Ben Woodburn initially gained recognition for his standout performances for Liverpool at youth level, which saw the youngster fast-tracked into the senior side at the beginning of this campaign. After being included in the latest Wales squad for the first time, the 17-year-old is now in the process of developing his career for both club and country.
In 2007, Woodburn began his association with Liverpool football club before reaching the age of seven while playing for the junior team and continued to represent the Reds until appearing at under-18 level. Due to consistently outshining players of a similar age, Jurgen Klopp took notice of the rising star and drafted him into the senior set-up during this pre-season. The teenager made his non-competitive debut in a friendly against Tranmere Rovers and four months later, he signed his first professional contract.
Woodburn had just two weeks to wait before being presented with the opportunity to taste Premier League action. In a 2-0 victory over Sunderland, he entered the fray with 92 minutes on the clock, which marked a significant achievement for the youngster who had grown up wearing the Merseyside red. While for his national side, he’s progressed through the ranks and appeared in 15 games for the Welsh youth teams, scoring six times; including a hat-trick for the under-16s against Northern Ireland. Although he has already shown great potential, at various age groups in both domestic and international football, bigger accolades are expected in the near future and one has recently arrived.
Wales face a crucial game against Republic of Ireland in the World Cup qualifiers on Friday night. The Welsh Dragons currently sit third in the group, four points adrift of their next opponents, so it’s an important contest as they aim to secure a place at Russia 2018. Woodburn’s inclusion in the squad is a testament to the progress he has made over the last 12 months. It also allows him to train with Gareth Bale, which presents the Liverpool prospect with the chance to learn from one of the world’s most successful and gifted attacking players.
Although Woodburn was born in Nottingham so remains eligible to play for England, due to having a Welsh Grandfather, he now looks certain to wear the red of their close neighbours in a competitive fixture before too long. Speaking about his decision to call-up the teenager, as printed in the Telegraph, Wales manager Chris Coleman told reporters.
When everyone got excited six months ago, saying, ‘You need to take a look at Ben Woodburn’ – it made me laugh. He had been in our system for five years. He is technically very good and won’t be daunted by coming with us. He’s done very well at Liverpool surrounded by top players. This season he has taken it to another level. At the minute, from what I have seen, he belongs in our strongest 23. That’s why he is there.
Selection for international duty comes in the midst of Woodburn enjoying his breakthrough season for Klopp’s side. He’s amassed seven appearances this campaign, which includes featuring in three Premier League encounters, starting three FA Cup ties while saving his most memorable contribution for the EFL Cup last November. In the game against Leeds United, the young star rifled the ball home from close range in front of the Kop to become the Merseyside club’s youngest ever goalscorer, aged 17 years and 45 days. It was a moment Woodburn will forever cherish.
This particular goal demonstrated the youth’s composure in the penalty area, along with his technical ability to keep the ball down. However, while the latest Welsh recruit possesses a natural instinct in front of goal, he’s also a creative spark, with pace and trickery at his disposal to ease past defenders. The Liverpool youngster’s attributes ensure he is the perfect fit for Klopp’s preferred style of play, but his favoured position remains unknown. He has been compared to Welsh compatriot Aaron Ramsey, as well as likened to former Anfield great Robbie Fowler; so will Woodburn emerge as a midfielder or striker?
Regardless of where he finds himself deployed on the pitch, it’s essential for him not to get carried away by his recent call-up to the Wales national team. There is a fine line between a young protege succeeding in the big time and falling hopelessly into obscurity. Both Klopp and Coleman have placed their faith in his talent; he must now seize the moment to shine. Although still in the early stages of his career, Woodburn’s proven his potential to become a genuine superstar and if the 17-year old continues to develop as anticipated, a promising future awaits.