Raheem Sterling. Marc Pelosi. Seyi Ojo. Jordon Ibe. Remember their names, and file their backstories for future reference. They’re at the vanguard of a new generation that might, just might, return Liverpool to accustomed authority. Simon Cowell may not care, but Anfield’s Got Talent.
Of course, the traditional terms and conditions of professional football apply. The value of investments can go down, as well as up. It takes years of unseen work to produce an overnight hero. None of Liverpool’s latest teenage sensations are a shoo-in to succeed. They merely have a better chance than most.
Sterling, who signed his first pro contract last week, is progressing faster than anyone has a right to expect. As I have written before, this time last year he was playing football in a park in Watford, with my nephew. Now he’s a YouTube phenomenon, a Liverpool cult hero on the fringes of Kenny Dalglish’s first-team squad.
Pelosi, also 17, had the option of enhancing his reputation as the best High School footballer in the US by accepting a scholarship to UCLA. An attacking midfield player who captained his country in last summer’s Under-17 World Cup in Mexico, he is of a different quality to previous products of the American system, like the overhyped, underachiever Freddy Adu.
Pelosi embodies the global dimension to the Anfield academy. It is a progressive place, a petri dish of evolving talent, drawn from conflicting cultures. Ojo, only 14, is just settling in after his move from MK Dons. He joined Liverpool when Chelsea, sensing their £1.5million bid for the England Under-16 striker was sufficient, took their eye off the ball. MK manager Karl Robinson, who spent eight formative years coaching at Liverpool’s academy, was the decisive influence.
Ibe’s father, a Liverpool fan, did the honours. The man-child, a striker, was signed from Wycombe in midweek. They had wanted to introduce him to the first team at 14, were refused permission, and waited until he was 15 and 244 days before making him their youngest senior player.
He scored on his league debut, against Sheffield Wednesday, and had trials at Manchester City and Tottenham before Dalglish made his sales pitch. The legend sold Liverpool’s history, but knew he was buying its future. Welcome to football, and its version of Santa’s sleigh.