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.
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