Harvey Elliott’s development into a first-team player has been dramatic, and although he sustained a serious ankle injury, he remains one for now and the future for Liverpool, a young man on the rise and a name well worth remembering.
While I don’t claim to know the intimate details of Harvey’s family history, I do know something about that last name of his.
In the north, the Elliott name is a familiar one.
Clan Elliott is one of the Scottish border families, one of a number of clans who made up the equal parts feared, despised, revered and romanticised border clans, commonly known in legend as the border reivers or moss-troopers.
The border clans were ultimately reviled because their loyalties were for each other as they were fiercely independent and had their own codes and laws which ensured they largely rejected the state and the government.
Considering themselves neither Scottish nor English they existed in a between space and self-imposed state of autonomy.
In response they were smeared in name by the state, outcast and their region was destroyed socially and economically forcing many to leave.
The diaspora from the border clans includes two former Presidents in Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon and the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.
And now there is a young man who plays for Liverpool, who might just be on the path to making an old name famous, bringing to it a new luminescent glow under the Anfield lights. We all, after all, begin with a name.
Always a Red
The story of Harvey Elliott‘s career so far is one of hard work and persistence and a young man walking his own path. Since he was a boy, his dyed in the wool loyalties have lain with one team, the Redmen of Liverpool.
So fierce were his allegiances that when Real Madrid came calling in his days as a youngster at Fulham and offered him the opportunity to meet club legend and then captain Sergio Ramos, the reputed reply of this sixteen-year-old kid: “No, it’s okay, thanks. I don’t like him after what he did to Mo Salah.”
For young Harvey, the die had been cast and the Rubicon crossed.
Ramos had hurt one of his own, only he wasn’t a Liverpool player yet, still just a fan.
Looking back, it was inevitable, and it wasn’t long till Klopp’s men came calling.
Harvey was made for Liverpool and Liverpool was made for Harvey.
Elliott made his Premier League debut for Fulham at the age of 16 years and 30 days. Then, just 174 days into his 16th year, he became the second-youngest player to play for Liverpool in 2019.
By that season’s conclusion, he had made eight senior appearances for the Reds and had a Premier League winners’ medal hanging above his bed.
Beginnings don’t come much better than that.
Imagine being a Liverpool fan and arriving at the club at the age of 16, only for the team to break their 30-year title drought in your first year.
He must have felt like the golden child, the chosen one. But he certainly didn’t act like it.
Former Tottenham player Scott Chickelday remembers his first day coaching Elliott at Queens Park Rangers in 2013: Chickleday arrived 35 minutes early, but Elliott and his dad were already there training.
After seeing him ‘obliterate training’ his first decision was to move Elliott up the field so he could be the centre of the action.
Already diminutive in stature, Elliott spent nearly his entire youth career playing against much older players. Despite always being the smallest on the pitch, this never stopped him from running games and it would serve him in good stead as he progressively had to step up from youth football to both the Championship and Premier League.
Chickleday described his obsession with the game: “His mentality was just football, football, football. He trained like how he played. He always had a ball between his feet.”
Yes, he had exceptional talent, but he was always the first in and the last out the door, driven by a true love of the game.
After going on loan to unfashionable Blackburn last season, Elliott’s form and achievements were probably underrated by most.
At the still tender age of 17, until the final stages of the season, Elliott played 41 games and despite starting just 31, he registered seven goals and 11 assists, averaging the 9th highest goal and assist rate per 90 minutes across the whole Championship.
He spent the season readily playing in the Mo Salah role, as Blackburn’s wide right hand sided attacker who could cut inside onto his preferred left foot to be both creator and goal scorer.
His experience playing against bigger bodies all his life undoubtedly helped him, as did his desire to improve.
Self-admittedly not the quickest, but Elliott has worked on his speed.
Perhaps part of the reason Elliott’s season at Blackburn was underplayed was the fact he was playing in the Salah position. After all, it was doubtful he would be knocking the Egyptian King out of the team.
But as it turned out, Liverpool had a different vision and it involved bringing Elliott back to where he’d spent much of his youth career: the centre, where he belongs.
Both feet on the ground
In response to the perceived pressure of high stakes elite level football, Bill Shankly once famously declared it the reward, stating: “Pressure is working down the pit. Pressure is having no work at all.”
Young Harvey has a similar attitude to the ‘pressure’ of playing top-level football: “When it’s football-related, there are no nerves at all for me. There’s nothing to be nervous about when you are doing what you love, playing for the club you love.”
This attitude was on display across pre-season and the opening matches of this Premier League season, as young Harvey seamlessly switched from a wide attacker into a midfield role, getting on the ball and pushing forward relentlessly.
He added a new dimension to Liverpool’s midfield, blurring the lines between deep midfielder and attacking midfielder, who shifts across the field.
On the ball, his transition to the elite level was flawless, with his first performance off the bench followed by three consecutive starts, and no substitutions until his ankle injury.
There was no pressure for Elliott, but he made sure he brought the pressure for the opposition, showing a supreme level of fitness and defensive acts applied, belying his years.
But this is a young player who has already continuously worked to sharpen his game and weaknesses, from ball use and shooting, to fitness, to diet and even incorporating speed training last year.
He has already incessantly refined aspects of his own game and he’s only 18. The very best ones don’t wait around.
Harvey is an excellent example of the struggle to identify where hard work ends and talent begins, is it ‘natural’ or is it all mentality?
Elliott’s injury was not the type you want to see a young player sustain, but even handling a serious injury is something the young man has taken in his stride, with Pep Ljinder’s telling reporters:
“Harvey is Harvey, a young boy and he deals with it outstandingly.”
“I was talking about mental strength before, as soon as it happened, the things [Elliott] was saying, he talks like he’s been through it all before and he’s a 30-odd-year-old player. He’s incredible. He’s got a great mindset.”
One for now, one for the future
Upon Manchester United’s recent signing of a 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, Klopp jokingly referred to the ageing Portuguese superstar as one, “for now and immediately.”
Liverpool’s reluctance to sign a midfielder to replace Gini Wijnaldum, when they had Elliott waiting in the wings speaks to the confidence and space the club is prepared to give the right young players to succeed.
The benefits of such an approach are many but not least, to riff on Klopp’s description of Ronaldo, someone like Harvey is potentially one for now and the next fifteen years.
Young players like Harvey will not only be key to Klopp’s current team but the ones which come after, to the attempts to build an enduring dynasty.
In their piece on Harvey, First Time Finish declared Elliott: ‘Made in the South, thriving in the North,’ which might be true but that’s a northern name, the old north, and at Liverpool, Harvey’s found his home.