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'He's gone on to do amazing' - Liverpool backed out of £5m agreement to fast-track Academy jewel

Liverpool Echo logo Liverpool Echo 06/08/2022 Keifer MacDonald
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Throughout the summer of 2014, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was left scratching his head at the thought of drawing up a masterplan that would see his side go one better than the previous Premier League campaign.

That was because of the unexpected title challenge, spearheaded by the ferocious pairing of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, which had taken the Reds to within two points of a first league title since May 1990.

However, any plans the Northern Irishman was to construct during the lengthy hiatus from club football, as he watched his cohort of international stars descend on Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, would come without the inclusion of the Uruguayan star who was in the process of forcing through a move to Barcelona for a fee of £75m.

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It goes without saying that his departure significantly weakened Rodgers' resources just weeks before the start of the new domestic season, with Suarez's 31 goals in 33 Premier League game in the previous season virtually papering over the cracks of a shaky defensive unit that had so often been bailed out by Liverpool's No.7 - shipping 50 goals, a number only topped by three other sides in the league's top-ten.

And as soon as the Liverpool manager looked to deliver the Premier League title he had promised during his 180-page dossier in his interview with John W. Henry some two years earlier, Javier Manquillo was signed from Atletico Madrid on a two-year loan deal to help extinguish the Reds' defensive frailties.

Upon signing a deal that was reported to have included a £5m option to buy in the summer of 2016, the Spaniard was filled with excitement following a move to Anfield. "I'm very happy to have signed for a club like Liverpool. I think it's one of the biggest in Europe," said the then 20-year-old.

"Any footballer would want to come and play here. When they tell you Liverpool want to sign you, I think like any player, you are going to be absolutely amazed and you don't think of anything else than going straight there. It's a team that nowadays, as I said before, any player would want to be a part of."

Rodgers' Spanish revelation would continue later in the window, with a continued focus on improving his defensive options, as Sevilla full-back Alberto Moreno swiftly followed his compatriot through the doors of Anfield for a fee of £12m. Which ended the Reds' long-term pursuit of the 22-year-old left-back.

As Martin Kelly, Aly Cissokho and Daniel Agger were among the defenders to depart Anfield in the summer of 2014, that signing of the Spanish duo would allow Rodgers to introduce a more cautious, possession-based style of play ahead of his third season on Merseyside.

"We are trying to make this a sustainable team," said Rodgers just days before the Reds' opening Premier League fixture against Southampton. "I see some odds with us not being in the top four. We are up there to be competitive.

"We want to be up there again. We scored 101 goals last season. There is no change to what we will do. Whether we have lost our fear factor remains to be seen but there will be no change."

After a promising start to the new campaign with victories over the Saints and Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham at White Hart Line, the drawbacks of the previous campaign returned as Rodgers' men were defeated by West Ham and Aston Villa before dropping further points to Newcastle United and Hull City inside the first ten outings of the new Premier League season.

It marked a difficult start to life at Anfield for Manquillo who started six of those games, where his side had disappointingly shipped 13 goals as Liverpool sat seventh in the league standings and the pressure quickly started to mount on the Northern Irishman and his position as manager.

Despite his difficult start to life at Anfield, there were occasional glimpses of Manquillo's attacking promise as his willingness to drive into the box handed the Reds an all-important get-out of jail card against Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad. On a night when Anfield marked its return to Champions League duty with a stoppage-time winner from captain Steven Gerrard after the full-back had been fouled by goalkeeper Emil Gospodinov.

But unlike Moreno who finished his maiden season on Merseyside with an impressive 34 Premier League outings, the Atletico Madrid loanee struggled to nail down a place in the dysfunctional Liverpool defence as he failed to make a Premier League appearance during the second half of the campaign, following Rodgers' gamble to switch to a back-three.

Deploying Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can as his new-look back-line, with Lazar Markovic tasked with patrolling the right-hand side on wing-back duties, Liverpool went 13 games unbeaten between December and March - a run which bookended by defeats to Manchester United. Ultimately, despite the late-season revival, it wasn't enough for Rodgers' men to qualify for the Champions League and the success which followed the unconventional switch to a new system saw Manquillo's future at Anfield plunged into doubt.

Despite rumours that the club had plans to terminate the Spaniard's loan a year early, the Liverpool manager was convinced that the then 21-year-old had a bright future at Anfield.

“When the system changed it was obviously a little more difficult for him,” said Rodgers in May 2015. “Young Manqui is a good defender. He has come in, he signed a two-year loan because the first year was always going to be about adapting to the league and of course he hasn’t played as much as he probably would have liked to play.

“But a lot of that has been due to the system change. He is a good kid and hopefully, he comes back in pre-season and can work well and work his way into the team.”

However just days into the summer transfer window Liverpool moved swiftly to sign England and Southampton full-back Nathaniel Clyne for £12m, before agreeing with the La Liga outfit to terminate the Spaniard's second season of the agreement which had brought him to Merseyside the previous year.

It was later that summer, following the exit of Manquillo, Rodgers would include 16-year-old academy prospect Trent Alexander-Arnold in his travelling entourage for the pre-season victory over Swindon Town. The young Scouser, who was then plying his trade in midfield for Pep Lijnders' U16s side, featured for just under an hour at the County Ground as Christian Benteke stole the show with his first goal for the club.

“Trent impressed me last year; he came up as a schoolboy and played in a practice match and did very well," said Rodgers speaking after the victory in August 2015.

“I always had that in the back of my mind and when we needed someone to bring in, it was good for him to get the chance.”

Of course, it would be the Northern Irishman's successor Jurgen Klopp who would hand the youngster his Premier League bow the following year as he well and truly began his journey in the Liverpool first team. However, Manqullio's disappointing spell at Anfield saw Rodgers turn to the youth of Kirkby, allowing the then 16-year-old the priceless opportunity to impress senior figures at Anfield, even if it was just a pre-season friendly.

Since that scorching afternoon in the southwest of England, Alexander-Arnold, and Liverpool, have since gone from strength to strength. The defender alongside his teammate Andy Robertson has revolutionised how the full-back position is played in Europe, with the pair contributing 115 assists in all competitions since the summer of 2017 - a tally which has been integral to the Reds' Premier League and European Cup triumphs.

Last season saw Alexander-Arnold evolve his game once more as he was deployed more frequently in central positions, in a year where Klopp's game was within two games of completing an unprecedented quadruple. But despite the heartbreak of missing out on both the European Cup and the Premier League title last term, the England international - who is the youngest player to feature in back-to-back Champions League finals - could be about to enjoy the best season of his professional career to date if last weekend's Community Shield victory is a fair barometer.

His goal in the domestic season curtain-raiser against Manchester City came seven years after his first senior pre-season outing with the Reds, and if it wasn't for the failings of Manquillo's time at Anfield then it may have been a completely different story for Alexander-Arnold.

And despite leaving Anfield almost seven years ago, the West-derby man's appearance at the County Ground is a tale used by Rodgers to yield inspiration from those inside the academy of his current employers, Leicester City.

"Four years ago, I took a pre-season team to Swindon and the young player I played that day was Trent Alexander-Arnold, and he's done okay," said Rodgers as he recalled the words he passed onto the Foxes' youngsters included with the first-team during the summer of 2019.

"At 16 years of age, it doesn't matter, this can be the stepping stone for you, the same with all the other young players.

"What Trent did, was use the motivation of that day to go on to be a first-team player, obviously he has gone on to do amazing."

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