One of the reasons Liverpool were relatively relaxed when Raheem Sterling’s agent started on about his client wanting £150,000 a week, regular trophies and a shirt with a nice picture of a cannon on it, was that they had Jordon Ibe.
Like Sterling, who is a good friend, Ibe was brought up in London, although south rather than north of the river; he was young, he had technique and he had talent. He does not, however, possess an agent, leaving that sort of thing to his mother and father.
“I don’t believe in having an agent,” the 19-year-old said. “I just think my parents can do the job. My concern was always playing football and, if I needed help deciding a contract off the pitch, I would always go to my parents.”
One of David and Charlet Ibe’s main tasks this summer will be to negotiate a long-term deal for Jordon to remain at Liverpool. The talks are not expected to be especially difficult, his father is a Liverpool fan “from the John Barnes days”. Jordon was a toddler when Barnes played his final game for a club that, like the one managed by Brendan Rodgers, received an awful lot of plaudits for their style without winning silverware. This afternoon they will form a guard of honour for a Chelsea side that has done precisely the opposite.
The fact that Steven Gerrard will head up the line as Jose Mourinho’s side emerges from the tunnel at Stamford Bridge seems especially poignant.
Ten years ago, in the afterglow of the miracle of Istanbul, Mourinho contacted Gerrard and told him he would never win the Premier League unless he left Liverpool for Chelsea. Torn by indecision, the man who can claim to be Liverpool’s greatest captain asked his family for advice. They were adamantly against a move to London. Mourinho’s prediction proved correct. The consolation was Anfield’s undying love.
“I was definitely in awe of him,” Ibe said of Gerrard. “I have always wanted to play with him from the minute I joined the club. It is just a shame he has to leave now.”
He can’t think of any great talks Gerrard has given, but that has never been the Liverpool way. When the striker Michael Robinson, had his brief time at Anfield, he asked Bob Paisley, who had just retired as Liverpool manager, if he had any advice: “I think you should try to put the ball in the net, son,” came the reply.
“You don’t really hear from him,” said Ibe about his captain. “He is quiet and just goes about his business.”
They did talk before he made his first start of the season, which remarkably was away to Everton. It was Gerrard’s final Merseyside derby, a stilted stalemate memorable for one moment: when Ibe sent a vicious shot from outside the area clanging on to the post in front of the Gwladys Street End. Rodgers described him as “the future of Liverpool”.
He had been spending the season on loan with Derby. “We wanted a player to get the crowd on the edge of their seat,” said their manager, Steve McClaren. “He is like one of the old jinky wingers we used to get in the game.”
It may not be entirely coincidental that McClaren’s season at Pride Park began to sour when Ibe left. Derby were second in the Championship, level on points with the leaders, Bournemouth, when he was recalled in January following a 1-0 win at Ipswich.
“I thought I’d be at Derby for the rest of the season,” said Ibe. “The doubt was that, if I came back, I might be on the bench for most of the games, just for the experience. The gaffer phoned me a couple of weeks before I came back and said he would give me the chance to fit into that wing-back role. I slightly doubted it but he has come through and delivered and I am grateful for that.”
Rodgers’ most persuasive argument to Sterling is that, if he stays at Liverpool, he will play regularly. It was the same deal Liverpool’s academy director, Frank McPartland, put to Ibe’s family when he had just turned 16 and Liverpool were competing with Manchester City for his signature. He might be paid better at the Etihad Stadium but would he play?
Ibe had no inkling he would be starting against Everton: “It was a Friday evening in training. We were doing formations and he read out the starting eleven and he said my name. I was a bit confused to be honest. We went through some set-pieces and I was nervous but the game was fine. I enjoyed it.”
His next start was a game almost as big, a 3-2 win over Tottenham, one of the very rare occasions that an intervention by Mario Balotelli has given Liverpool three points.
Then came a 2-0 victory at Southampton that counts as one of the finest performances of a difficult season. The momentum seemed startling before an injury against Besiktas brought it to a temporary halt.
Ibe is a teenager who has been playing professional football for four years. He was 15 and still at the Sacred Heart School in Camberwell when he scored his first league goal, for Wycombe against Sheffield Wednesday, the club against whom Gerrard scored his first league goal 16 years ago.
The shot was similar to the one that struck the post at Goodison Park except it went in. He dashed over to hug his mum, wearing the No 33 shirt he now has at Liverpool. On its front the message from the sponsor said: “Dreams.” Somewhat humourlessly, he was booked.
“On Monday, I went back to school as normal,” he said. “Things were all the same, my friends were the same. In the science class we watched the game again. My mum has kept me humble. I think I am humble myself.”
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