With Liverpool planning for the long term as Andy Robertson requires a new backup, young Algerian left-back Yasser Larouci could provide more competition.
Robertson is firmly established as Jurgen Klopp‘s first choice for the role, and continues to stake his claim to be considered one of the best in the world in his position.
But with Alberto Moreno set to leave the club on a free transfer at the end of the season, one of the priorities for the summer will be finding a new backup for Liverpool’s No. 26.
While it could be that Klopp turns to the market to sign an alternative, it is widely expected that he will instead promote Robertson’s deputy from within.
Adam Lewis is the popular choice, and is already training regularly with the first team at Melwood, but U18s manager Barry Lewtas’ pet project, Larouci, could present another viable option.
Born: El Oued, Algeria
Signed from: Le Havre
It took time for the teenager to receive international clearance, but this came in the opening months of last season, where he joined up with the U18s—then coached by Steven Gerrard.
Following in the footsteps of the likes of Paul Pogba, Riyad Mahrez and Dimitri Payet in breaking through from Le Havre’s academy, there were high hopes for Larouci upon his move to Merseyside.
His initial outings came in friendlies, first in pre-season and then against Burnley at Kirkby, before his maiden competitive outing off the bench in a 6-0 thrashing of West Ham, and his first start in a 3-2 win over Sunderland a month later.
While this wait to get into action could have been tough for a young player new to the club, and in a new country, as Larouci told LFCTV in December this wasn’t the case for him.
“When I signed for Le Havre I was 10, and I had to move in with house parents,” he explained.
“When it’s for football, it’s my dream to be a professional, so I was very happy. I wasn’t worried about leaving my family.”
Larouci made 18 appearances for the young Reds in his first season, 12 as a startere and six from the bench, and though these largely came as a winger, Gerrard’s successor Lewtas earmarked him for a new long-term role.
“This year we’ve just wanted to have a look at him at left-back, because we think he has the attributes,” Lewtas told Goal‘s Neil Jones in February.
“He’s got great athleticism, he runs into space well, he carries the ball and he gives us great width.”
The attributes Lewtas highlights have certainly translated well to Larouci’s deeper position on the pitch, as in the system encouraged across the ranks at Liverpool there is a big emphasis on the full-backs.
Able to still provide his lung-bursting runs and end product from either the byline or cutting inside, he now pairs this with an improving defensive nous.
The Algerian has been one of the constants of the U18s’ lineup this season, with only Vitezslav Jaros (19), Rhys Williams (20), Paul Glatzel (20), Bobby Duncan (22) and Leighton Clarkson (22) making more starts than Larouci (17).
His flexibility has also seen him feature more regularly for the U23s since his debut against Burnley in November—a game that saw Neil Critchley shift Lewis into midfield as Larouci assumed his position at left-back.
So far, the 18-year-old has made seven appearances for the U23s including six starts, and has made his mark with a hand in goals against Man City and Burnley—though none more so than against Hertha Berlin in December.
Picking up the ball from Lazar Markovic with the score at 1-1, Larouci surged into the box and found the top corner with a fantastic outside-of-the-boot strike, proving he can still utilise his attacking prowess from left-back.
“He was a bit sceptical at the time, but as time has gone on I think you can see he’s enjoying it,” Lewtas reflected in conversation with Jones.
“We look at him as a little success story this season.”
Larouci revealed similar as he discussed his transition from attack-minded winger to a more well-rounded player, and pointed towards his boundless energy as a key factor behind this success.
“It was a bit hard when I started to play at full-back, because I had to learn how to defend,” he said.
“Normally I don’t like to defend, I prefer just to attack, but I think it’s good. He thinks I’ve got the quality to play full-back because I can just run and run, to attack and defend.”
Lewtas’ description of Larouci as a “success story” underlines his belief in the youngster, who himself labelled the coach as someone he is “very close with,” and he is even taking English and Spanish lessons from Lewtas’ wife, Amy.
This investment in Larouci on both a personal and professional level is a clear sign that he could factor in the club’s long-term plans.
While the summer may come too soon for his step up to senior duty, and Lewis remains the favourite to take over from Moreno, it is certainly encouraging that he has managed to make the step up so convincingly.
Rafa Camacho on the opposite flank serves as a key role model for Larouci, having himself made the switch from winger to full-back, and this conversion seems perfectly suited to Klopp’s system.
Larouci believes his versatility can boost his chances of a breakthrough in the near future, showcasing a valuable selflessness as he sets his sights on a first-team role.
“I think I can get my chance to play in the first team at left-back, and if it’s not left-back I can still play as a winger. I think it’s good if you can play two positions,” he said.
“If I’m with the first team, left-back, right wing, left wing…it’s the same.”
This will no doubt endear the swiftly blossoming Larouci to Klopp and his backroom staff, and while it may take a little longer for him to catch the eye, it could be that he joins the squad at Melwood soon.
After that it is a case of continuing to impress for the U18s and U23s, as well as in training, and taking any opportunity that comes his way.