclusion. Should either man be responsible for the safe passage of Brendan Rodgers' charges to the next round, the praise from the travelling Kop and their spiritually present brothers and sisters will be unqualified and well earned. Especially if it's for a scissors kick from twenty yards. I mean, jeez.

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