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Despite only turning 17 in April, Rhian Brewster seems to be a footballer in a hurry.
A forward with the wonderful combination of pace, power and skill, Brewster has made such huge leaps at Liverpool in the 2016/17 season that even astronaut Neil Armstrong should be impressed.
At the start of the campaign, he was still yet to make his debut for the Reds’ under-18 team. Now he is an established member of the under-23 squad, has experienced sitting on the bench for the first team and is currently playing a starring role for England at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
Yet the really good news for Liverpool fans is this could just be the tip of the iceberg for a player who left Chelsea to head north and further his career.
“He has a long way to go and he is prepared to put the work in, and at this moment in time he is someone who has got huge potential,” under-23s coach Mike Garrity said of Brewster, per the Press Association (h/t the Irish Independent).
Brewster is obviously not the first hotshot to come through the ranks at Liverpool’s academy. He’s not even the first forward to emerge from the Kirkby production line and flirt with the first team this season.
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Just over 20 years ago, Liverpool handed an opportunity to a young striker who had also impressed at youth level for both club and country.
On May 6, 1997, Michael Owen made his first-team debut. Charged with the task of rekindling the Reds’ fading title hopes, he scored 16 minutes into his debut against Wimbledon.
“If you are good enough, you are old enough,” former manager Roy Evans said, per Ian Ross of the Guardian.
Owen was definitely good enough. At 17 years and 143 days, he became the club’s youngest scorer (a record that stood until this season). Just a year later, the forward finished as the Premier League’s joint-top marksmen with 18 goals and was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.
It is asking an awful lot for Brewster to follow suit, but Liverpool know better than most the benefits of nurturing homegrown talent. All clubs want scorers, yet most come at a serious cost.
Even cash-rich Premier League clubs like a bargain—what better way of saving money than developing a star through your own ranks?
If Brewster goes on to make an impact with Liverpool, and that is still a huge “if” of course, his success will hurt those at Chelsea who not only spotted his talent but also developed him through his early years.
The Londoner could easily have remained close to home to continue with the highly successful Blues, who last month secured the FA Youth Cup for a sixth time in eight seasons.
However, he realised the need to look beyond the next few years. While safe and secure in the short term at Stamford Bridge, the time had come to think about his preferred path into the pro game.
“I was at Chelsea from the age of seven to 14 but then I told them I wanted to look at my options because I didn’t see a pathway to become a first-team player there,” he told Steve Hunter of Liverpool’s official website.
The calculated career gamble appears to be paying off.
Like the academically bright kid in class, Brewster has been skipped ahead of his peers. After impressing for Liverpool’s under-18 age group, he was pushed up to play for the under-23s—and duly scored on debut.
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Jurgen Klopp took notice of the bright young thing. The German has shown a willingness to use the club’s best prospects to fill out his first-team squad ever since taking charge on Merseyside in October 2015.
A focus on the UEFA Europa League led to opportunities in the closing months of the last Premier League season, while Klopp has used the cup competitions in this campaign as a way of taking a glimpse into the club’s future.
Ben Woodburn shot to prominence by scoring in an EFL Cup tie against Leeds United last November, in the process breaking Owen’s scoring record as he found the net aged 17 years and 45 days.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria both started that game too, while the former was thrown in at the deep end when starting the 1-1 league draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford in January.
Brewster came close to getting his opportunity in the Premier League against Crystal Palace last month.
Without injured forwards Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge, Klopp added another teenager to his already young bench, bringing the average age of his substitutes down to 19. Never mind a list of game-changing replacements, it looked more like registration in a school classroom.
While Brewster never made it further than warming up, the experience shows not only how quickly he’s developed but also how highly he’s rated.
“He was on the bench last week because we thought he deserved it and we could use him in the right moment. It was not (the right moment) for this, but that does not mean it will not happen again in the future,” Klopp said after the 2-1 defeat to the Eagles, per Andy Kelly of the Liverpool Echo.
Rhian Brewster and the England U17s are through to the final of the #U17EURO tournament after beating Turkey today! #lfc https://t.co/fEed2FGhpF
5/16/2017, 6:30:00 PM
He will now have to wait until next season for a first-team debut.
While Liverpool fight to finish in the top four on Sunday, the striker is set to line up for England in the final of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Croatia. Brewster has scored three goals to help Steve Cooper’s squad set up a showdown with 2016 beaten finalists Spain for the trophy.
Still, success at youth level—even on the international stage—is no guarantee of a long and prosperous career. Bright lights can burn out quickly, particularly as their physical development slows down.
Take Dominic Solanke, for example. He played for England when they were crowned European champions at the same age-group level in 2014, yet the attacker has struggled to make an impact with Chelsea since and is set to leave Stamford Bridge this summer following a contract dispute.
Brewster—comfortable on the ball and capable of creating as well as scoring—should have looked at Solanke when considering his own future. Liverpool will hope Chelsea’s loss proves to be their gain.
Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All statistics used in the article are from WhoScored.com unless otherwise stated.