Sheyi Ojo: Jurgen Klopp giving Liverpool youngster his chance
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 14/04/16 12:06pm
In a Premier League debut that lasted just 45 minutes, it was what Sheyi Ojo did in the 32nd minute that caught the eye.
Having started on the right, the 18-year-old had switched out to his favoured left side when he knocked the ball past Stoke's Xherdan Shaqiri, collected it and stood up an inch-perfect cross for Daniel Sturridge to head home from a few yards out.
Sturridge called the cross "beautiful", Jurgen Klopp labelled it "brilliant". What was just as impressive, though, was the way Ojo skipped past Shaqiri to get in a position to deliver the ball on a plate.
"He just glides past full-backs and puts great balls into the box... a striker's dream," wrote former Liverpool defender Rob Jones on Twitter.
But while many on social media were encouraged by the assist, there were others who were taken by surprise. In particular, a few Wolves fans.
Not because Ojo, who has played for England from U16 to U19 level, was originally supposed to be at Molineux last weekend after joining on a season-long loan in August.
But because, during his five-month stint in the Championship, moments of quality were few and far between, despite Kenny Jackett having high hopes for him.
"I think he's a very good young player and at 18 has a bright future," said the Wolves boss in September. "He has the power and he's a natural left-winger. I feel he is going to continue to improve over the course of the season."
Looking to fill the void left by Bakary Sako's departure to Crystal Palace, Ojo made 17 Championship appearances for Wolves, but struggled to make the desired impact and was recalled by Liverpool in January as his first-team opportunities dwindled.
Just 24 hours after returning to Anfield, Ojo was handed his debut as a substitute in the FA Cup draw at Exeter. Reflecting on his time at Wolves, he told the Liverpool Echo: "It really helped me. The Championship is a difficult league with a lot of good teams and I've taken all those experiences on board. I am looking to kick on my Liverpool career now."
A few weeks later, Ojo would score his first goal for the club, curling home a shot from the edge of the box as the Reds beat Exeter 3-0 in the replay.
"Everybody who sees him playing sees he has the skills," said Klopp. "But you see he has things to work on. In the last game he was important, and he scored a very good goal here, so he's on a good path."
Klopp did not immediately reward the youngster with more first-team opportunities, only twice naming him on the bench before his start against Stoke. Instead he played several times for the U21s, catching the eye with five goals in two games against Middlesbrough and a goal against West Ham that saw him impressively outpace the defence and add a cool finish.
Of the five he scored against Boro, two were penalties, while the others showcased his all-round potential. For two of the goals he used stepovers effectively before cutting inside and finishing well. For the other he raced up in support from midfield, leaving his marker trailing in his wake, and then fired past the goalkeeper first time.
"Sheyi has got a lot of potential," said Liverpool U21 boss Michael Beale after the 2-1 win over Boro. "He has really developed and is playing a much more mature game since he has come back from Wolves. Let's not forget he is still only 18 but he is more aware of what assets he can bring to a game and what his strengths are.
"He is also working very well at what we are asking him to do when he is out of possession, and I am really pleased with him."
While Ojo's displays for the U21s earned him a starting role against Stoke, there was no place in the squad for another young winger, Jordon Ibe. The 20-year-old was a regular during pre-season, started on the opening day against Stoke and continued to feature under both Brendan Rodgers and Klopp in the first half of the season.
He could save the club millions if he can grasp what's needed and work hard, both defensively and going forward.
However, his form has tailed off in 2016. Since the start of February he has played just 176 minutes of first-team football and there has been speculation that he could leave Anfield.
So what, if anything, can Ojo learn from Ibe? "They're up and down," Beale told the Echo. "They're wingers so they have one good moment and then… he [Ibe] just needs something to happen to spark him into life."
The worry for Ibe must be that the longer he takes to rediscover his form, the further Ojo could get ahead of him in the pecking order. The 18-year-old may have only got 45 minutes against Stoke, but former Reds forward John Aldridge thinks even that could be enough to have an effect on future transfer plans.
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"He could save the club millions if he can grasp what's needed and work hard, both defensively and going forward," wrote Aldridge in the Echo. "It's the first time I've seen him in the flesh for a couple of years. He was only 15 years old back then, and I was commentating on an U18s game.
"I likened him to John Barnes because of the manner he was going down the left, and he showed a little bit of that on Sunday. You could see his ability then and you can see it now."
As Ojo himself tweeted after the game, he still has a lot to learn, but, for now at least, he seems to be on the right track.