MATT ADDISON COLUMN | Ben Woodburn could be Liverpool’s long-term Coutinho replacement – his Wales debut goal came as no surprise

England’s World Cup qualifier in Malta made very few waves due to its drab and boring nature, as Gareth Southgate’s side strolled through a dismal game it was inevitable they would win, but Wales’ international fixture was anything but forgettable.

In the 69th minute, with the score still 0-0 against Austria, Wales manager Chris Coleman took off Tom Lawrence in search of a goal, and turned to Liverpool’s 17-year-old Ben Woodburn.

It was the youngster’s international debut, with his country needing to win to retain a realistic chance of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia, but he showed no signs of fear. Woodburn was completely unfazed.

Within four minutes, Wales’ number 22 had taken a touch and fired an accurate shot into the corner of the goal from 25 yards, and the Cardiff City Stadium erupted. For a 17-year-old to take on such a mantle and score a goal that clearly meant so much to an entire nation is astonishing.

Wales won the crucial game 1-0, with Woodburn involved in managing the game by keeping possession after he had opened the scoring, fitting right in straight away.

It really was the stuff of dreams, with many claiming that a new talisman had emerged. That might be a slight exaggeration at this stage, with Gareth Bale a clear leader in the Welsh squad, but he is certainly heading in the right direction.

Ben Woodburn unleashes the shot that won Wales’ crucial World Cup qualifier against Austria (Photo Credit: Geoff Caddick, Getty Images)

Woodburn, who was born near Chester but was persuaded by Chris Coleman to represent Wales over England, rightly received praise from everyone from Gareth Bale to David Hasselhoff, but no one at Liverpool will have been surprised.

Jurgen Klopp and his staff have been aware of the precocious talent at their disposal for a while now, and had no qualms about playing him on occasions last season for his boyhood club. No doubt he will feature this campaign, too.

He only completed his GCSE exams last summer, and was training with Liverpool’s under-16s at the time, but since then has kicked on incredibly.

Ever since he burst onto the scene and became Liverpool’s youngest ever senior goalscorer against Leeds United in the EFL Cup last November, he has been around the first team squad, and Liverpool fans have been well aware of how good he can be.

His Wales debut goal was a lovely moment to watch, but the quality and maturity of his performance and strike was no shock.

At the moment, Klopp has played Woodburn in a couple of different positions – wide of the front three and in a deeper, more central role – and is as yet reluctant to tie him down to just one, but long-term he should find himself in the middle, where he can have most influence and cause most destruction.

In fact, in the long-run, Woodburn could play in the position Philippe Coutinho will vacate once he returns to the fold, as a number eight in the middle of Liverpool’s team.

Adam Lallana, too, will not be around forever, and Woodburn could prove to be every bit as vital to Liverpool as he is in the same kind of role.

He has a similar body shape and balance on the ball to Coutinho, and is ideally suited to playing in the deeper role with his incredible vision and passing.

In time, his pressing ability will improve, something fundamental to the way Klopp’s Liverpool play, and there is a real feeling his potential, if exploited, could see him soar right to the very top.

He has all the tools, the right attitude and a determination to succeed, and a manager at club and international level willing to give him time on the pitch.

Without wanting to put too much pressure on him – although he has shown to be capable of dealing with it so far – when Coutinho does move on, as is inevitable at some point, Liverpool might have a very good replacement already in their ranks.

For now, amid the euphoria of scoring for Wales, Woodburn will do well to purely focus on keeping a level head, but there is no doubt he has a big future.

Keep on delivering as he has done so far in his fledgling career, and Woodburn could find himself a key place in the Liverpool team and be right at the pinnacle of Welsh football, alongside the likes of Gareth Bale and Ian Rush.

Matt Addison writes a column each week for @AnfieldPress, covering all of the major talking points in the world of Liverpool FC throughout the season. Follow him on Twitter at @MattAddison97.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s