There’s no doubt that the past three years have been very promising for Liverpool in terms of youth recruitment and development. After many years without an Academy graduate making a step up and cementing his place in Liverpool’s squad and starting eleven, focus has been shifted towards correcting that wrong from the very basis and it is safe to say that Liverpool’s Academy hasn’t been this blessed in terms of talent since it produced the legends that currently occupy shirts with no. 8 and no. 23 on the back.
One of Academy’s recruits that came in as a part of Academy’s overhaul is Ryan McLaughlin, now an 18-year old right back. This Northern Irishman, born in Belfast, was spotted by Liverpool’s scouts two years ago while he was plying his trade for Glenavon and youth ranks of Northern Ireland and soon got his dream move to Liverpool.
Ever curious Anfield faithful had learnt of his reputation of a determined character and hard worker even before he signed his first contract with Liverpool and were duly given plenty of reasons for optimism by this youngster. He settled in well with his new teammates and started impressing from the very beginning.
A rock in defence, commited in tackle but always ready to make his mark at the other end of the pitch with dazzling runs and pinpoint crosses, helped by great physical attributes that a certain Dirk Kuyt would surely be proud of, his stock continued to rise so much that he soon found himself intermittently featuring for club’s Reserve team (now officialy called U21 team) in his first year at his new club.
His greatest rewards so far, however, came in with the arrival of his compatriot Brendan Rodgers, who called him up for tour of Northern America last summer, where he was given the chance to mark no other than Francesco Totti for 45 minutes, where he didn’t look out of place. As if it wasn’t enough, he even received a surprise call-up to Northern Ireland’s senior team for a friendly game with Finland, which he missed because of an unfortunate injury – an impressive feat when one considers that he didn’t play a minute of competitive football for Liverpool’s first team.
Recently, he put in what is arguably the best performance of his youth career in must-win NextGen game against Inter Milan’s U19’s – he completely shut out Inter’s left flank, while getting an assist and two penalties after his opponents failed to deal with his bursts of pace and intelligent dribblings.
However, as many followers of Liverpool’s youth ranks will testify, his greatest strengths lie in his character. Young Ryan has seemingly taken nothing for granted and worked only harder to get where he is now and his determined spirit will haunt many wingers and fullbacks who get to face him down that right flank – he just never stops running and moving into good positions and helping out his teammates.
In modern football where loyalty and nice manners are rare commodities, he distinguishes with the way he behaves, quickly gaining affection of his fans and teammates alike and exuding respect, positivity and team spirit both on and off the pitch.
A few Liverpool afficionados I had the chance to discuss Liverpool’s youth ranks with agree with my assertion that this lad is probably the next one to make the breakthrough to first team squad. Hopefully he will stay free of injuries and continue his hard work and perhaps one day emulate the achievements of his role model, Daniel Alves, only in a Liverpool shirt.
With Rodgers at the helm and the likes of Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson by his side, this young lad will be provided with excellent guidance. Also as an aside, with Jamie Carragher retiring, those who have heard McLaughlin speak can tell that he is also very well equipped to take over Carra’s mantle of the best and most difficult accent to understand in Liverpool’s squad.