Billy Koumetio joined Liverpool in January of last year, with one of his standout experiences so far with the club being ballboy for the 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona.
The Reds were believed to be facing insurmountable odds when they took on Barca at Anfield in May, having suffered a 3-0 first-leg defeat at the Nou Camp in their Champions League semi-final.
This was hammered home by a tweet from the Spanish club prior to the second leg, which has now been mercilessly ridiculed, claiming “we score, Liverpool need FIVE—and we’re going to get at least one…”
Barcelona did, in fact, not score, and braces from Divock Origi and Gini Wijnaldum sent Liverpool on their way to Madrid and No. 6.
Koumetio was an enthralled onlooker that day, having been appointed as one of the ballboys at Anfield as part of his role as a first-year scholar with the Reds, after his move from Orleans FC earlier in the year.
“I could see the big boys, the big players, in front of me. It was a great experience for me,” the 17-year-old told LiverpoolFC.com of an “amazing” and “unbelievable” night for him.
“That drives me a lot. When I was sitting so close to the pitch and saw the big boys, they really inspired me.
“I was motivated to work really hard and [in order] to go to that level.”
Watching Koumetio on the pitch, it is difficult to fathom that he only turned 17 in November, as he is already built like a senior centre-back and plays with a strength and composure belying his age.
The Frenchman dwarfs his under-18s team-mates, and in 10 appearances for the young Reds so far this season—limited by a long-term groin injury—has proved himself one of the most dependable talents in Barry Lewtas‘ squad.
He describes himself as a “really competitive” player, but off the pitch he is “always happy” and “smiles all the time, even if things don’t go very well.”
Koumetio began his career as a left winger, before shifting back to left-back and then, as he grew, was moved to centre-back at under-14 level at Lyon, and he is now looking to emulate Virgil van Dijk.
“I was trying to get my own style but at the moment Virgil van Dijk really inspires me,” he explained.
“I go to the game most of the time and I like watching Virgil doing his game very, very well. Sometimes I try to copy him.”
There are few better role models for Koumetio, who was already in the matchday squad for the League Cup clash with Arsenal in October, and few better experiences to inspire him than that incredible comeback over Barcelona.
The teenager is one to keep an eye on in Liverpool’s academy, and could well make the step up to the under-23s next season as he continues his pathway to the senior setup.