Two years ago, Paul Glatzel was on the cusp of a first-team breakthrough and receiving assurances from Jurgen Klopp, but a nightmare time since has left him in doubt.
Nothing is ever guaranteed in football, and Glatzel’s journey from pre-season with Liverpool’s first team to an ongoing rehabilitation with the under-23s proves that.
Heading into the summer of 2019, the young striker was one of the most in-form players at the club.
In a campaign that saw the under-18s win the FA Youth Cup at the expense of Man City, having finished behind U18
Thriving alongside strike partner Bobby Duncan, he also laid on 10 assists, averaging at least a goal or an assist in every outing.
Both Glatzel and Duncan received senior recognition as Klopp welcomed his squad back to Melwood for pre-season, training alongside James Milner, Adam Lallana, Joe Gomez and Fabinho during the first days back.
“These boys are our future if they want to be our future,” Klopp vowed, and unintentionally this alluded to the situation for one of his young strikers.
Duncan would leave later that summer as part of a messy breakup, departing for Fiorentina after only one season with his boyhood club.
By that point, Glatzel had already suffered a crippling ACL injury, 27 minutes into his debut off the bench at Tranmere’s Prenton Park and days before he was due to join the first team for their tour of the United States.
The club did everything right when it came to convincing Glatzel of his importance despite facing the majority of the season out.
Klopp insisted he would remain “one of his boys,” while provisions were made for him to work on his recovery at Melwood, rather than the academy site at Kirkby, and a new long-term contract was issued.
Unfortunately, the rest of the story has not panned out as the young Scouser – a Germany youth international owing to his heritage – finds himself having taken a step back, two years on.
Glatzel’s first foray back into the Liverpool setup came at the tail-end of the title-winning season, as he took part in training sessions during the first lockdown.
It was a welcome sight, after almost 12 months out, and new U23s manager Barry Lewtas expressed his hope that it would serve as a “kick-start for the start of next season.”
He then featured heavily throughout the U23s’ pre-season schedule, scoring against The New Saints, Derby and Huddersfield, looking sharp and ready for the campaign ahead.
Concerns over rushing him back saw his minutes limited, however, with his first outing coming in a 1-0 victory at Arsenal in October, before three more consecutive appearances against West Ham, Port Vale and Southampton.
His strike in the 4-2 win away to West Ham was a brilliant, placed finish from the edge of the area, and his celebration was one of sheer joy and relief.
Soon after that, he was part of the senior squad training for the very first time at the new Kirkby facility, with Klopp namechecking him with those who looked “sensationally well” among his group.
Comeback on? Unfortunately not, as disaster struck before the end of November.
Klopp was watching on from the touchline at Kirkby as the U23s entertained Southampton, with Glatzel making his first competitive start since returning from injury, only to last just 45 minutes of the 0-0 draw.
A late challenge saw the youngster suffer ankle ligament damage, and he was accompanied down the tunnel by Klopp, before reflecting on a “devastating” situation, saying “I know that I will get through this.”
Glatzel was out for two-and-a-half months, and it was over three months before he was back on the pitch, replacing Layton Stewart for the final 12 minutes of a 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal.
The issues continued, however, and it took another two months for his next outing, though with it came a much-needed glimmer of hope.
He laid on the assist for Leighton Clarkson‘s 87th minute in his first game back – a 2-2 draw with Blackburn – before scoring the consolation goal as a half-time substitute in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham.
Another assist came in the following 2-2 draw with Leicester, as well as winning a penalty, before teeing up Kaide Gordon on the final day of the campaign against the same opposition.
A four-game run saw Glatzel have a hand in five goals, before completing his only full 90 minutes of the campaign in a 3-1 post-season friendly win over League One side AFC Wimbledon.
In total, he played nine times in competitive games for the U23s last season, scoring twice and assisting three times, ending the season with his smile back.
Glatzel is a wonderful player, with an infectious work rate, classy touch, a low centre of gravity, an eye for a pass and a predatory instinct in front of goal.
But while his fellow FA Youth Cup winners Clarkson, Neco Williams, Rhys Williams and Jake Cain have been given first-team exposure, he has been left to toil in the gym and in the youth ranks.
He is only three weeks younger than Curtis Jones and will turn 21 in February, which in the ridiculously paced world of football presents this summer as a crucial one for the Liverpool native.
If his development had gone as hoped, Glatzel would likely have been a regular part of Klopp’s first team over the past two seasons, with a loan move to the Championship on the horizon.
A temporary switch would still be a viable option this transfer window, as having worked his way back to full fitness the accumulation of experience in men’s football will be vital for a player who has noticeably bulked up during his downtime.
The door will not be closed to Glatzel, but he will be fully aware that time is running out as he seeks to realise his dream of playing for Liverpool.
He is player who has always had the edge over others in his age group due to the intelligent, mature head on his shoulders, and if there’s any way back in, he should be backed to find it.