Imagine running out for your debut in senior football, then looking up and realising that your direct opponent was the one and only Francesco Totti.
That’s what happened to Ryan McLaughlin in the grand setting of Boston’s Fenway Park in the summer, but the teenage Northern Irishman―then aged just 17―stood up well to the challenge presented by the Roma and Italy legend during the preseason friendly on Liverpool’s tour of North America.
It was a baptism of fire for the Belfast-born full-back, the likes of which not many players get to experience, but the youngster handled it well and left his mark on Totti on more than one occasion. The Roma star might not have known who he was facing at kickoff, but he soon found out.
McLaughlin signed for the Reds from Northern Irish club Glenavon in 2011, immediately joining the ranks of impressive young defenders at the club.
Liverpool’s academy might have received a few knocks over the years, but one thing they know how to produce is a good full-back.
Indeed, right-back was Steven Gerrard’s position when he broke into the first team in late 1998, whilst although Jamie Carragher conversely emerged on the scene as a central midfield player he has since gone on to play many games for the Reds on the both the left and right sides of the defence.
Additionally the likes of Stephen Wright and Stephen Warnock went on to have decent careers after coming through at Liverpool, whilst Stephen Darby is part of the Bradford City side which have so impressed everyone during this season’s Capital One Cup run.
In the current Liverpool squad, the likes of Martin Kelly, Andre Wisdom, Jack Robinson and Jon Flanagan have found themselves earning more and more first-team action, with Kelly graduating to the full England squad for the Euro 2012 tournament and Wisdom currently holding down a place in Brendan Rodgers’ first team plans and rightly so.
All of which suggests that it could be tough for McLaughlin to break through, but he has certainly got the talent to do so.
A right-back by trade, the teenager combines both strong defensive work with a threat going forward.
Just a month after he’d played that game against Roma in Boston he was called into the senior Northern Ireland squad for a match against Finland, and although he ultimately had to withdraw through injury the call-up certainly showed that he is on his country’s radar even if he is yet to make his Premier League bow.
He is not going to get past the likes of Glen Johnson to make that any time soon, but impressive performances at youth level have shown the 18-year-old to be more than well-equipped for a good future in the game, with the tools he possesses certainly ones that are required of the modern-day full-back.
A regular in the Northern Ireland youth squads, McLaughlin may have found himself in and out of Liverpool’s under-21 team at times during his brief Reds career, but that is more to do with Flanagan’s frequent promotion and demotion to and from the first team, as well as the local youngster’s injury problems.
A loan move away from Anfield for Flanagan next season could see McLaughlin shine in his place, and with many frequent watchers of the Liverpool youth sides indicating that he would take such a chance with both hands, he might never look back from such an opportunity.
His career is still very much a work in progress, but after his explosive start to life in the Liverpool fast lane―and the first team―he will be ready for whatever else comes his way.
After you’ve marked Totti and marked him well, surely anything is possible?