We kick off our series of Liverpool FC academy profiles with an introduction to Yan Dhanda, the first player of Indian heritage to sign for the Reds.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Signed From: West Brom
Dhanda signed for the Reds in 2013, as a precocious 14-year-old, having spent the previous five years with West Bromwich Albion, after apprenticeships with the Baggies, Aston Villa and Walsall.
A native of Birmingham, Dhanda is of Indian descent and his arrival on Merseyside was described as a “major fillip” by Goal India, highlighting the significance of the deal.
It could have been much different, however, with the youngster earning a trial with Chelsea in 2010 after being named the U11 Player of the Tournament at the Blues’ Search for an Asian Star competition.
He turned down the opportunity to move to west London, however, having settled in West Bromwich, but when Brendan Rodgers came calling three years later, he couldn’t resist.
“The fact that Brendan Rodgers was manager made me even more excited,” he explained in 2013.
“It made me want to join Liverpool more than ever because of the way he has faith in young players.”
Dhanda initially joined the Reds’ U15s squad, but has slowly made progress through the ranks in Liverpool, catching the eye with his versatility and cultured style of play.
Comparable to Harry Wilson, Dhanda is a nimble attacking midfielder capable of playing on the left or right flanks, behind the striker and, when necessary, deputising as a No. 9.
His skill and quick feet make him a challenge for opposition defender when on the charge, and considering his role models are Philippe Coutinho and David Silva, his creativity is also key.
It has taken time for Dhanda to adapt to the physical demands of playing for the Reds, even at academy level, having joined the club short of fitness.
But last term, Dhanda started in each of his 19 appearances for the young Reds in the U18 Premier League, playing the full 90 minutes on 12 occasions and averaging 84 minutes on the pitch per game.
In those 19 games under Neil Critchley, he scored seven goals, including a double away to Man United and another in the reverse at home, as well as efforts in both Merseyside derbies.
Clearly a big-game player, the 18-year-old is slowly developing into a standout talent at Kirkby, settling into a regular role under the newly promoted Critchley with the Liverpool U23s in 2017/18.
Stepping up into the U23s on a full-time basis comes after impressing Jurgen Klopp during a mid-season training camp in La Manga back in February, having been called up alongside Conor Masterson.
“We could have taken Rhian Brewster or a few other guys, but Yan Dhanda and Conor Masterson are the next boys,” Klopp told the Liverpool Echo.
“Pep [Lijnders] is the man for this. We needed two players and we decided on Yan and Conor.”
Though he has clearly caught the eye of both Klopp and Lijnders, Liverpool’s bridge between academy and first team, Dhanda still has a way to go before he can fully establish himself.
Typically utilised as a substitute for the U23s, he faces fierce competition from the likes of Wilson, Brewster, Danny Ings and Ben Woodburn for a place in the starting lineup.
As with many young players, the key for Dhanda at this stage is finding consistency in his performances.
Do so, and he can hope to achieve a dream he set out for himself back in 2013, when he told LiverpoolFC.com: “My long-term ambition would be to get into the first team before I am 20.”
It is a bold target for the midfielder, who has attracted loan interest from Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Bristol City and whose current deal is set to expire next summer.
But if his progress so far is any indication he certainly has the potential to step up.