In June 2018, Liverpool fought off strong competition to secure the highly sought-after teenager, Ki-Jana Hoever. Signed at just 16 years old, the Dutchman became available upon the expiry of his Ajax contract, meaning the Reds were able to secure his signature for just £90,000.
Having joined the Reds as an u17s international with the Netherlands, there was certainly a lot of attention around the arrival of the youngster on Merseyside. So far, two years into his journey at Anfield, now aged 18, he has been granted various opportunities to impress within the first-team setup.
In fact, when making his debut at just 17 years of age in the FA Cup against Wolves, the defender became Liverpool’s youngest ever player feature in the competition, replacing the injured Dejan Lovren just six minutes in against Nuno Espírito Santo’s side.
Despite the obvious talent that Hoever possesses though, he does not sit alone in the list of impressive talent on show in the club’s youth setup.
In a way, Hoever’s impressionable growth may actually have hindered his progression, as strange as it may sound. This season has proved to be a breakthrough campaign for a number of young talents, including the likes of Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliot, Pedro Chirivella and Neco Williams.
As the fixture list continued to mount during the earlier stages of the season, the emphasis maintained heavily on Klopp’s faith in the young Reds and such arose an opportunity for some to seize their moment, with one of the standouts being the 18-year-old Welshman Williams.
The absence of Hoever, due to the u17 World Cup back in October, gifted the opportunity for Williams to stand in against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup and an inspired performance proved the stairway to further action.
The academy starlet, Williams, has started a total of five games so far this campaign, in comparison to Hoever’s three. That may hold little significance, but what it does hint at is a choice made by Neil Critchley.
Following the decision by Jürgen Klopp to allow his side the winter break period to recover, Critchley was tasked with fielding an u23 side against Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup. It’s unclear as to whether the German had much influence on the tactical decisions for that game, but it was intriguing that Williams continued to provide the cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back, leaving a central defensive berth for the Dutchman.Embed from Getty Images
It was a game in which many thought the Reds may struggle, but in actual reality the young squad produced a rather comforting display, which included a clean sheet and an extremely encouraging performance from the Welsh full-back.
Anyone who has followed Hoever’s progression will know that he is a versatile defender who can play in the middle of a defence as well as on the right-hand side. Blessed with pace and physical presence, he has the build and stature to take to either position comfortably.
There are things to consider behind the reasoning of selecting Williams ahead of Hoever for the right-back position, such as the limited options in the middle of defence at the time. In truth, now that Critchley has moved on to become manager at Blackpool Town, his choice may hold no future significance whatsoever.
But perhaps Williams’ impressive performances will mean that, in order to stand any chance of securing a regular spot in the first team, Hoever may have to focus his energies on developing as a central defender.
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