In the first instalment of a new series titled ‘Melwood Watch’, Live4Liverpool takes a look at some of the players from the Reds’ academy ranks, outlines their story so far and discusses their chances of becoming a fixed first team presence at Anfield.
Liverpool have made a habit of recruiting promising young attackers who once featured for Manchester City academy. In 2018 they lured Bobby Duncan from the Etihad Stadium and he came back to haunt his former club by starring against them in the FA Youth Cup final last year before the messy intervention of his agent paved the way for a move to Fiorentina.
Three months ago the Reds signed Brentford B starlet Joe Hardy on an undisclosed fee. He had previously played in Manchester City’s youth ranks alongside Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden, both of whom have already accrued substantial experience at senior level. Indeed, some at Melwood had already been patently aware of his attacking prowess after he scored twice for City’s under-18s in a 7-0 rout of their Liverpool counterparts in 2016.
Fittingly, his Reds under-23 debut came against Manchester City back in January, appearing as a late substitute in a 1-0 defeat for his new club. However, the opening weeks of 2020 would materalise very promisingly for the 21-year-old centre-forward, who had scored 40 goals in 80 matches for Brentford’s B team before his move to Liverpool.
Joe Hardy – the story so far at Liverpool
On his first start for the Reds’ under-23s in mid-January, he scored twice in a 5-0 thrashing of Southampton, with Liverpool’s official website describing his scoring contribution as “a well-taken brace”. Just three weeks later, Hardy played in a senior competitive match for the first time in his career, appearing for the final eight minutes of the Merseysiders’ FA Cup replay win over Shrewsbury in which a number of his under-23 team-mates played while Jurgen Klopp’s first team squad were on their winter break (as per BBC).
The striker was in from the start again as the under-23s took on Wolves in mid-February and he was on target once more, applying the finishing touch to an inviting cross from Tony Gallacher to open the scoring in a 2-1 victory for the Reds (as per liverpoolfc.com). Two further goals in a 6-0 Premier League Cup demolition of Sunderland had many Liverpool supporters drooling about his promise. Unfortunately for Hardy, the coronavirus-enforced stoppage of English football has deprived him of further opportunities to build on the fine start he had made to his Reds career.
Shortly before he left Melwood to take the first team coaching reins at Blackpool, former Liverpool under-23s coach Neil Critchley had spoken very highly of the young striker. He told the Liverpool Echo: “Joe has really added to the way we play because he is there to finish the moves off for us. He was someone we lacked in the first half of the season. Joe is a good finisher off both feet, as you saw against Sunderland. He is a proper goalscorer and is great for us.”
What does the future hold for Joe Hardy at Liverpool?
While Harvey Elliott, who only turned 17 on Saturday, already has seven first team appearances for Liverpool, Hardy had to wait until he was 21 years and five months of age before making his senior bow, so he is something of a late bloomer in academy terms. Indeed, he is a couple of weeks older than Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has already made 125 senior appearances for the Reds and played in two Champions League finals.
With the likes of Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi as centre-forward options in the first team squad, and with only eight minutes of senior football in his career so far, he will almost certainly need a productive loan spell elsewhere before he can realistically think about challenging for a place in Klopp’s senior ranks.
Rhian Brewster, another young forward on Liverpool’s books, has had more senior game-time at Anfield yet was still loaned out to Swansea for the second half of this season. Hardy is probably quite a way from pushing for regular first team inclusion yet, but all he can do for the foreseeable future is continue to impress at youth level or enjoy a fruitful loan move in the Football League to give himself the best chance of following Sancho and Foden in establishing themselves at major European clubs.
Liverpool fans, do you think Hardy is a player who could emerge from the Melwood ranks to become a fixed presence in Klopp’s senior squad? Comment below with your views!