Liverpool have gained something of a reputation in recent years for insisting any young player they send on loan has to play regularly—and commonly insert clauses in their deals to penalize any side that takes a youngster promising to play them and then doesn’t.
There was quite a bit of buzz, then, when Ben Woodburn appeared back at the club over the weekend, playing with the U23s against Derby County despite the fact that he’s currently on loan with Sheffield United and has only managed 144 total minutes for them so far.
Used largely as a substitute when he’s been used at all, those 144 minutes have come across six games—an average of 24 minutes per appearance. He’s started just once, hasn’t made it off the bench three times, and hasn’t made the squad at all their last three games.
“Ben’s not a special case,” was the rather blunt answer given by Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder when pressed on the situation. “We’ve got seven or eight players in the same boat, who can’t get in the team. He’s no different because he’s come from Liverpool.”
Liverpool reportedly do have a recall clause in Woodburn’s loan deal, but if they triggered it he would only be eligible to play with the reserves until January and so, for the time being at least, the club appear to be willing to let the situation continue to play out at Sheffield.
After Sunday’s U23 match against Derby, Woodburn returned to Sheffield, who face off against Stoke City tomorrow in the Championship. Currently, they sit second, level on points with leaders Middlesbrough, a point ahead of West Brom, and two better than Leeds.
And, perhaps, his chance will come with Sheffield eventually. But Wilder says it won’t be until his current starters show they can’t continue to get the job done. Which seems fair to his players but won’t have been what Woodburn or Liverpool did the deal expecting.
“He’s a talent, we understand he’s a good player, and he’s not done anything wrong,” the manager insisted. “But it’s just as the boys who have been playing haven’t done anything wrong, either.”