The left back has been a problem position for Liverpool ever since Alan Kennedy left the club a good three decades ago. Staunton, Traore, Aurelio, Bjørnebye, Vignal, Riise, Dossena, Harkness, Ziege. With the exception of a few short spells of proficiency by Norwegians with big left legs, this list of names conjures memories of undelivered promise, injuries, big money flops, and players missing that top shelf quality. In point of fact, Riise and Bjørnebye standing out as the successes on that list is mostly a comment on the quality of their competition.
This is not an issue plaguing Liverpool alone, as truly world-class, two-way left backs are few and far between in world football, and the Maldinis and Lizarazus and Alabas come along extremely rarely. The Reds' most recent left-back project, Alberto Moreno, displays incredible energy, offensive verve and will, but is still young, and suffers through patches of bad form and defensive indiscipline. Consequently, his dominion of the position is a tenuous one, and always subject to scrutiny.
Enter Brad Smith. The 21-year old Australian was re-signed by Liverpool in November after being released at the end of his contract this summer. He has made seven appearances since, spelling his Spanish rival in cup competitions, and impressing many fans in the process. This is most pleasing to Under-21s coach Michael Beale, who commented on Smith's performances and his experience training with the first team.
"Brad has been fantastic.
"His crossing has had a huge impact, as well as his speed and aggression.
"Training at Melwood every day has certainly helped him. He knows he has the backing of the manager.
"One big thing Jurgen did was that he took four or five youngsters to Melwood and kept them there. They have grown as a result.
"We’re doing our best ‘Jurgen impression’ at the Academy in terms of what he wants here. But there’s nothing better than hearing it from the manager himself.
"Training alongside more experienced players certainly helps too. Tactical understanding comes from playing with older, more experienced players. Lucas can put a player in a position where they don’t need to run so much.
"If you are going to improve your one v one defending, it’s great to go up against Ryan Kent but it’s another step up to face Philippe Coutinho."
Certainly, the two main attributes Smith brings to the table ahead of Moreno are size and quality crosses. They are both pacey and defensively suspect, but the Australian has already notched a goal and two assists in his seven appearances, illustrating his ability to provide end product and service his attackers.
Beale also reflected on Smith's non-linear path to the first team - which has included running out his contract and failing to find employment elsewhere - and revealed that staff at the club kept in contact with the player throughout this difficult period.
"Last year was a difficult year for Brad.
"He didn’t know where his future lay. We helped him during the off-season with his pre-season programme and the staff stayed in contact with him.
"We were encouraging him to come back and saying: ‘We think you’ll get in and around the first team’.
"When Jurgen was first appointed, we had a discussion with the staff at Melwood about Brad. We showed him the profile of Brad and that sped things up. (...)
"As staff we just want to see young lads going on to realise their dreams. I’m really pleased he came back and he’s showing his level now."
So that's a feel-good story any way you cut it. Brad Smith certainly isn't a finished product at this juncture, and in all probability isn't going to be Liverpool's long-term solution to a problematic position, but he has provided the team with energy, enthusiasm and quality at a time when it has been dearly needed, as well as given hope to young players who don't make the cut the first time of asking. And all of that is worth getting a little excited about.