By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
Liverpool confirmed the signing of Netherlands youth international defender Sepp van den Berg on Thursday, who became the Reds’ first signing of the summer.
Touted as a future star of the game after his 15 Eredivisie appearances for PEC Zwolle last season, the club will have been delighted to secure his signature for a modest £1.3million fee, rising to a maximum of £4.4m only if he makes a vast amount of first-team appearances.
There are high hopes for the 17-year-old central defender, who will be developed by Jurgen Klopp and his coaching staff as opposed to at the Kirkby Academy.
Bayern Munich and PSV Eindhoven were also in for his signature, and Liverpool will be delighted that they saw off the competition considering the early hopes that they hold for the young Dutchman.
According to Goal, chief scout Barry Hunter was very keen on the player, and will have played a major role in the deal. He was similarly involved in Joe Gomez’s switch to Anfield as a teenager, and the club are hoping that van den Berg can follow in the Englishman’s footsteps.
But he might find it tougher than the former-Charlton Athletic man did. ‘Making it’ at an elite club like Liverpool is always tough, and Gomez proved not only his ability but his strength of character to force himself into the first team.
But there’s no denying that the playing squad was much weaker at that time. Now, Liverpool boast a team that recorded 97 points in the Premier League last term and lifted the Champions League trophy in Madrid. Suddenly, a youth player displacing a seasoned professional seems a much taller order.
Not to mention he has direct competition in the form of compatriot Ki-Jana Hoever. Also 17, he made his debut for the club in January’s FA Cup defeat to Wolves and is highly-rated by the coaching staff.
One thing that’s certain is he will be given the opportunity to stake a claim. He will begin with the u18s and u23s when it comes to playing and train at Melwood with the first team.
With Dejan Lovren expected to leave the club this summer, he will also likely sit fourth in the central defensive pecking order, and any injuries could provide him with Premier League action this coming season. He will almost certainly be handed a debut in cup competition, especially if the Reds are drawn against a lower league side in the early rounds.
He will also be learning from the best around, as Virgil van Dijk will no doubt be tasked with taking the two young Dutch defenders under his wing. He has a proven track record of improving to players around him – just ask Joel Matip – and could be crucial in the development of his eventual long-term replacement.
But the most positive thing of all about this move is what it signals. With the recent recruitment of young players like van den Berg and Frenchman Billy Koumetio, the Reds are clearly planning for the future – not something that we’ve always seen from the club in recent years.
With that, and long-term contracts handed to key stars, the next chapter of Liverpool’s history looks set to be as bright as the current.