The curious case of Tiago Ilori

After a long pursuit in 2013, Liverpool finally landed Thiago (19) on the last day of the transfer window from Sporting Lisbon. Signed for a fee rumoured to be £7 million, it was no small sum for a player in that position and of that age. But ultimately one LFC felt could become a bargain, if he fulfilled his undoubted potential.

He arrived at the same time as Mamadou Sakho, the pair hailed by Rodgers as potentially “protecting the club for maybe the next 10 years”, some statement. This is what Brendan had to say, specially about Tiago

Young Ilori is a wonderful talent – he’s a good size, he’s elegant, strong, quick and can play the type of football we want to play. He was very much a coveted player throughout Europe. Those two players will add something to us, for sure, and make sure there’s real competition in the defensive department of the team.



Now we all know Rodgers loves to talk, but that is a glowing endorsement even for him, so why exactly haven’t we seen him play for the club?

For me, he’s the ideal partner for Sakho. Why? Well firstly his physical attributes. Standing at 6ft 3in, he has the height and the build you’d hope for in a centre half. An ideal standing for a centre back in the current Premier League and I can see why he arrived with such anticipation and excitement.

Blessed with incredible pace, one thing you’ll always hear in relation to Tiago is that he broke the 30 metre sprint record, set by Christiano Ronaldo, Nani and Quaresma at Sporting. Why does 30 metre’s mean anything, you may ask? For me, that’s the ideal measure of a centre backs recovery speed. Given he’s so quick, even with the time it’ll take for him to develop his positional sense (so vital for a centre back), he has that pace to react to danger. There are not many forwards in world football he couldn’t catch, that’s a rare quality and one that sets him apart from many others in his position.

He also plays the game with such confidence and as Rodgers described ‘elegance’. He’s composed on the ball, likes to play out from the back and in theory should be breaking through the door of the first team, let alone knocking on it.

One of the key reasons holding him back is his injury record. After a 6 month settling in period, he went on loan to Granada, a lower level team in La Liga. He made just 9 appearances, but one a particular standout performances vs Barcelona excited supporters greatly, giving serious hope that he could return and challenge for a place at Liverpool.

That summer Liverpool brought Dejan Lovren, all but ending Tiago’s chance of competing for a regular spot in the side, with Skrtel, Kolo and Sakho already on the books. For too long as supporters, we’ve talked of players being brought unnecessarily, blocking the progress of others in the squad. With Sakho already available, the idea of buying Lovren baffled (to put in politely), especially for the value.

Honestly, who could say after the season just past, that keeping Ilori and saving £20 million wouldn’t have been wise. Granted, a risk with both himself and Sakho prone to injury. I respect that it’s an easy argument to make now, in a position of hindsight. However I honestly don’t understand why as a club, we embrace certain talent but not others, when they clearly have ability.

Tiago was therefore forced to leave on loan once more. This time continuing his footballing education at Bordeaux in Ligue 1. A mixed campaign littered with niggling injuries, resulted in just 15 appearances. Far from ideal, but it’s not slowed Ilori’s development. He continues to grow as a player as shown in a very successful tournament with Portugal at the European U21 this summer. He was a key starter in a team that won the tournament and got much praise for his competent and confident performances.

For me there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding Tiago. Firstly why hasn’t he been embraced into the first team squad, at least given some real game time to showcase his undoubted ability? Brendan Rodgers so famed for his love of developing younger players, has never given him a clear opportunity, much the same with other younger defenders. Injuries are clearly a factor in his development, but for me he’s ready to stake a claim.

We’re once again at a cross roads. Overloaded at centre half, but leaning on experience, who’re prone to regular errors; rather than potential, who although may still make errors, should be given the chance to develop both individually and for the future of the club. I want nothing more as a club, to embrace our young talent, all throughout the side. I want to build a team who develop together and not only become stronger individually, but grow and evolve into a successful team.

Ilori to me, alongside Sakho is the future of this clubs defence, the very heart of the team. Those looking back, were the thoughts of Rodgers when both players signed. My advise to Brendan after another season of a defensive mistakes and frailties, is he should follow his initial instincts. It’s not too late to establish the duo as his first choice partnership and build a successful centre back pairing for the first time in his tenure as LFC manager. If he fails to embrace the future, it could seriously damage his own.

Rory Greenfield

Rory Greenfield

Passionate Liverpool supporter, who writes with honesty, realism and optimism for the future.
Rory Greenfield

  6 comments for “The curious case of Tiago Ilori

  1. Liam R
    July 26, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    The major difference people often fail to consider between a young talented centre back and a young talented attacker is the costliness of an error. While I agree with the general theme that Ilori should certainly be given a chance, you have to consider that making a mistake that leads to a goal, would not only be crushing for personal morale, but also to the team, than up the other end of the pitch where a mistake invariably leads to only a missed chance (cue Markovic vs Arsenal).

    Personally, I think it may be something more- I.e. For some reason Rodgers hasn’t taken a shining to Ilori, and therefore he isn’t going to get his chance. I guess time will tell but I imagine we might see him on Thursdsy night this season if he doesn’t end up back in France/Spain

    • Rory Greenfield
      July 26, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      I completely respect your opinion Liam and appreciate the reply. For me Tiago is no inexperienced youngster anymore, so deserves his chance. Whilst the argument on a defender making a costlier error than an attacker is valid. His recovery pace can compensate for errors, that say Lovren/Kolo don’t necessarily have. If we had a dependable defence I’d understand, but we clearly haven’t had that in some time.

      As you say, it may be as simple as him not being liked. Would be a real shame if he departed in my opinion.

  2. Geoff Page
    July 27, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Very eloquent writing but flawed.

    1) Llori is 6’3” but built like a matchstick.
    2) Portugal didn’t win the U21 tournament. Sweden did.

    I do hope Llori gets a chance this year but he didn’t go on the tour, to me a very bad decision in his camp. Hopefully he gets a go in the last 2 friendlies.

  3. July 27, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Rogers is only still playing lovren to try and justify the 20 mil spent but as we recently saw in Malaysia, lovren to me was a waste of money spent. Sakho, ilori, kolo, skirtle are much more reliable than lovren, the sooner Rogers realises this and stops trying to justify 20 million wasted on lovren the better for the team and club. YNWA

  4. Jacob
    July 28, 2015 at 10:47 am

    You can’t be taken seriously as any type of blogger if you don’t know the difference between ‘brought’ and ‘bought’. I’m really sorry, but this is just fact.

  5. Lee
    July 28, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Thank you for a well-written piece.

    Apologies if I’m blurring my statements/logic, but I’m sure Brendan Rodgers referred to Illori as “one for the future”*. I appreciate that many (myself included) see Illori and Sakho as our long-term centre backs and the ‘future’ of our central defence, however, I’ve always felt that Illori was seen as someone who would develop physically, etc. in a few years and naturally become our ‘ball playing’ (obvious Hansen, Agger comparisons acknowledged) centre back. Sakho, as we’ve thankfully witnessed, has arrived as physically capable of fulfilling his role immediately. I can’t help thinking that Illori’s proposed role takes a bit more time and tweaking and, therefore, is one that will not immediately be forced upon him.

    As I retain some faith in our manager, I’d like to think that he has recognised a central defender who is worth investing in, and a player who could possibly define our playing style for the next decade. I can’t help but think that another season on-loan at a ‘less-than-glamorous’ British club will help prepare him for the more physically challenging English leagues and reduce the risk of a potentially confidence-wreaking first season.

    I’d also like to think that the club has recognised that one season of being, potentially, physically overwhelmed by some Premier League strikers could destroy a player’s development. Tiago Illori is worth the considerate, patient approach that, I believe, is befitting of his potential long-term importance to us.

    *3+ years

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