It must be hard to be an academy player for one of the big clubs. Being sat behind the likes of Jude Bellingham or Trent Alexander Arnold, pining for a chance to prove your worth. It requires fortitude and the ability to marry one’s own skill with the impossible to predict chance to make your mark on the game.
Coming through the end of last season and into the summer, one youngster was on the tip of every Liverpool fan’s tongue: Ben Doak. The winger had a prodigious time with the U21s as a mere teenager. And given positive displays in pre-season, many believed he’d be next to follow Trent, Curtis Jones, Caoimhin Kelleher, Harvey Elliott, and Stefan Bajcetic from the Academy to the senior team.
On the weekend, Doak did just that. Not only making the teamsheet, but being substituted on in exchange for Mohamed Salah when the match was very much still in the balance. While it’s understandable to maybe point to the fact that there’s notably been clear difficulty in recruiting a suitable rotational/succession player behind Mo, I think it actually points to both how difficult an ask it is to bring exactly what Mo does to the table.
Now, to be clear, I’m not arguing that Doak is the next Mo - even if folks nominally play the same position, one wouldn’t pretend that Messi’s version of wing play is similar to, say how Angel Di Maria or Arjen Robben might work the wide areas. But I do think it’s noteworthy that Klopp apparently feels his quality eventually ends up there or for no other reason than Golden Boy Harvey Elliott had once been thought of as the obvious replacement for Mo given his history as a winger, only to be converted to a wonderfully gifted, forward-placed central midfielder.
For his part, Doak is quite eager to be part of Jurgen’s plans. In an interview with the official site, the youngster notes that he’s excited to be given a turn out:
“Obviously I’m grateful for every opportunity that I’ve had but I’m just trying to build a career, so just play as many games as possible and give a good account of myself.”
For my part, Doak looked good in his cameo. Some obvious early reticence and uncertainty quickly making way for a young player who’s technically gifted and assured. By the end of it, I wouldn’t have said he looked out of place.
Given that we’re in Year 309485490458409 of searching for Mo’s eventual heir apparent, here’s hoping that Doak is able to take advantage of this moment and let his quality shine through. Might even motivate a few folks to cop a #50 kit before the season is over.