x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Andre Wisdom proving to be an apt pupil for Anfield

Desire to learn and improve has propelled the fourth-choice Liverpool right-back up the pecking order, writes Richard Jolly.

The progress Andre Wisdom, left, has made at Liverpool has brought him international recognition. Paul Ellis / AFP
The progress Andre Wisdom, left, has made at Liverpool has brought him international recognition. Paul Ellis / AFP

In the age of supersized squads, the path to the first team can seem blocked. And then, suddenly, it can open and players can be propelled from the shadows into the spotlight.

When Brendan Rodgers was appointed the Liverpool manager, Andre Wisdom appeared, at best, the fourth-choice right-back.

But with the incumbent Glen Johnson spending an increasing amount of time at left-back as Jose Enrique has been either injured or out of favour, with Martin Kelly sustaining a cruciate ligament problem, with Wisdom leapfrogging his fellow youngster Jon Flanagan in the queue for places, fourth became first.

After a goal-scoring debut against Young Boys of Berne came bows in the Capital One Cup and then the Premier League. Wisdom has become a pivotal part of the youthful revolution Rodgers has started.

Along with Raheem Sterling, Suso and Jerome Sinclair, the youngest player in the club's history, he is giving Liverpool a new look.

And yet if the 19-year-old defender's rise seems swift, he was initially ignored.

Leeds United showed some interest but at 14, he was not signed by a professional club. Then Bradford City picked him up and, within six months, Liverpool took him to Anfield. "Everything happened quite quickly for me," he said.

At 15, he was playing against Arsenal - and Jack Wilshere - in the FA Youth Cup final. Still only a teenager, he may be pencilled in for a long run in the Liverpool team, assuming he overcomes the shoulder injury that forced him to miss both legs of the England Under 21 team's play-off against Serbia during the international break.

Yet when he went unnoticed, it helped that there were role models. Born to Jamaican parents, Wisdom grew up in the Chapeltown area of Leeds that produced Micah Richards and Aaron Lennon.

"You realise you can do it, you can make it in football," he said.

His progress at Anfield brought international recognition. Wisdom was part of the England team that won the 2010 European Under 17 Championship. He scored the equaliser against Spain in the final and was named in the team of the tournament. He went on to captain the England U18 and received his first U21 call-up a year before his Liverpool debut.

He spent last season alternating between Kirkby, where Liverpool's lesser sides train, and Melwood, used by the first team and captained the reserves. This season brought a promotion and maiden appearance in the Europa League in Switzerland. Just before half time, Nuri Sahin curled in a corner and Wisdom marked the occasion by heading in Liverpool's second goal in their 5-3 win over Berne.

It highlighted Wisdom's size - 6ft 1in, tall for a right-back - while his pace also gives him an advantage.

"Andre Wisdom had been playing a lot at centre-half but he has the physical and technical capacity to play full-back," Rodgers said. "The modern-day full-back has a lot of the ball and he has got to have strength, pace and power. Andre has that."

What he lacks, of course, is experience, so it helped that against Berne and then in the Capital One Cup win at West Bromwich Albion, he was flanking Jamie Carragher. "He can coach you through the game," Wisdom said. "He's helping you out all the time - where to be, mark on the inside and the outside, more tactical-wise."

Another inspiration is found further afield. "I've always liked Carles Puyol," he said. "He's probably a similar build to me. I love his passion for the game and his aggression."

Puyol is Barcelona's captain and the Catalan club are an increasing influence at Anfield, given emphasis Rodgers has put on keeping possession.

Wisdom completed 96 per cent of his passes in the 5-2 win over Norwich City last month and the manager said: "He's quick, he's strong and he passes the ball well, which is going to be important for us at this club. He's got all the qualities that I believe will set him up to have a very good career."

The next aim, the defender believes, is to develop his understanding of the game and make him less reliant on his speed.

"To be a complete defender, you need to understand how the game is played," he said. "Sometimes you don't need pace as a defender because if you know how to position yourself, you can put yourself one step ahead of the attacker. Being physical will only help me so much."

Wisdom, it seems, is aptly named as a quest for knowledge is a feature of his footballing education.

"There are many things I need to improve and I'm still young, still learning," he said. "The biggest one is to learn from the senior players, the likes of Jamie Carragher and Glen Johnson."

But while their pupil, he is also emerging as a rival now.

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