Two years ago, barely 17-year-old Ben Woodburn came off the bench as a substitute in a League Cup match against Leeds United. He scored a goal in front of the Kop, besting Michael Owens for the youngest goalscorer in Liverpool history. Not bad.
Woodburn’s stock was rising, although playing time was hard to come by. He made 9 appearances in 2016/17, but only 2 in 2017/18. His development was hampered by short-lived runs in the domestic cups, but also by the incendiary attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah all demanding playing time ahead of him.
Now, with playing time at a premium this season at Liverpool, Woodburn is headed to Sheffield United on loan to further his development.
“I’ve known Ben pretty much since I came in, or not long after,” Klopp said at the training camp in Evian, France. “It was more or less Pep Lijnders’ first proposal, he said: ‘This guy at the Academy, you need to have a look.’
“From the first day I was really impressed. Then he had all the highs you can have in that age group and a few of the downs as well. That’s completely normal.”
Unfortunately, Klopp recognizes the difficulty of making that big jump from the youth development set up to the upper echelons of the Premier League. But now he has a chance to prove himself elsewhere, and for a club that has its sights set on promotion.
“I thought it was not the right moment for a long time but this is the right moment for him to go out on loan. Having minutes and full games in a difficult league and obviously a very ambitious club for next season, in an offensive position, will be interesting.
“But it’s good for him to learn and whatever happens, he is our boy so there is no pressure for him. He can only enjoy himself in this situation, work hard, get new experiences and come back stronger. Then we will see.”
It is a difficult situation for both players and clubs. Woodburn needs playing time to improve, but he would have been unlikely to gain much more time this season than he did last. However, once a player starts going out on loan, it is rare for them to kick on and become part of the first team set up once they return back to their home club. Hopefully Woodburn can break that trend with some impressive performances.