This week finally saw the official announcement to a piece of business that was a little more straightforward for The Reds. In-demand England international, who we can now call a World Cup winner, Dominic Solanke joins Jurgen’s troops as they prepare for the 2017-2018 season. Even though the young forward put pen to paper and committed himself to Liverpool Football Club, his options were not limited. Scottish champions Celtic, whose manager Brendan Rodgers has first-hand knowledge of the youngster’s talents, were linked, as well as Arsenal and German runners-up RB Leipzig. Solanke turned down the chance of a reunion with Rodgers, said no to German over-achievers Leipzig, who, themselves field a team of young, ambitious individuals and decided Liverpool was the place to develop his career over Premier League rivals Arsenal. Solanke was pleased with his decision and commented;
“Even just pulling on the training top, I was over the moon. Hopefully I can put on the shirt in the near future and make some good history here.”
Solanke will wear the number 29 shirt and hope to fair better than his predecessor and another ex-Chelsea player, Fabio Borini.
Solanke was with Chelsea since the U8’s age group. A quick scan over his goalscoring record would comfortably put him in the bracket of “prolific”. Goals were scored at every level, excelling above his age class on many occasions. The Chelsea man appeared at youth level whilst still an Under-15, scoring twice before making the step up in The Blue’s successful Youth Cup campaign the following season. Former youth coach at Chelsea, Adi Viveash oversaw Solanke whilst he was still a schoolboy and witnessed the young striker score eight goals in as many games. He was rewarded with the chance to showcase his talent at U19 and U21 levels respectively. Viveash believed the striker was part of a group that was the most promising he had worked with;
“I have been very lucky as I have worked with some very talented players. But Dominic is right up there at the top of that list. He is an outstanding footballer. He’s intelligent and has great movement. He plays like a No. 9 and a No. 10 put together. Without being disrespectful, he reminds me of Teddy Sheringham but quicker.”
The plaudits didn’t stop there as Jose Mourinho was at the club during Solanke’s rise through towards the first team. The self-confessed “Special one” believed that if his Chelsea starlet didn’t make it then he would be to blame;
“My conscience tells me that if, for example, [Lewis] Baker, [Isaiah] Brown, and [Dominic] Solanke are not national team players in a few years, I should blame myself”.
It was perhaps Solanke’s exploits in the 2014-2015 UEFA Youth League which gathered interest from teams around Europe. He finished the tournament as top scorer with 12 goals and 6 assists in just 9 games, averaging a goal every 64mins. He scored in every phase of the competition, including a brace in the semi-final against Roma and a goal in the 3-2 win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the final. With European honours under his belt, Solanke proceeded to pick up the F.A Youth Cup in which he scored in the first-leg of the final Vs Manchester City. Another impressive cup run saw him bag 6 goals in 7 games, just one fewer than top scorer Tammy Abraham. Solanke finished the season with an incredible 41 goals and was voted Academy Player of the Season.
Due to the close relationship between Chelsea owners Roman Abramovic and Vitesse’s Alexander Chigirinsky, many loan deals have taken place between the clubs over the years, some more fruitful than others. The likes of Wallace, Delac, and Sam Hutchinson all appeared for Geel en Zwart with little success, whereas Nemanja Matic, now a household fixture under Conté, Patrick van Aanholt and Christian Atsu have all progressed significantly at the Eridivisie club. The 2015-2016 season saw Solanke arrive at the GelreDome along with several Chelsea youth players. Nathan, Isiah Brown and another hot English prospect in Lewis Baker, all made the journey to Holland to gather first team experience, in a league famous for harvesting world class talent.
Solanke had a fairly successful spell for Vitesse, scoring 7 goals in 22 starts for the Dutch outfit. He seemed to be trusted from the very start, earning the number 9 shirt and featured when he was fit. Out of a possible 25 match day squads in which he was available, Solanke started 22. It didn’t take the youngster much time to announce himself in Vitesse colours, on only his second league outing, he was introduced as a substitute against SC Cambuur and managed to get onto the scoresheet in a 4-1 victory. Another substitute appearance followed in the subsequent match vs FC Utrecht and another opportunity to impress then coach Peter Bosz, recently poached by Bundesliga heavyweights Borussia Dortmund after a successful campaign with Ajax, guiding the Amsterdam club to a Europa League final. It was after this game Solanke went on to be a starter for Arnhem and averaged a respectable 73mins per league outing. A valuable return for a foreign player at such a young age, playing in a competitive league. Solanke at Vitesse: Scored 5 goals in his first 15 games for the Dutch side. (Photo by Getty Images).[/caption]
In terms of weaknesses, it was said the England youth international sometimes struggled to impose himself physically in the Eridivisie. This fact was probably highlighted given that the man he replaced was none other than Ivorian powerhouse Wilfried Bony. During his two-year spell at Vitesse, Bony scored 46 goals in 65 appearances, collecting the Golden Shoe as the best player in Holland as well as the top scorer award and in doing so, earned a move to the Premier League with Swansea City. However, it was Solanke’s early season form with the Dutch team that earned the young forward a call-up to the England U21’s for the first time.
If the previous years could be described as a relentless march towards individual greatness, then the 2016-2017 season presented an almighty halt to Solanke’s progression. A contract dispute prevented Solanke from making a return to Vitesse Arnhem and it is reported the front man turned down several other loan offers for the season ahead. As such, Solanke was retained as Chelsea’s third choice striker behind Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi but failed to make a single appearance in the first eleven. The Basingstoke-born youngster only made 5 outings for the U23’s, scoring two goals but ultimately may feel as though a year of development was wasted.
On the international scene, his domestic troubles were put to one side as he was named in the squad for England’s upcoming 2017 Under-20 World Cup tournament in Korea. He didn’t disappoint. He narrowly missed out on the golden boot, scoring four goals that included a brace in the semi-final against Italy. Solanke played the full 90 minutes in England’s triumph over Venezuela in the final. His touch, movement and eye for a pass proving a problem for the opposition as he displayed throughout the tournament as a whole. Solanke was rewarded with the Golden Ball, another individual award that recognised him as Player of the Tournament. Solanke joins a revered list of names to have picked up the trophy as Messi, Sergio Aguero and Paul Pogba have all gone onto endure hugely successful careers.
Solanke’s strengths are obviously highlighted by his eye for goal and ability to bring others into the game. What was also evident at the Under 20 World Cup was his endeavor to work for his teammates off the ball; England’s out-of-possession coach Andy Edwards shared his thoughts with SkySports;
“That is a really pleasing thing about him. Defending starts from the front and he is aware of that. You cannot afford to carry anyone defensively and we certainly don’t. While forwards are the match-winners and they get the glory, the other side of it is important too. The best teams all have that.”
Jurgen Klopp will no doubt welcome Solanke’s work rate to the fold. Enabling the ex-Chelsea prodigy to make the transition, if given an opportunity to the senior team. The Reds require their frontline to defend from the front and it is Firmino who fulfills this duty currently. However, with doubts over Daniel Sturridge’s ability to stay fit over the full course of the season, Solanke may battle it out with Divock Origi and fit-again Danny Ings, in what will be a demanding season that will see Klopp’s men compete on all four fronts should they make their way into the Champions League proper. A man who believes Solanke is capable of making the step up is former Liverpool U23’s coach Micahel Beale, who worked with Solanke from the tender of 6 at Chelsea. In an interview with BBC Radio Merseyside, Beale commented on what impact Solanke could have at his new club;
“There’s a young boy there, Dominic Solanke, who I think is going to excite a lot of people. I’m really excited to see how he does. He was training with our U18’s [at Chelsea], with Ovie Ejaria, they were two players in London who everybody knew about. Dominic had unbelievable movement mechanics at a young age, he was so fast. He got out of his dad or mum’s car and just sprinted to the pitch, and he stayed like that for 90 minutes of your session.”
“So he’s a boy who has a lot of enthusiasm, but he’s an outstanding goalscorer who’s just come off the back of the U20 World Cup where he was Player of the Tournament, so he has a big CV also.”
Where does the man himself see his future at Liverpool? Solanke has lead the line for Chelsea and England but has shown his versatility by playing in several positions in the attacking third of the pitch;
“My favourite position would probably be the striker, No. 9, but I can play behind the striker in the No. 10 position or out wide, so I’m quite versatile.” It is this ability to float across the front line that would have encouraged Jurgen Klopp to make his move. In Firmino, Mané and new signing Mohamed Salah, there exists a fluidity that has the potential to become a nightmare for opposition defenders. Solanke may flourish in such a system and will look to the German manager for an opportunity to prove so;
“I’m so excited. Every time I see him he’s so enthusiastic and passionate,” Solanke said when asked about his thoughts on Klopp.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him. As a young player all you want to do is reach your full potential, so to have good players around you and a good manager to help that will be really good.
“I just want to make an impact. Hopefully, when I get my opportunity I can take it and help the team.”
Klopp is known for pushing through young talent into the bright lights of first-team football. Just ask the likes of Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold, the latter will be hoping to provide Nathaniel Clyne with a lot more competition this season round. It’s the old adage of “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”. Solanke may well continue his development with Liverpool’s U23’s but he will look at the likes of the aforementioned, as well as Ovie Ejaria and hope to make a case convincing enough for Klopp to provide him with a chance to shine. Signed as a development player, Solanke’s fee will be decided by tribunal. It is thought Liverpool will pay around £3 million for his services, a fee that could be an absolute steal if the striker fulfills his vast potential. I’m sure Solanke and fans alike will look to Jurgen Klopp’s record in transforming the future of young stars on the periphery of stardom. The hope is that he can produce a Götze, even better, another Lewandowski. So who better to put your faith in than the charismatic German? Reds fans should keep an eye on Liverpool’s new kid on the block, he may just be the bargain of what is shaping up to be, a crazy transfer window fuelled by meteoric bids galore.
Article written by Tyrone Herbert (Tyrone_PT / Ty_TalksLFC)