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Sheyi Ojo making his case for first-team breakthrough with Liverpool
Jürgen Klopp is as gregarious a character as they come among football’s leading managerial figures. The British press are a rather competitive bunch to say the least, but Klopp maintains an open forum with reporters and can largely do without a staunch PR manager looming over his shoulder to control his press conferences, as is customary at top clubs.
Particularly during Liverpool’s preseason tour of the United States, Klopp has been laid-back and candid with a small group of traveling British journalists and American press. For reporters, there’s no need to worry about the manager swatting away questions with one-line retorts; it’s more about throwing a topic up into the air and seeing where Klopp decides to take it.
And so, one reporter kicked off Klopp’s post-match press conference following Liverpool’s 2-0 friendly victory over AC Milan on Saturday night with “an easy question,” regarding Sheyi Ojo’s future at the club.
On the contrary, though, Ojo’s situation is hardly straightforward and Klopp was frank about his uncertainty. The nineteen-year-old forward was impressive in Liverpool’s comprehensive preseason victory at Levi’s Stadium and although he’s eager for a first-team breakthrough with the Reds this season, Klopp is unsure whether that opportunity will be there for the youngster.
Having played on loan at Wigan Athletic last season, perhaps it would be better for Ojo to head out on another loan move in search of regular playing time this year. Regarding the youngster’s short-term future, Klopp is still undecided.
“We have to see,” the German manager mused. “He’s a wonderful player for sure and his future is 100 per cent at Liverpool. I don’t think we have to make a decision so early, we have time and we have to use the time. He has already had a few injuries, not the biggest but in the wrong place, I would say. We have to be cool and train to make the boys as fit as possible. Ojo has been with us for five days or something, he came directly from the U19 tournament. We will see but his future is at Liverpool.”
It doesn’t take a linguist to read behind the lines: Ojo has a chance to force his way into Klopp’s plans this summer, though the odds may be against him. So far, he has grasped the opportunity with both hands.
The pacy winger was a standout performer in Liverpool’s victory over Milan, assisting Roberto Firmino’s winning goal after a blistering run down the wing. He is battling for playing time with the likes of Divock Origi, who has a similar set of strengths, and Firmino, but his work ethic and eagerness for playing time will help Ojo stand out from the rest of the pack. In an interview with the Liverpool Echo, Ojo revealed that he had even skipped his holiday to join Liverpool’s preseason tour of America.
“The manager asked me if I wanted some time off after the [Under-19] Euros but I said I wanted to come straight here,” Ojo said. “I was keen to be out here. I wanted to be part of this. I’m not too fussed about a holiday.
“It’s been busy. After the end of last season, I was working hard in the lead up to the Euros with the England training camp. It all paid off. The Euros were a great experience and I’m feeling fit now.
“Being out here is definitely best for my development. It’s been a good experience to be back with the team. Now I just want to kick on.”
The winger joined Liverpool’s academy from MK Dons at the age of fourteen for a fee believed to be around £2 million. He has featured for the England youth national teams in the U-16 through U-19 age groups and also spent time on loan at Wigan and Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2015 before being recalled by Klopp in January. He made his competitive debut for Liverpool in a 2-2 draw with Exeter City in the FA Cup and has since played seven times for the Reds. Already, he could be well on his way towards more frequent appearances in the future.