Liverpool have tied one of their most promising young players down to his first pro contract, with James Balagizi putting pen to paper five days after his 17th birthday.
It has been a milestone week for Balagizi, who shone for the under-18s in their 5-0 win over Stoke on Saturday before celebrating his 17th on Sunday and then making his under-21s debut in the EFL Trophy loss to Wigan on Tuesday.
Balagizi was, unsurprisingly, the youngest player on the pitch in that 6-1 defeat at the DW, and despite the result it served to highlight the club’s belief in the midfielder.
This has been underlined further on Friday with the confirmation that the teenager has signed his first professional contract with Liverpool, likely extending his stay on Merseyside until 2023.
He will remain with the U18s for the immediate future, with further opportunities possible with the under-23s, but it seems only a matter of time before Balagizi trains with the senior squad.
Back in March, The Athletic‘s Simon Hughes highlighted Balagizi as “the next one according to those who know at Liverpool’s academy,” and it is easy to see why.
The most obvious attribute is his physicality; despite only just turning 17, the DR Congo native is built like a senior player, tall with broad shoulders and a muscular frame improved while sidelined with an ankle injury during lockdown.
But Balagizi will also have caught the eye of those at Kirkby due to his technical ability, versatility and work ethic, with there clear comparisons with Curtis Jones in terms of their style and application.
While midfield is one of the most congested areas in Jurgen Klopp‘s squad, Balagizi certainly has time on his hands, and he could be part of the next wave to be given a chance at Liverpool in years to come.
This new contract is simply the next step, and is no assurance of a long-term future at the club – that, he will need to earn, with continued and improved performances.