x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Ngog restoring family pride

Having a French international as a cousin would normally enhance the reputation of any unknown footballer.

David Ngog scores Liverpool's second goal during the 2-0 victory over Manchester United.
David Ngog scores Liverpool's second goal during the 2-0 victory over Manchester United.

Having a French international as a cousin would normally enhance the reputation of any unknown footballer. Graeme Souness infamously signed and played the striker Ali Dia for Southampton after being falsely told he was the relation of the Liberian former World Player of the Year George Weah. He came on as a substitute and was then replaced himself after only 21 embarrassing minutes on the pitch in his only game for the club.

Having Jean-Alain Boumsong in the family circle probably did not help David Ngog, the Liverpool striker, when he joined a year ago from Paris St Germain. Visions of the French defender's pitiful performances for Newcastle sprung to mind when this fact was revealed. When a stigma is attached, it is difficult to eradicate and Boumsong was an £8 million (Dh48m) misfit on Tyneside in 2005. His 59 appearances in 19 months were riddled with hapless moments.

Cruelly, some Liverpool fans suggested that if Ngog was of the same gene pool, his efforts would be similarly ignominious and quality has been a question ever since his £1.5m arrival. Yet his manager, Rafa Benitez, believes he has a bargain on his hands. This was a player who, at times, kept Gabriel Obertan out of the France Under 19 side and Sir Alex Ferguson has predicted a very bright future for his own summer signing at Manchester United.

Scoring the second goal in Liverpool's morale-boosting 2-0 win against the champions on Sunday with a cool finish will perhaps give Ngog, 20, more time to satisfy the sceptics. It was his third goal in just six games this season and he thanked his under-fire manager for "showing faith" in him. His style is akin to his idol Thierry Henry, who was also brought up in the suburbs of Paris. But Ngog needs better positioning to go with his pace and muscle to aid his motivation.

Boumsong warned him that the Premier League was the toughest, but the signs are there that with the right development - and encouragement - Ngog could restore some family pride in England. As Fernando Torres gets a rest, he is likely to lead the line against Arsenal tonight in the fourth round of the Carling Cup, just like in the last round when he impressed against a durable Leeds side and his opportunist goal settled a close encounter.

Liverpool will need something similar if they are to avoid an exit at the hands of a London club for a sixth successive season. But confidence is high again after the end of their four-match losing streak. Ngog said: "We are looking forward to it and all I can do is keep working hard and show what I can do when I get the opportunity. I just want to do my best for the team." He is the type of player Arsene Wenger would probably pursue. Raw and exciting and it would have been interesting to see how the Arsenal manager would have treated him.

Apart from the odd exception like Cesc Fabregas, the Frenchman likes to bring his young talent on slowly and pitch them when he feels they are ready. While Wenger might want to protect them from the difficult moments that Ngog has had to endure, it could also be argued he is being over-cautious and stifling their progress. Theo Walcott had to bide his time and Jack Wilshere is another one now having to show patience. After majestic midfield displays in the pre-season Emirates Cup tournament, he was even tipped to break into England's World Cup finals squad.

But his only Arsenal start since then has come in the 2-0 Carling Cup win over West Brom last month. Youth will again provide the nucleus of the Gunners side tonight. The competition might not be a priority prize for either Arsenal or Liverpool, but Wenger said: "We want to win every single game we play, no matter who plays in the team." @Email:akhan@thenational.ae Arsenal v Liverpool, KO 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport + 3