When Jordon Ibe took to the Anfield turf on the final day of last season against Queens Park Rangers, the 17-year-old became the seventh player from Liverpool’s academy to make his debut in 2012-13.
He followed in the footsteps of Adam Morgan, Suso, Andre Wisdom, Samed Yesil, Jerome Sinclair and Conor Coady, who had all made first-team bows during the campaign.
For academy director Frank McParland, the achievement represents huge strides forward for the club’s youth setup.
“To get seven debuts in one season is great, and we’ve had a successful year,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “Every time one of the lads breaks through, it lifts everyone’s spirits at the academy.”
Let’s take look back on a special season for Liverpool’s youngsters and analyze the progress of each of the seven debutants.
Morgan is a Scouser born and bred. The Halewood native has been at the Liverpool academy since he was a schoolboy. An instinctive striker with a tireless work ethic, the youngster drew praise from manager Brendan Rodgers for his application and initiative, both on the field and in training, during the Reds’ summer tour of North America in 2012. Morgan grabbed the Reds’ only goal in their 1-1 draw against Toronto in the first game of the trip — and celebrated like he’d just clinched the winner in a European Cup final.
A month later, on Sept. 30, he was handed his full Liverpool debut at Anfield against Hearts in the second leg of Liverpool’s Europa League qualifier. On 25 minutes his powerful effort was spilled by opposition stopper Jamie MacDonald. Shortly afterwards the whole of Anfield was on its feet in celebration when the local lad displayed his innate striker’s instinct to tap the ball home and seemingly give Liverpool the lead. However, the referee disallowed the goal, adjudging Luis Suarez to have run the ball out of play in the buildup.
Born and raised in Leeds, Wisdom arrived at the Liverpool academy in 2008. The youngster made such an impression on the reserve manager of the time, Gary Ablett, that he was selected in the squad for a match soon after his 15th birthday. His debut for the first team came on Sept. 20, 2012, at the Stade De Suisse, during the Reds’ first Europa League group game against Young Boys. It took him 40 minutes to leave his mark, as he battered his way through a thicket of yellow shirts inside the penalty area and thundered a header past Marco Wolfli to make it 2-1 Liverpool.
In Martin Kelly‘s absence, Wisdom, who spent most of his academy career playing in the center-back role, would go on to make the right-back slot his own in the senior side. The powerful defender was given a Premier League debut against Norwich a week later and made a total of 19 appearances in all competitions throughout the 2012-13 campaign. In January he signed a new long-term contract with the club. Rodgers reflected on the deal: “I’m delighted for Andre because he’s a young player that’s really impressed me with his attitude and football qualities over the course of these first six months, and he’s grabbed his opportunity.”
Real Madrid and Barcelona were just two of the clubs keen on acquiring the services of Suso, the youngster from Cadiz, before he finally opted for Rafael Benitez‘s Liverpool in the summer of 2010. Rodgers saw his potential straightaway, and after handing him 45-minute spells against Toronto and Roma during the club’s preseason tour, he gave the youngster a first-team squad number, No.30, to indicate he was very much part of the plan for the future. Suso made his debut in the game against Young Boys. However, just three days later, on Sept. 23, he was thrust into the heat of the battle during a highly-charged clash against Manchester United at Anfield.
The 18-year-old displayed glimmers of potential, especially when he jinked past Paul Scholes and rifled a testing shot toward the Kop goal. From that day on he featured heavily throughout the first part of the 2012-13 campaign, and in October he was rewarded with a new long-term contract. Rodgers said: “At 18, he has demonstrated outstanding technical qualities but also shown very good temperament to play for such a prestigious club. His commitment is very good news for all our young academy players and the excellent work taken place by the academy coaches and staff.”
Yesil made his full Liverpool debut in the Reds’ League Cup third-round clash against West Brom at The Hawthorns in September 2012. The 19-year-old was tasked with leading the line on the night, as Stewart Downing, Dani Pacheco and Oussama Assaidi operated in the advanced roles behind him. Yesil had been ruthless at youth international level, firing for fun for Germany, and so Rodgers handed him a first-team debut. Liverpool fell behind after three minutes to a goal from Gabriel Tamas. However, a relatively inexperienced Reds outfit showed bags of resilience against the team that had beat them 3-0 on the opening day of the season.
Nuri Sahin pulled one back after 17 minutes, and with 10 minutes left on the clock, Yesil was withdrawn to make way for Liverpool’s youngest debutant of all-time, Jerome Sinclair. Sahin would strike again a minute later to clinch the win. In the next round of the competition, Rodgers kept his faith in Yesil and named the forward in the starting lineup for the clash against Swansea at Anfield. However, with the home side trailing 1-0 at half-time, Suarez was substituted in place of Yesil for the second 45. A cruciate ligament injury would then rule him out of action for the remainder of the academy’s season.
Sinclair became the youngest player in Liverpool’s history when he took to the field to replace Yesil at the Hawthorns. At a fresh 16 years and six days, he smashed the record laid down by Jack Robinson, who was 16 years and 250 days old when he made his first appearance against Hull in 2010. Robinson, at left-back, was on hand to applaud Sinclair onto the field with the Reds level at 1-1 against West Brom. To send Sinclair on with the game evenly poised and with Liverpool yet to win a game domestically under his stewardship, the move spoke volumes about Rodgers’ trust in the youngster.
Within a minute, however, Suso had slid the ball to Assaidi, who rolled it into the path of Sahin, and Liverpool clinched a dramatic 2-1 victory. The setting of Sinclair’s record-breaking appearance was significant also — born in Birmingham, he was educated at the Baggies’ academy before moving to Liverpool as a 14-year-old in 2011. His first-team debut came just a week after his maiden appearance for the U-21s in a NextGen Series game with Inter Milan.
Liverpool U-21 captain Coady had commanded the central-midfield role on academy pitches the length and breadth of the country for years — and in November 2012, the time was right for him to make the much-anticipated step up to the first team. However, when his debut came, it was not how he might have imagined it in his younger days, when he dreamed of playing at Anfield. Rather, his first start came on a snowy winter night in freezing-cold conditions, some 3,000 miles away from the home of the Reds. Anzhi Makhachkala was the opposition and the Dynamo Stadium in Dagestan was the setting for Coady to make his first Liverpool appearance.
Decked out in the somewhat unfamiliar purple, orange and white third strip, the youngster formed part of a midfield axis alongside Jordan Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey. The Reds slipped to defeat as Lacina Traore pounced to fire the decisive goal in the 1-0 win on 45 minutes. Coady would later make his Premier League debut for the Reds when he took to the field to replace Philippe Coutinho in the 88th minute of the final away game of the 2012-13 campaign against Fulham on May 12.
Ibe was snapped up by the Liverpool academy from Wycombe Wanderers at the end of 2011. He had impressed the coaches at his previous club to such an extent that he was given his first-team debut on Aug. 9, 2011, when he was just 15 years old. And on his first start for Wycombe he netted in a 2-1 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday. In the summer of 2012, Rodgers called Ibe into the first-team squad for the trip to North America. And then, on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign, he was handed a Premier League debut against Queens Park Rangers. While it was a poignant day for Reds fans as they said goodbye to a Liverpool legend in Jamie Carragher, many in the crowd were buoyed by the performance of Ibe. Energetic and penetrating from the off, the 17-year-old chipped in with an assist for Coutinho as the Brazilian rifled home the only goal of the 1-0 win.