Sheyi Ojo‘s ambition to return from his loan spell with Wolves to secure a first-team role at Liverpool must be backed up with quality on the field.
Ojo’s joined Kenny Jackett’s side at the beginning of 2015/16, looking to develop his game in the Championship before rejoining the Liverpool squad for the following campaign.
But on meeting with Jurgen Klopp during this most recent international break, Ojo has set his sights higher—with the 18-year-old looking to emulate former academy team-mate Jordon Ibe.
“He went out on loan last season and then got recalled back so it goes to show that if you do well on loan you get the chance to be called back and go straight into the first team,” Ojo said this week.
“That’s my main aim: to keep doing well, and if I do get the call back, I just need to impress the manager.”
But can Ojo follow Ibe and break through into the Liverpool first team this season?
“That is his aim,” Jackett explained in October, suggesting that Ojo could fill the void left by Bakary Sako as Wolves‘ first-choice left winger.
“If he does that it means he will be doing well.”
Sako, who joined Crystal Palace on a free transfer this summer, was Wolves‘ key player in 2014/15, scoring 15 goals and assisting on a further seven in 39 Championship appearances.
But three months into his Wolves career Ojo is yet to reach that level of influence within Jackett’s side.
The 18-year-old has typically featured on the left-hand side of a 4-2-3-1 formation, using his pace and power to trouble Championship right-backs, scoring two goals and registering three assists in 14 league games.
His most recent strike, a fine, low effort from the edge of the penalty area in October’s 2-0 win away to Birmingham City, was his most impressive to date, cutting in from the right flank to fire beyond Tomasz Kuszczak.
But, tellingly, each of Ojo’s goals and assists in a Wolves shirt has come as a substitute, and the London-born forward is yet to complete the full 90 minutes in any Championship game.
Writing in September, WolvesBlog.com gave a frank assessment of Ojo’s slow start at the Molineux Stadium.
“Ojo is just one of many youngsters populating the team this season who’ve suffered an indifferent start.
“Too often the on-loan Liverpool winger simply hasn’t looked interested.
“In the defeat to Cardiff and the recent stalemate against Brighton he remained on the periphery of the action throughout.
“But after coming off the bench to great effect against Preston and more tellingly last night, there’s encouraging signs about what’s to come.”
At present, for Wolves, Ojo is little more than a slightly frustrating, inconsistent impact player, and this would not have been in Reds academy director Alex Inglethorpe’s plan as he mapped out this summer’s loan objectives.
Whether Ojo is the right fit for Jackett’s side is debatable, and it could be that his qualities are better suited to Klopp’s squad at this stage.
Liverpool’s Attacking Requirements
As Klopp leads his side into a testing winter schedule, the German finds his options decidedly thin all over the field.
With a paucity of quality, and lack of depth, in defence being a major issue, and the absence of captain Jordan Henderson for much of the season so far, it is easy to overlook the Reds’ problems in attack.
The likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke are working their way back to form and fitness, and Jordon Ibe is beginning to find his feet on the wing.
But depth remains an issue in the final third, also.
Adam Lallana, Divock Origi and Joao Carlos Teixeira represent Klopp’s immediate options in support of that four-pronged attacking line, while Daniel Sturridge‘s imminent return will provide encouragement, but Klopp remains without cover in one vital area: the flanks.
Ibe is the only orthodox winger at Klopp’s disposal, with the 48-year-old otherwise possessing two available strikers, another working his way towards fitness and four natural No. 10s.
This has hampered Liverpool’s efficiency in the final third, with a lack of pace, variety of movement and direct running power jarring with Klopp’s fast-paced attacking ideal.
Klopp has seemingly noticed this, too, if rumoured targets such as 19-year-old Schalke man Leroy Sane are to be believed.
Furthermore, with Klopp previously exploring the possibility of cancelling Lazar Markovic‘s loan spell with Fenerbahce when the transfer window reopens, this is clearly a major concern of his.
However, while that move was thwarted, Klopp does have the opportunity to recall Ojo in January.
Chance of a Recall?
When Brendan Rodgers made the decision to recall Ibe from his loan with Derby County in the middle of January, the 19-year-old was at a more accomplished juncture than Ojo is currently.
Ibe had secured a regular role on either flank in Steve McClaren’s 4-3-3, starting in 13 of his 20 Championship appearances, scoring five goals and assisting on another.
McClaren had described him as “unplayable” after Derby’s 4-0 win over Birmingham in December, praising the winger’s discipline.
While the decision to recall Ibe represented a gamble for Rodgers at the time, the former Wycombe Wanderers youngster had proven by that stage that he was capable of performing with maturity and consistency at the top end of the Championship.
So far, Ojo is yet to manage this, with Wolves languishing in 14th.
This may be due to an unsuitability within Jackett’s system, or a general lack of consistency, and this leaves Klopp with a difficult decision heading towards January.
On paper, Ojo would make a useful addition to Klopp’s attacking line, and could play a similar role to that of Ibe within Rodgers’ squad in the second half of the 2014/15 campaign—Ojo could inject energy and pace into a Liverpool attack that is desperately lacking vibrancy out wide.
He has proven to be a devastating forward during his time with the Reds, and as the academy’s strongest attacking talent is set for a bright future on Merseyside in the long term.
[pull_quote_right]With the right guidance I think I can do well in this team. I’m still learning and I’m still young so I’ll just see how it goes and see what the manager wants me to do.
– Sheyi Ojo[/pull_quote_right]
Setting up Coutinho’s second goal in a behind-closed-doors friendly win over Wolves at Melwood during the international break, with a powerful run allowing him to find the Brazilian on the edge of the box, will have seen Ojo endear himself to the watching Klopp.
Furthermore, the humility shown in outlining his goals ahead of January suggests he is capable of adopting the mentality to thrive in the Liverpool squad.
But if he is to be deemed ready to emulate Ibe and justify a January recall, Ojo must first find consistency in a Wolves shirt.
Establish himself as a first-team regular in Jackett’s side over the next two months, and Ojo may have proven himself worthy of a recall into Klopp’s side—negating any unnecessary spending in January.
If not, an extended run in the second tier of English football may be a wise course of action.