Liverpool's trio of young strikers seek elusive breakthrough
By Neil Robinson
(Reuters) - Around the time 17-year-old England striker Rhian Brewster became the first player since Pele to score a hat-trick in a semi-final at any World Cup on Wednesday, another gifted Liverpool attacker signed a new five-year contract.
At 18, Wales international Ben Woodburn is six months Brewster's senior but two years younger than Dominic Solanke, the third of Liverpool's trio of young forwards who have all made an impact on the international stage as they await their chance under manager Juergen Klopp.
Earlier this season, Woodburn even scored a goal in a senior World Cup match, netting on his debut in the 1-0 victory over Austria in a vital qualifier, while Solanke won the Golden Boy award as the best player at the Under-20 World Cup, which England won.
Meanwhile, Brewster awaits what could be his crowning moment in Saturday's final against Spain.
"Brewster will walk back into Liverpool's Melwood training ground feeling a million dollars," said Jamie Redknapp, a former Liverpool midfielder and England Under-21 captain who helped his side win the prestigious Toulon tournament in 1994.
"Now it is important Brewster keeps a level head. He and his England team mates are entering a crucial stage of their development. Far too often, English clubs give players aged 16 to 19 ridiculous contracts that they have not earned," he wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper.
No details are available of the size of Woodburn's new deal but British media reported Solanke signed a contract worth 20,000 pounds ($26,458) per week in the year after, like Brewster at a younger age, moving from Chelsea.
Both believe their chances of breaking into the first team are better at Liverpool, although their battle appears to be just beginning.
Award-winning author Michael Calvin has specialised at tracking progress from academies to the professional ranks and says the odds are heavily stacked against any youngster.
"Only 180 of the 1.5 million boys who play organised youth football will play one minute in the Premier League -- that is a success rate of 0.0012 percent," he told Reuters.
"And it can get worse. Arsene Wenger told me that 67 percent of boys who get a professional contract are out of the game by 21. Of those, one or two will leave as millionaires without kicking a ball in first-team football."
The problem remains the stockpiling of resources by the big clubs, with the best young talents getting experience in short bursts.
That is Solanke's current role at Liverpool: he has played a total of 93 minutes in seven appearances off the bench this season plus a full 90 in the League Cup loss at Leicester.
Woodburn has appeared more for Wales than Liverpool, for whom he has managed a solitary half against Leicester this season after making his senior debut last November. At 17, he became the club's youngest ever goalscorer, beating Michael Owen's record by 98 days.
Although Woodburn has only played Under-23 football this season, captaining Liverpool in the Uefa Youth League, he remains hopeful of getting his chance soon.
"I feel like at this club, there is a pathway to the first team and you get given chances here," he said this week. "I want to show what I can do."
Behind Woodburn, Brewster also presses against the first-team window and was named on the bench for the Premier League clash with Crystal Palace at Anfield last season. He then played in a friendly against Sydney FC in Australia.
Like Woodburn, he has been fast-tracked into the Under-23 team and is part of a genuinely talented age group with England.
Yet of his peer group, only Angel Gomes has Premier League experience, playing two minutes for Manchester United on the final day of last season.
Redknapp does not expect that rather bleak picture to change any day soon. "We are only nine games into this campaign and already three managers — Frank de Boer, Craig Shakespeare and Ronald Koeman — have been sacked. With results and survival paramount, little wonder so few managers are prepared to give youngsters a chance," he said.
Solanke, Woodburn and Brewster all appear to have their work cut out.
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(Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Christian Radnedge)