When Liverpool last played Real Madrid in a Champions League final, a 15-year-old Harvey Elliott was there as a fan. Now, he will be in Paris as part of the squad…
For the vast majority of Liverpool supporters descending on the city of Paris this weekend, Saturday night’s Champions League final with Real Madrid will present the opportunity to seek revenge for the crushing defeat inflicted on Jurgen Klopp’s side during the 2018 final in Kyiv.
However, for Harvey Elliott, the sold-out, heavyweight encounter at the Stade de France will serve as another stark reminder of how quickly he has risen through the ranks to the elite level of European football.
Four years ago, Elliott travelled to Ukraine with his dad, Scott, and other family friends like the thousands of other supporters in the hope of spurring Liverpool to the pinnacle of European football once more, some 13 years after their unexplainable heroics in Istanbul.
“The difference? I don’t think there will be one. I’m still supporting the team as a fan,” Elliott says following a brief pause, as he too takes time to acknowledge his recent meteoric rise.
“I’m still supporting the team, but to be able to say that I’ll be there as a player is a dream in itself.
“It’s better than supporting the club there, it’s going to be crazy.”
Saturday evening will be the Reds’ 63rd game of a pulsating, absorbing and relentless campaign, and if Elliott is to feature at the home of Didier Deschamps’ world champions it will be his 13th appearance of a truly whirlwind breakthrough season on Merseyside.
Having returned to Kirkby following a seven-goal, 11-assist loan at Blackburn last term, Elliott was quick to catch the eye of both Klopp and his assistant Pep Lijnders during the Reds’ pre-season tour of France and Austria.
It was during his next league start, though, that his early-season promise came crashing down after a freakish coming-together with Leeds defender Pascal Struijk resulted in Elliott dislocating his ankle.
And in the eight months since, it’s been a hell of a journey for the 19-year-old, as he exclusively reveals to This is Anfield the struggles for form and confidence he’s endured since.
“It’s been tough, there have been a few downfalls and I don’t think I’ve played as much as wanted to since I’ve been back, but hopefully there are many years to come of me playing football,” he says.
“I just need to take a step back and realise what I need to do for myself to make sure I’m right for next season.
“There were a couple of weeks where I wasn’t training at my best, I wasn’t performing to the best of my ability and I knew that in myself.
“But I’m feeling 100 percent now, feeling better in myself, and after playing against Southampton the confidence has grown a lot more.
“I’m just waiting if I’m called upon this weekend, focused and ready.”
Speaking at the AXA Training Centre during a media day in the buildup to Saturday’s finale, Elliott’s affection for his boyhood club is unequivocal – as is his maturity, which goes way beyond his 19 years of age.
“I’m happy to play wherever, even if it’s centre-back, left-back or right-back!” laughs Elliott.
“I’m just happy to put the shirt on and give my all. It’s a club I’ve supported ever since I was a young kid so to be able to play anywhere on the pitch is a dream for me.
“I just want to do the best that I can in that position.
“I’m learning from a lot of different people, in different positions, so I can take it into my game. Just to be anywhere on the pitch is a dream.”
Learning from Mo
Saturday’s clash with Los Blancos has been billed by the masses as Mohamed Salah’s date with destiny, as he looks to amend his own personal heartbreak from his maiden final with the Reds in 2018.
During the buildup, Salah has made no secret of his burning desire to get one back on the reigning Spanish champions, after Sergio Ramos brutally ended the forward’s evening in Kyiv and subsequently minimised his durability during Egypt’s first World Cup campaign in 28 years.
But for Elliott, Salah’s personal endeavours are just one of any number of motivations ahead of the showdown with Carlo Ancelotti’s men this weekend.
“That’s [revenge] for himself and we’re going to help to make sure he does that,” he says while sporting a beaming smile.
“We want to get revenge as a team because they beat us last time, so we’re going to work as hard as we possibly can to make sure that happens.
“Hopefully, we can put that right this weekend.
“But even just for the fans, to be able to share the experience with them; they travel home, away and overseas for us.”
The 19-year-old’s admiration for Salah is evident from the bespoke series of events his name elicits; there’s a smile, a change of tone, followed by a glowing monologue.
In fact, it was in an Austrian canteen last summer that Lijnders first noticed the signs of a blossoming mentorship between the two, recalling the time Salah advised his junior about making A-list changes to his already strict eating regime.
The No. 11’s staggering obsession to follow in the footsteps of players such as Lionel Messi – in continuing to perform at the pinnacle of European football well into the 30s – has seen Salah become Anfield’s ambassador for marginal advantages.
Those modest gains – from conditioning to diet and recovery – have allowed him to scale astonishing heights during his five years on Merseyside thus far, with such commitment being lauded by his captain, Jordan Henderson, on Wednesday afternoon.
Having catapulted himself into the Reds’ all-time top 10 goalscorers list with 156 strikes, it’s no surprise that Salah has interest circulating from all corners of Europe as he runs into the final 12 months of his current Anfield deal.
Salah’s importance to Elliott’s development is echoed once again as the prospect of the forward walking away from Merseyside is discussed.
“I’ve been begging him to sign every single day, and I think the fans have as well,” Elliott jokes.
“He’s been a great asset to this club, he’s got us to so many finals by scoring winning goals, important goals.
“He’s a great person to learn off and I’ve tried to get really close to him for the small details so I can be up there with him one day.
“It’s going to be very hard, to say the least, he’s a great player and very willing to help me out if it’s needed, to be able to share the right wing with him and Trent as well is two players I’ve dreamed of playing with.”
An experienced head on young shoulders
For a player who was handed his Liverpool debut at 16, had been sounded out by Real Madrid and has already won the Premier League title, it’s quite the accolade to suggest that perhaps Elliott’s greatest attribute is his overwhelming sense of maturity.
Having excelled during his first consistent spell of senior men’s football at Ewood Park last year – in addition to bouncing back from a brutal injury back in September – he has already amassed bags of experience, even at such a tender age.
Elliott is quick to downplay the significant adversities he has managed to power through, but believes he is well-placed to use those challenges to improve, adapt and overcome anything his future Anfield path may have in store.
“I’m just going out and enjoying football, using my freshness and eagerness to have a difference in the team,” he says.
“But I’ve played in the Carabao Cup final and the Merseyside derby so I’ve had the experiences.
“I’m just using it and learning everything that comes my way and putting it into my game to make myself a better person, and player.”
Elliott’s infancy is reflected by the fact he shares a dressing room with 36-year-old veteran James Milner, who made his first Premier League appearance 145 days before the former Fulham academy graduate was born.
Although Milner’s current deal expires at the end of June – meaning that as it stands he could receive his final farewell in Paris – it is believed he is currently in talks to extend his stay by a further year.
And even with the Reds’ No. 7 seeing his game time diminish over recent seasons, the exemplary standard he demands from his colleagues day in and day out has been worth its weight in gold during Klopp’s reign, and essential in building an everlasting but enjoyable culture within the walls of Kirkby.
“He has a massive effect on us younger players and even some of the senior players. He’s been around for so many years now, and played so many games,” Elliott says.
“To have him in and around the dressing room, and the club, it’s a person I’ve wanted to learn off a lot; how he recovers, trains and always gives it 100 percent.
“He’s always wanting to work that extra mile and work harder to make himself a better player. To have him as a team-mate is something I’ve wished for my whole career.
“Hopefully, he’ll stay for many years to come.”
As the interview comes to an end, Elliott’s excitement has almost reached unattainable levels, as he knows he could be just a matter of hours away from fulfiling his lifelong dream of playing in a Champions League final.
However, despite the staggering contrast in his participation in the final in Kyiv, Elliott isn’t coming to Paris to just take part. His message to Karim Benzema and Co. is a defiant one.
Liverpool are in town. They are hungry. They are waiting. They are ready.
“We’re going to use the loss of the Premier League as motivation to make sure we put it right this weekend and make sure we’re hungrier than ever,” he says assuredly.
“It’s one last push, so hopefully we can use whatever we’ve gained this season and put it right this weekend.”