While the early season "who-should-start" debates have coalesced around a few problematic positions, Kevin Stewart has been quietly staking a claim to the "late-game-controlling-midfielder" role. Various fitness issues with Lucas Leiva and Emre Can have set the stage for Stewart to make appearances in three of Liverpool's four matches thus far, but it's also been increasingly apparent that the former Spurs prospect has gained a certain degree of trust from manager Jurgen Klopp.
For current Academy Director Alex Inglethorpe and U21/23 manager Michael Beale, none of that is a surprise. After Stewart was released by Tottenham in 2014, Inglethorpe - who had experience coaching Stewart - pushed for Liverpool to sign him on a free transfer. Though Stewart had been deployed as a fullback and central defender, Inglethorpe penciled in the young man at a different position, and the rest is history.
Though the move would have been an exciting one for a fervent Liverpool supporter like Stewart, there was still a lot of work to be done learning a new position, and he would have to do it as a relatively new face amongst other names tipped for future greatness in red. Beale described the situation:
We felt from the first week Kevin came to Liverpool he could play in midfield. At the time we were managing people's pathways and at the time we had Jordan Rossiter and Jordan Williams playing there. Kevin had to bide his time but he always knew the plan was to play him in midfield.
Brief loan excursions with Cheltenham Town, Burton Albion and Swindon Town were on the horizon, though Stewart was eventually recalled by Liverpool. He made his senior debut in a F.A. Cup match against Exeter City, and also featured in the replay of the same fixture (led by former Liverpool captain José Enrique).
Since then, there has been no shortage of Academy prospects to fire up supporters' imaginations, and it may very well be that we will see Ovie Ejaria, Trent Alexander-Arnold or Sheyi Ojo be given a chance burnish their reputations in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, however, it is Stewart who will light the way forward for Academy players in a season where the lack of European football means chances for younger players will be that much more difficult to come by.
Unsurprisingly with Klopp at the helm of the senior team, that path forward for Academy players will be paved with hard work, minimal fuss, and total commitment to learning their roles. Not that any of them needed reminding, but Beale’s endorsement of Stewart once again underscores the qualities that appeal to a manager like Klopp:
Kevin is a player that doesn't need a coach to motivate him because every day he comes to work and he gives you his 100 per cent focus. I still think there is more to come from Kevin. He hasn't always shown how strong technically he is but he has shown his physical attributes and his discipline. He is not someone who gets carried away by a top performance or too low if he hasn't performed to his best.
That last sentence certainly seems to describe the manager’s approach to football, and Liverpool supporters will be hoping Stewart has many opportunities to not be carried away by a good performance in the tough weeks ahead.