Every football fan knows the rush of hope that comes with a new signing. The part where you look at the stats or highlights or think back to the three or 12 times you watched them play and convince yourself that this player, well, he’s going to be a star.
Every football fan knows those same feelings when it comes to players coming up through the ranks, too. The players who destined for greatness; certain to spend a decade as first team regulars; maybe even set to become a future club captain.
And, at least as often as not, every fan knows the disappointment of watching those new signings and promising youngsters fail to come good for any number of reasons. With that in mind and with no actual football to watch, we decided to look back as the past decade and pick a starting eleven of players we thought would be great and then weren’t.
Goalkeeper / Loris Karius
Statistics may be a tricky thing when it comes to goalkeepers, particularly those publicly available back in 2016 when Liverpool triggered Karius’ release clause and snapped him up from FC Mainz, but we knew those numbers. Those numbers said the then 23-year-old was the second best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga behind Manuel Neuer. They said he was the likely favourite to eventually replace Neuer as Germany’s number one. They said he was a star—and at an age when you’d expect a goalkeeper to still have a lot of growing to do.
They said, in short, that Loris Karius had it in him to become one of the game’s best. If you believed the numbers. It didn’t quite turn out that way. And while Karius is certainly a better goalkeeper than many Liverpool fans will give him credit for, it’s hard to imagine him ever becoming the one we were convinced he could become when Liverpool signed him.
Defender / Danny Wilson
Being key to Rangers winning the domestic double at just 20 years of age and named Scotland’s young player of the year, Wilson headed to Anfield on a £2M transfer with some buzz, a player most expected to see regular action from the start and grow into an, at the very least, capable Premier League centre half. Instead, he struggled, spending three years mostly in the stands or out on loan, making nine total appearances for Liverpool before heading back to Scotland and, when that didn’t work out, Major League Soccer.
Defender / Sebastian Coates
Meant to be the future of Uruguay’s defence, Coates came up through the ranks at Nacional, captain at every level—including with the first team, where he had made nearly 100 appearances. After his final season with Nacional, at the 2011 Copa America, the then 21-year-old started from the second group match and was named young player of the tournament as Uruguay won it all. Then Liverpool snapped him up. He was physically imposing, technically sound, and with a reading of the game beyond his years.
Defender / Jack Robinson
Everything Andy Robertson is today is what Jack Robinson was meant to be. Or perhaps everything Trent Alexander-Arnold is, given Robinson was an academy product. Either way, when his debut made him the then-youngest ever player for the club, he seemed on his way to it. Instead, what followed were a series of loans where things didn’t quite work out and, eventually, a full time move to the Championship. A solid first half of the 2019-20 season with Nottingham Forest, though, did earn him a return to the Premier League in January with Sheffield United.
Midfield / Jordon Ibe
Losing Raheem Sterling didn’t hurt because we had Jordon Ibe. Or at least that’s what a whole lot of Liverpool fans tried to tell themselves, becoming convinced losing Sterling to Manchester City for £50M didn’t matter because the club had an even brighter prospect on their hands. In his best season in Red, he got the chance to prove it as he was given 41 total appearances—and scored just four goals. After that, he got shipped to Bournemouth. He made just four total appearances for them this season.
Midfield / Suso
Few Liverpool prospects in recent memory have had the aura that Suso had. In retrospect, perhaps we just got blinded by his glorious hair. He arrived from Spain one of that nation’s most highly touted prospects, with Liverpool taking advantage of English labour laws to offer him a contract when he was 16, before Cadiz could tie him down or Barcelona—who were said to be very, very interested—could snap him up. And from almost that moment on, the pressure was on Suso to become a star.
He never did, at least in Red, and by the time he was 22 it appeared there was no path to the first team for him, leading the player resist signing a new deal and make the switch to Milan as his contract ran down. His time there didn’t start much better than at Liverpool, but eventually he established himself as, if not a star, than at least a solid starter—though at the time, Liverpool had a better version of a similar player in Philippe Coutinho.
Midfield / Jordan Rossiter
Born in Liverpool. Joined the academy at six. Ran the show in midfield at every youth level. Drew comparisons to Steven Gerrard for his authoritative presence, his passing range, and his shooting from distance. Drew comparisons to Lucas Leiva for his positional sense, calm head under pressure, and defensive reading of the game. He was, at the time and for a long time, the great Scouse hope. The man meant to eventually succeed the former as captain and the later positionally—even if by stature he was more Jay Spearing than either.
The problem with judging prospects, though, is that development is hardly ever linear, and sometimes players, well, they just peak early. Such appears to have been the case with Rossiter, who made four total senior appearances for Liverpool before heading to Scotland to be a bit part player for Rangers.
Midfield / Dani Pacheco
Everything Suso was, Dani Pacheco was in the years before his fellow Spaniard arrived at the club. Just a little more on the wing and with hair that wasn’t quite as good. But, in what were some dark days for the club, it’s hard to overstate just how high the hopes were for Pacheco. Hopes that in the end were met with the reality of a player who has spent most of his career bouncing around the Spanish Segunda.
Forward / Lazar Markovic
Not everybody was convinced when it came to Markovic, but those that were were properly convinced. He was widely considered a future star and the unofficial property of Chelsea as he worked his way up at Partizan then headed to Benfica for seasoning. Only then Chelsea’s interest seemed to cool—and Liverpool swooped in, snapping him up for a then rather eye-popping £20M fee.
He was still just 20 years old and had come off a season where he’d somehow made 49 appearances for Benfica, scoring seven goals and five assists. For Liverpool, though, he often seemed disinterested. Lethargic. A peripheral player. His minutes quickly went from to hardly any and a series of disappointing loans followed. By the end of it all, he appeared a football player with no real interest in the game of football. A man who’d made the wrong career choice just punching a very lucrative clock.
Forward / Dominic Solanke
Having snatched him away from the Chelsea academy, Solanke remains the greatest statistical striker in the history of Liverpool Football Club. Or at least the striker with the greatest underlying statistics. Because he never actually scored goals or got assists. But those underlying numbers? They made him look like a bigger, Englisher Lionel Messi. And not in the making, either. Like, in the present. He now sometimes plays for Bournemouth, where he continues to not score actual goals or get actual assists.
Forward / Iago Aspas
You can look as Aspas’ numbers before and after Liverpool and think it’s not his fault, that he maybe wasn’t suited to the English game or perhaps was a victim of club politics—a transfer committee signing thrown under the bus by Brendan Rodgers. Whoever’s fault it was, though, it’s inarguable that Aspas didn’t live up to expectations. And for most, the only memorable thing about his time in Red was one of the worst corner kicks in the club’s long and storied history.
While still currently on the books and perhaps with time to turn things around, there looks every chance that Ben Woodburn—who’s gone from getting Wales caps at 16 to struggling for minutes on loan in the Championship at 20—could end up one of the top picks on any list of Liverpool players we expected greatness from and then didn’t get it. Given the hype surrounding Marko Grujic as Jürgen Klopp’s first signing, he could end up here, too, if he doesn’t eventually establish himself at the club.
Some of the club’s biggest striker signings over the past decade, deserve mention, too, though in the cases of Andy Carroll, Mario Balotelli, and Christian Benteke—well, we’re just going to be honest, we didn’t expect anything much from any of them and in the end the reality matched up with that. Sometimes, it’s clear from the beginning that something is a bad idea, and such was the case with those three.
We’d also slot the likes of Charlie Adam—a Match of the Day, highlight-reel star but a player anyone who’d actually watched him a few times knew would struggle—and pack-a-day Joe Cole—Christian Purslow’s flashy new signing to go with his new manager after sticking the knife in Rafa Benitez—into that category. Meanwhile, Alberto Aquilani would have been a lock for a spot but he arrived at the club a year too soon for our arbitrary cut-off. Another midfielder, Luis Alberto, just missed the cut, mostly because expectations for him never quite hit the same heights as those of our chosen midfielders.