According to Simon Hughes in The Athletic, “the next one according to those who know at Liverpool’s academy could be James Balagizi”.
Consdering that the Reds’ production line has churned out Champions League-winning talent such as Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the past, the italicised claim about the 16-year-old is one that ought not to be taken lightly, judging by the standard of Melwood’s finest alumni.
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the teenager was name-checked at the beginning of a piece by Hughes for The Athletic that was published over the weekend. Intriguingly, Liverpool hasn’t even been the youngster’s first port of call in England, with the Reds luring him from the clutches of Manchester City five years ago, having reportedly given a masterful performance against one of the Merseysiders’ academy teams (as per The Athletic).
Following the publication of that article, Empire of the Kop dug out YouTube footage of Balagizi in action for Liverpool’s youth teams. These include a confident chipped finish over an advancing goalkeeper, a fine display of footwork to beat two Blackburn defenders, the presence of mind to punish an opposition defender for being too casual outside his own penalty area and a couple of close-range finishes made possible from a sharp positional sense.
The starlet has scored four goals in nine appearances in the Under-18 Premier League this season, which included a brace and an assist in a 3-0 victory over Newcastle back in October. Balagizi is much more than a mere penalty box predator, though. He has been used throughout a substantial portion of the under-18 team’s spine, operating as a second striker, attacking midfield playmaker and holding midfielder over the last few months, as well as being played on the left-hand side of midfield. [via TransferMarkt]
Interestingly, he is only five months younger than Harvey Elliott, another attack-minded prospect at Liverpool who has made seven first team appearances so far this season. With a host of teenage talents getting senior minutes in domestic cup ties against Aston Villa and Shrewsbury in recent months, albeit in exceptional circumstances, there would seem occasional opportunities for Melwood prospects to get a chance to impress first team manager Jurgen Klopp.
Of course, it is far too early to accurately determine whether Balagizi will turn out to be “the next one“, but Liverpool’s desire to prise him away from Manchester City five years ago, as well as his goal contributions from a wide variety of positions at under-18 level, suggest that we could hear a lot more of his name later in 2020.
Liverpool fans, are you intrigued to see how Balagizi progresses over the coming months? Can you see him being considered by Klopp for a couple of first team games, even in pre-season, in the foreseeable future? Have your say by commenting below!