A Champions League winner and a runner-up in the World Cup, you’d expect a player with these sorts of accolades to be well-liked amongst supporters but that doesn’t always seem the case over in Merseyside with Dejan Lovren’s tumultuous relationship with the Kopites a perfect example. Plenty of supporters at Liverpool wouldn’t mind seeing the exit of the Croatian international despite everything he’s given to the club in 170 appearances. The self-proclaimed ‘best defender in the world‘ is rumoured to be interested in a £25m move to AC Milan which would represent astute value to Liverpool by selling a 29-year-old backup. The only issue to arise from that would be the lack thereof in viable central defenders able to step forward when called upon say if Virgil van Dijk were to be suspended or if Joe Gomez’s injury troubles persisted.
Liverpool are blessed with a wonderful academy setup and amongst that, a number of players have been linked with a promotion to the senior side. Jurgen Klopp has been known to put his faith in the youngsters at times as shown by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s meteoric rise in the past 18 months. Left-back Adam Lewis has also caught the German’s eye over the last year earning a place in the squad during their winter break trip to Marbella at the start of the year.
There’s a centre-back in that very system which has been drawing comparisons to Liverpool’s own number four this season – that’s Rhys Williams. His towering stature (6ft 4in), imposing physicality and mature no-nonsense defending makes him a viable understudy to van Dijk – and he’s even mentioned already how much of an impact the 27-year-old has had as a role model.
Williams signed his first professional contract back in February this year after being a vital member of Barry Lewtas’ under-18s. The promising centre-back made a whopping 67 appearances at youth level last season, scoring on seven occasions. He was also part of the side which won the FA Youth Cup for a fourth time. His immense level of progress even earned him a call-up to England’s under-18 squad.
Klopp’s only summer signing has been a centre-back with 17-year-old Sepp van den Berg joining the club from Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle. Even despite his young age, it is expected that the Dutchman is integrated into the first-team environment with an initial focus on his development. It would make a ton of sense for Williams to echo these sentiments – particularly with his similarities to van Dijk. If the £75m-rated star faces any length of time out next season, they could have a like-for-like replacement right under their nose so it would be vital to get him in and around the senior setup this summer. Both in the short and long term there can be no harm in allowing the 18-year-old to garner first-hand mentorship and experience.