One of Liverpool's brightest prospects is spending the season in the Championship with Derby County, the team that Andre Wisdom plied his trade at a year ago. Nineteen-year-old Jordon Ibe has been a frequent flier in Derby's lineup this season, making eleven starts and coming off the bench on seven other occasions, and has really been making his presence felt with the East Midlands club.
"Jordon is still learning but when he puts it all together, you can see what he is capable of doing. At times he is unplayable," said Derby manager Steve McClaren of Ibe. "It is not just his work going forward, it is his tracking back and his defending – the discipline side of the game that you need if you want to be a top player."
A season ago, you could see the framework that Ibe was working from, the pace and athleticism that gave him the tremendous skillset and talent ceiling that makes him a special prospect. What he lacked at the time, though, was the defensive awareness and work rate that would allow Ibe to be the complete player he needs to become in order to play at the highest levels. McClaren is well-suited to help drill these things in to young players, making his Derby club a good choice as a loan destination, and his work with Ibe has really shown over the last month or so.
In Derby's Boxing Day match against Birmingham City, Ibe scored the opening goal and had an assist later on in Derby's 4-0 road bludgeoning of the Blues. His electric pace was apparent throughout the match, easily beating whatever poor Birmingham player tried to stop him, and while Ibe's cross still lets him down at times, his strength with simpler passes was on display as he was constantly feeding teammates in dangerous positions.
Many Liverpool fans have been clamoring for the club to recall Ibe and slot him in to the squad's struggling attack, citing his five goals and quality performances as more than enough reason to bring him home. While that's understandable, it'd be better to leave him where he is, since he's finding success and learning excellent lessons at Derby. Despite the rampant success of Raheem Sterling, few nineteen year olds are ready for the rigors of the Premier League, and adding the pressure of the "returning hero" and "next Sterling" tags on top of that might be too much for Ibe right now.
Still, Liverpool have themselves a heck of a player, and he's getting ever-closer to being ready to be a contributor in the Premier League. McClaren doesn't speak in such glowing terms of a player very often, so you know his opinion of Ibe is very high indeed. If Ibe can make good on even a majority of his promise, he and Sterling could help give Liverpool a very potent wide attack for years to come.