He has more European Cup medals than appearances for Liverpool, but teenager Rhian Brewster has a huge opportunity to change that this summer.
Some youngsters stand out from their peers instantly. Robbie Fowler emerged as a cocksure teenager with lethal finishing in the early 1990s, becoming the most popular Liverpool player in a generation.
Although less vibrant as a character, Michael Owen’s brilliance also stood out a mile, as did Steven Gerrard’s, with the pair spearheading a trophy-winning period under Gerard Houllier.
Coming behind him at a swift pace is 19-year-old Brewster – an individual capable of being the next English prodigy on the Liverpool conveyor belt.
Next Big Thing?
Much like Alexander-Arnold this time a couple of years ago, Brewster is someone well-known among Liverpool supporters despite being yet to make his first-team debut.
Signed from Chelsea in 2015 – as he, in his own words “didn’t see a pathway to become a first-team player there” – the teenager made an instant impression at the club his father supports.
Such was his quality, a fruitful but brief spell with Liverpool’s under-18s saw him fast-tracked into the under-23s, where he scored on his debut against Ipswich in January 2017.
If his Reds achievements went largely under the radar with the wider footballing public, Brewster’s exploits at the Under-17 World Cup that following summer saw his stock rise.
The striker played a vital role as England won their first World Cup at any level since 1966, finishing the tournament with the Golden Boot award in his hands, having netted eight times.
That included back-to-back hat-tricks in the group stages, and in a team also containing Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Brewster more than held his own.
Everything good about Brewster’s game was on show that summer, whether it be an invaluable poacher’s instinct, an ability to bring others into play or an admirable work ethic.
This is Anfield’s Jack Lusby has watched Brewster regularly at academy level and has lauded his all-around game:
“In his essence, Brewster is a predatory, off-the-shoulder striker with great movement, pace to burn and real composure in front of goal.
“His finest attribute is his finishing; it’s sublime at times, and he can score all manner of goals, with his favoured right, left and his head, and as he showed at the Under-17 World Cup in 2017, from free-kicks too.
“But prior to his long spell out, he was developing his game impressively under Neil Critchley, and often operated out wide rather than up front, and was more than willing to drop deep when central too.
“Brewster has cited Roberto Firmino as his role model as a striker, and it is this relentless industry, selflessness and elusiveness that he will be looking to add to his game as he progresses.
“He’s also not particularly small, and hasn’t struggled up against big defenders at academy level, while his time out also allowed him to hone his physique in the gym.
“I’d say he’s a rare instance of my ‘eye test’ from under-23s and under-18s games matching up with the behind-the-scenes qualities—his mentality, application in training and rapport with his team-mates and coaching staff—that I’m not privy to.
“The last to do so, clearly, was Trent Alexander-Arnold.”
Just as Brewster looked set to make the step up to the first team, horrible luck with injuries came his way.
A combination of knee and ankle problems saw the London-born striker miss over a year of action between January 2018 and March of this year.
He looked sharp in his first match back, however, scoring an eye-catching brace in a friendly in March, including one sublime curled effort.
In his 20 games for the under-19s and under-23s in the past two seasons, Brewster scored eight goals and laid on nine assists.
While Brewster’s season ended without any first-team action, images of him celebrating on the pitch in Madrid, alongside close friend and fellow long-term absentee Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, were heartwarming.
As pre-season fast approaches, finally seeing him in action will be one of the highlights of Liverpool’s summer.
His opportunity will be even greater as the attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane will all return to pre-season later than Brewster due to their exploits at the AFCON and Copa America.
It’s an opportunity that Brewster will be eager to take. Fully fit and with a clear route into the first-team squad, a productive pre-season could easily see him become a key man once 2019/20 gets underway.
Something that has become abundantly clear is the huge faith Jurgen Klopp has in Brewster, who was given a new long-term deal last summer amidst interest from several German clubs.
Famously an advocate of youth, the Liverpool manager reportedly sees no great need to bring in a new striker this summer, such his belief in Brewster.
It would be a surprise if a versatile forward wasn’t added to the attack, but Brewster has every chance of leaping from youth prodigy to Roberto Firmino‘s deputy in no time.
The Belgian’s 2018/19 exploits will forever go down in legend, and rightly so, but his heroics should not mask the fact that Brewster appears more suited to the central No. 9 role.
A lot will depend on how pre-season pans out, but in the same way that Fowler, Owen, Gerrard and Alexander-Arnold burst onto the scene, Brewster could do the same.
Patience will be required, with a rawness to his game to be expected at 19. But while those such as Wilson and Woodburn look likely to miss out on Liverpool futures, the opposite applies with Brewster.
Heaping pressure on a young player’s shoulders can be reckless, but there are some who flourish further when expectations are greater.
Those mentioned above fell into that category and Brewster is no different.
Injury can curtail any promising career, as Brewster has found out firsthand recently, but if he can stay fit from now on, Liverpool have a superstar on their hands.
Away from the ruthless goalscoring, underrated physicality and moments of artistry, the young striker also appears to be a down-to-earth, thoughtful individual – as evidenced by his recent support for a mental health charity.
Much like Alexander-Arnold, Brewster appears to have a good family background that is helping him remain down to earth and make good decisions.
He feels like a Klopp player before he has even made his Liverpool debut – he has been named in three matchday squads but is yet to be introduced – which is something Lusby feels is important:
“At just 19 he’s an exemplary ambassador for both the club and himself, with his public stance against racism and advocacy of mental health awareness showing maturity beyond his years.
“And though I’m certainly glad he stayed, and will do for the long-term, it’s commendable that he weighed up his options abroad before ultimately committing to Liverpool—it shows his desire.
“Jurgen Klopp has been vocal in his belief that talent must be paired with character for a young player to succeed, and so far Brewster has shown just why the manager loves him.”
There have been countless Liverpool players to have been talked up and shot down throughout history, which does give understandable reason for caution for any young player.
But watching Brewster tackle pre-season is going to be fascinating – and watching him flourish in the years that follow should be even more fun.