There is a precarious equilibrium to be struck when it comes to youth prospects. Naturally, you want to provide them with adequate opportunities at an increasingly challenging level of competition in order to allow their continued development, but push the throttle just too hard, and they could run into a wall or burn out, hampering their growth.
Similarly, managing expectations from the outside is a balancing act, where the player needs to be exposed to gradually increasing pressure to perform, without allowing fans to expect a young player to be a game-changer before they’re legally allowed to vote.
The latter may become a daunting prospect in the case of Ben Woodburn. Not only did the 17-year old make his international debut on the weekend, and not only did he score a debut goal, he scored the only goal and winner — a screamer from the edge of the area — in a World Cup qualifier for a nation whose hopes of traveling to Russia next summer appeared to be slipping away.
The goal wasn’t all he contributed, either. In his first 20 minutes of international football, the Liverpool attacker exhibited work rate to win the ball back, a few near assists, a delightful backheel flick, and even a Ronaldo chop. Jürgen Klopp has had his hands full regulating Woodburn’s minutes and expectations, but with the cat now blatantly out of the bag, that challenge is about to get tougher.
Have a look at this compilation of Woodburn’s every touch, and try to refrain from grand proclamations about which Brazilians we do and do not need anymore now that the age of Woodburn has arrived.