Why we shouldn't expect too much, too soon

Posted by [delete] on November 9, 2005, 05:25:53 PM

The arrivals in the past few weeks of young players such as Jack Hobbs, Godwin Antwi and Antonio Barragan have all brought with them various promising reports of what each player can bring to Liverpool in the future.  It’s very rare that this promise is converted into talent, but these signings got me thinking of the players over the past ten years or so that we heard were all set to be the "next big thing."

Of course it would be unfair to put Mssrs Hobbs, Barragan etc in the category of ‘unfulfilled promise’ just yet, but taking a look at some of our ex-players, it shows that the most important time of any player’s development is (by far) between the ages of seventeen and nineteen.

Here are a few blasts from the past ten years and what they went onto do ..

Nicky Rizzo

Nicky Rizzo wasn’t exactly hyped up to Michael Owen proportions, but he was hoped to make some impact.  A year younger than compatriot Harry Kewell, but while Kewell was breaking into Leeds’ side and winning rave reviews [how times change], Rizzo made an appearance on the bench for the derby game where Ince equalised Ferguson’s goal, but left for Crystal Palace when his contract ran out in 1998. 

Rizzo made numerous appearances for Palace (then in Division One) but left in 2000 to seek pastures new in Italy with Ternana, who signed him on the back of recommendation from Attilio Lombardo.  Whilst he’d shown some signs of the promise that made him a talent at Liverpool, there were hardly any tears being shed at Selhurst Park.

He appeared in the 2000 Olympics for Australia, who lost three out of three in Sydney, but then injuries and lack of form ensured he wasn’t able to cement his place in the Ternana side.  He moved down to Serie C with AC Prato where he played regularly, but after five years in Italy he went back to Oz in the summer of 2004 with the sole intent of getting himself an English club.

That club turned out to be ex-Wimbledon franchise MK Dons, with Rizzo signing permanently with them in November 2004.  He has played quite regularly for the Dons, although the vast majority of his appearances have been either from the bench or he has been subbed.   

Rizzo was admittedly unlucky with a broken leg at Palace that left him at one point chasing his career in the depths of the Italian third division, but even now is finding it hard to get a run in a struggle League One side.

John Miles

A forward who describes himself as more of a “Teddy Sheringham type forward” rather than an out-and-out striker.  He left Liverpool at the age of 20, despite being a handy goalscorer at youth and reserve level, having never made the grade at Anfield and was signed by Stoke in early 2002.

Miles made one appearance that season coming on against Bristol City, and was allowed to join Crewe, then in the second division, for free.  Miles was reduced to cameo roles in Alex’s games, but his first senior goal came on New Year’s Day against Mansfield.  It was one of the first times Miles had a chance at senior level for any real amount of time, and he proved his talent inspiring Crewe to a two nil win.

He started the next game against Bournemouth, and was subbed in the replay of the same game, never again to play for Crewe.  He signed, initially on loan, for Macclesfield, and impressed enough there to win himself a deal at Moss Rose. 

He is now a main player at Macclesfield, and at 24 can still play at a higher level, although he faces a battle with loanee Clyde Wijnhard [ex-Leeds] to get into the Macclesfield side.

Hakur Gudnason

He was signed from Iceland side Keflavik for £150,000 by Roy Evans, and even though he never made a single competitive appearance for the Reds still managed to win three caps for Iceland in European Championship Qualifiers [also “starring” in a 6-1 thrashing by Brazil in March 2002].

Despite the large transfer fee (one normally only splashed out on a 19 year old with real talent) and a few appearances in friendlies, Gudnason loitered round the youth and reserve sides for a few years before being sent packing back to Iceland for a loan spell with KR Reykjavik. He returned to the club for three months before leaving the club without a single appearance to his name in Febuary 2001.

Gudnason is currently playing for Iceland side Fylkir and won a championship last year.

Leyton Maxwell

When Liverpool beat Hull City 4-2 in front of a half full Anfield, it merely confirmed participation in the third round, as the Reds were already 5-1 up.  But a goal from then nineteen year old Leyton Maxwell, on his first appearance for Liverpool, confirmed his status as a Hobbs or Idrizaj of his day. 

But after a year and a bit with no more first team action the Welsh winger was loaned to Stockport County for a season, playing a part mainly as a sub as the Edgeley Park club finished bottom in what was then the First Division.

Cardiff City, then of Division Two, took Maxwell to his home country, with a permanent transfer from the Reds. Maxwell appeared almost every game as a sub up until around the New Year, as he found it difficult to move Boland and Kavanagh [now of Wigan] from the Bluebird’s lineup. His appearences helped them to the playoffs where they lost to Stoke. His contract was ended by mutual consent at the end of the season, and he played a game for Swansea on a non-contract basis, not doing enough to seal a permanent deal.

Maxwell had spells with Barry Town, Rhyl and Carmarthen Town before moving to Bangor City of the Welsh Premier League, where he is one of their leading scorers. 

It's understandable that there's great interest when a new player, whether experienced or otherwise, signs in at Melwood or comes through the ranks.  However the players above are only the tip of the iceberg of those that don’t make it; Jon Newby, Steve Torpey, Daniel Sjolund are others.  Far more of the lads signed in the summer will be a Hakur Gudnasson or Frode Kippe rather than a Jamie Carragher or Steven Gerrard.

So, while it’s nice to hear good reviews for Hobbs, Antwi etc, it’s also worth pointing out that expectation levels for all of them should be low rather than being compared with past graduates from the Academy. Potter, Welsh and Mellor have had to put up with ridiculous expectations and hype but then are quickly criticised as not being good enough as once in a generation world-class superstars like Gerrard, Owen et al.

Seventeen and eighteen year old lads will never prosper with the weight of expectation we seem to heap on them as soon as they sign on to become a Red or progress to Melwood from the Academy.

© Gary Ablett 2005

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