The last time Liverpool won a major European trophy, Jordon Ibe had to gain a bedtime extension to watch it. Extra-time and penalties, after Liverpool had been 3-0 down to Milan at half-time, made it a late night for the nine-year-old as Rafa Benitez’s side memorably won the Champions League in Istanbul in 2005.
Ten years on and Ibe will be in the Turkish city on Thursday as Liverpool look to advance in the Europa League, holding a 1-0 lead over Besiktas from the first leg of their last-32 tie thanks to a penalty earned by the teenage winger and converted, in controversial circumstances, by Mario Balotelli.
Ibe’s pivotal role in that win and his emergence as a genuine extra attacking option to manager Brendan Rodgers represents a rapid rise for a player who thought he would be seeing out the season on loan at Derby County but who, despite being born and brought up in south London, insists he has some Liverpool red in his blood.
“I watched the Champions League final until, like, 10 in the evening. I wasn’t allowed to stay up but I watched it,” said the 19-year-old. “My dad was a Liverpool fan. When I was growing up I supported Chelsea a little bit but I have been a Liverpool supporter since I started watching the games.”
Ibe is busy learning from his forward accomplices Daniel Sturridge, Mario Balotelli, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling since his surprise recall to Anfield. He added: “Raheem has been a really big influence, especially on pre-season tours. He has been helping me and we talk off the pitch and he gives me advice. He is a player I look up to. He is a year older than me and it gives me a lot of confidence to try and achieve what he has achieved at such a young age.”
With Sterling firmly established at first-team level at Liverpool and part of the senior England set-up, Ibe now finds himself touted as the next big thing on Merseyside. At Wycombe Wanderers he became the club’s youngest Football League player after making a debut at the age of 15. He signed for Liverpool at the end of 2011 following a trial at Manchester City which came to nothing. Ibe then made his Premier League debut on the final day of the 2012-13 season. He made a couple of appearances at the start of the next season before being loaned out to Birmingham City, a move repeated at Derby for the first half of the current campaign.
Furthering his education under former England coach Steve McClaren, Ibe scored five times for the Rams and helped them into promotion contention in the Championship before Rodgers called him back last month.
“I enjoyed it at Derby,” Ibe said. “I made a lot of new friends. The team was great and I was playing all the time so I was thinking to myself, ‘was I going to come back and not play?’ But I have done well and I am enjoying my football. It’s good for the gaffer to get me involved and hopefully I can get a few more chances to play.”
That seems in little doubt given Rodgers’ description of Ibe as a player with a remarkable football brain and tactical awareness for one so young. Powerfully built, quick and with the ability to go past a defender, he has quickly settled into an unfamiliar wing-back role.
“It’s a new position for me. It’s still good because I can still attack the full-back,” he said. “It’s new for me to cover attacking and defending but I am enjoying it and I am happy to play there.” Having taken his European bow in his stride, today’s potentially pivotal game at Southampton should hold no fears.
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