Profiling Rhian Brewster: Liverpool's Star at the European Under-17 Championship

Rob LancasterFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2017

Londoner Rhian Brewster left Chelsea to continue his career with Liverpool.
Londoner Rhian Brewster left Chelsea to continue his career with Liverpool.Ronny Hartmann/Getty Images

Despite only turning 17 at the start of April, Rhian Brewster seems to be a footballer in a hurry.

A fleet-footed forward who is willing to also do the dirty work, Brewster has taken 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 had yet to make his debut for the Reds' under-18 team. Now he is not only an established member of the under-23 squad but has also experienced sitting on the bench for the first team, while he's 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.

Michael Owen made an immediate impact.
Michael Owen made an immediate impact.Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Just over 20 years ago, however, 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 in Owen's footsteps, but Liverpool know better than most the benefits of nurturing homegrown talent.

"Brewster is a clinical finisher, and while Liverpool have had plenty of those in their academy in recent years—look at Adam Morgan, for example—what sets him apart is his versatility and his work rate," Jack Lusby, a feature writer for This Is Anfield, told Bleacher Report.

"I'd have him down primarily as a No. 9, though he can play on either flank or slightly deeper, and the obvious focus for him if he is would be to work on his physicality—particularly if he's going to play a lone role up front."

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 nurtured it through his early years.

The Londoner could easily have remained close to home to continue his apprenticeship with the highly successful Blues, who last month secured the FA Youth Cup for a sixth time in eight seasons.

However, while safe and secure in the short term at Stamford Bridge, the time had come to think about what was best for his future. The answer meant leaving home and trying his luck elsewhere.

"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 quickly impressing for Liverpool's under-18 age group, he was pushed up to play for the under-23s—and duly scored on debut.

Ovie Ejaria played in cup competitions.
Ovie Ejaria played in cup competitions.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Jurgen Klopp took notice, too. 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—the player Brewster initially replaced in Liverpool's under-18 team—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 played in 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 own 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 by the club's staff.

"Obviously he was on the bench for the 2-1 loss to Palace, but it would be wise to take a patient approach to Brewster's development—and foolish to look at the transition Woodburn has made and assume every young player can do the same," Lusby said.

"He only turned 17 at the start of 2017, and I expect Klopp will be wary of exposing him too early.

"Personally, I'd rate him higher than Woodburn—and perhaps that's saying something about Brewster's quality—but I feel like this is a player Klopp will keep under wraps for the time being.

Brewster will now have to wait until at least next season to make his first-team debut.

By the time Liverpool face Middlesbrough on Sunday, the striker will have lined 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 professional career.

Take Dominic Solanke, for example. He was the leading scorer as England 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 will hope his career doesn't follow the same path as his former club colleague. Bright lights can burn out quickly, particularly when their physical development begins to down.

"Klopp mentioned a 'special kid' in Liverpool's academy back in January and I wouldn't be surprised if that was Brewster. Expect big things, but expect to wait," Lusby added.

Liverpool will not rush him, but Brewster could save them millions in the long run.

   

Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.