Liverpool’s injuries in defence have seen 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever training with the first team. But what makes the talented youngster a stand-out?
Hoever was one of the Reds’ less-heralded summer signings, understandably, but the signs are good that he might role in the future as significant as those who Jurgen Klopp spent rather more money on.
The Dutch youth international went straight into the U18s set-up, but he has already featured for U19s, U23s and is now training with the seniors.
Klopp hasn’t been shy about calling on the younger stars at the club, aiding their progress by training with first-team players and giving them the opportunity to impress at close quarters, and it’s Hoever’s own displays which have prompted his call-up.
He has made a great start to life at Liverpool, and this won’t be the last we see of him around the first-team scene.
Indeed, he could get an earlier opportunity than expected if he impresses the manager enough.
Position: Right-back and centre-back
Signed from: Ajax
Hoever played initially at the AZ Alkmaar academy, but moved to Ajax in 2014, then aged 12. His formation continued apace with the Dutch side, but he never signed professional terms with them.
Instead, that allowed a move to Melwood to come about this summer and the 16-year-old joined the Reds in mid-August.
Ajax rated him extremely highly and were “devastated” to lose his services, according to the Echo‘s James Pearce, but their loss has already been Liverpool’s gain.
It didn’t take long for Hoever to make an impact.
U18s boss Barry Lewtas highlighted how Hoever has dealt with the move and settled in immediately.
“We know what qualities he’s got, we know what he came with, and we certainly know the things he’s got to improve on because there are a lot.
“But he’s starting from a good level and he’s done ever so well in terms of dealing with it mentally. He’s only 16 and he’s moving into a dressing room full of young men.
“We are all keeping our feet on the floor with him. He’s still got a lot to do, sometimes you can ride the wave when you first get into teams, but he knows it’s a long process. He’s very mature, he’s a good boy and he knows he’s got lots to improve on.”
Once he was officially signed on having received international clearance by early September, Hoever made his debut for the U18s in a 4-1 win over Newcastle midway through the month.
The following month he made his debut for the U19s, coming on as a sub in the UEFA Youth League win over Red Star, before starting in the same competition against PSG in November.
Last month he also made his bow at U23 level, though this step-up proved a steep learning curve: the 16-year-old was part of an inexperienced Liverpool side hammered 7-0 by a far more experienced Villarreal lineup.
On the international stage, Hoever is part of the Netherlands U17 side; in the recent break he scored three times in three games for them, including a free-kick.
That showing set-piece prowess wasn’t a one-off, either, as his time with Ajax showed.
— Ajax Youth Academy (@AjaxYA) January 20, 2018
Early impressions & future
His rise since signing for Liverpool has been fast. Naturally, coaches aren’t willing to go overboard about good performances from young players—so it’s fair to suggest that when comments are made, it’s because of a particularly noteworthy display.
“I don’t want to get too carried away with him but, wow, what a performance.
“He’s 16 and he’s calm and assured in his decision-making. He got a little bit tired near the end but understandably so – he played in the week as well.
“His authority and assurance on the pitch for a boy so young was very, very impressive.”
That composure and mentality has been a stand-out feature of his time on the pitch, both in and out of possession, and which gives an inkling as to the type of defender he’ll turn out to be.
Hoever is extremely confident on the ball, which no doubt stems from his formation as a right-back. He moves forward well, is unafraid to rove infield and dictate passes from central areas, but doesn’t shirk his defensive duties.
In the most recent U19 Youth League match against Napoli, he played as the left-sided centre-back, another indication of his impressive awareness.
True, he wasn’t tested a huge amount in the game as a dominant Liverpool side controlled the game from start to finish in a 5-0 win, but he was unflustered against sporadic counter-attacks, covered well when the ball was played in behind full-backs and kept the ball moving from deep.
Playing in that manner, and with his potential trajectory from right-back to centre-back in future, it’s impossible to not look at another Liverpool defender who shares some traits with him.
Gomez had long been seen as an ideal modern centre-back: classy on the ball, confident in possession but defensively resilient. Now, this season, he’s proving that’s the case.
Hoever naturally has many years to go to reach this point, but that isn’t to say he can’t have impact before then, perhaps particularly at right-back.
Current injuries are short-term and fleeting, but in the longer term, it’s undoubtedly a position Klopp will feel needs a new face to offer competition to Alexander-Arnold.
None made enough of a lasting impression; one has departed, one is injured and soon out of contract, one is expected to be sold and hasn’t had a significant look-in this season.
Maybe Hoever’s chance will come sooner rather than later.
Hoever’s appearances so far
- U18s vs. Newcastle, 90 mins, centre-back
- U19s vs. PSG, 8 mins, right-back
- U18s vs. Blackburn, 90 mins, centre-back
- U18s vs. Man City, 15 mins, right-back
- U18s vs. Wolves, 90 mins, right-back
- U19s vs. Red Star, 4 mins, wing-back
- U18s vs. Everton, 90 mins, right-back
- U19s vs. Red Star, 6 mins, right wing
- U23s vs. Everton, 90 mins, wing-back
- U19s vs. PSG, 90 mins, centre-back
- U19s vs. Napoli, 90 mins, centre-back