With four new signings confirmed in June, Liverpool entered their July period with, by and large, a healthy squad, and until their defeat against Celtic in Dublin on Saturday, the Reds had won all six of their friendlies, scoring 17 goals and letting in only one.
Slightly unusually for a Liverpool preseason, not many fringe players got a run-out during the seven matches. The group that toured Asia with the club mainly consisted of the tried-and-trusted first-team contingent, including the four new signings. All of them had made sizeable appearances for the first team before, bar one.
Jordon Ibe, signed from Wycombe Wanderers in December 2011, was the jarring exception.
The 17-year-old winger, who had only made his senior debut in May with a productive start against Queens Park Rangers, where he notched the only assist of the game for Philippe Coutinho’s long-range strike, traveled with the first team.
Not only that—he figured prominently and finished the seven-game schedule as one of the most impressive performers over the preseason period.
Scoring his first ever senior goal in the first preseason match against Preston North End, Ibe never looked back as he displayed pace, power and raw ability with a series of exciting performances that showed just why he is so highly rated in the corridors of Melwood.
Indeed, his most exhilarating contribution was his burst of pace and subsequent pass that set up Oussama Assaidi and Raheem Sterling for a simple finish in Indonesia.
The question now is whether Jordon Ibe is good enough to become a member of the first team this season or if he should spend time out on loan to gain experience elsewhere.
Ibe the Loanee
Let’s first consider the case for Ibe the loanee.
The most immediate rationale for Ibe going out on loan—be it to a team in the Championship or in the Premier League—is his young age and lack of top-flight experience.
At just 17, Ibe has plenty of years in front of him, and a season honing his skills to deal with the physicality of top-level English football would do him plenty of good.
Just ask Jonjo Shelvey, who spent the first half of the 2011/12 season on loan at Blackpool: Shelvey scored six goals in just 10 appearances for the Seasiders, was recalled amid an injury crisis and went on to become an important squad player for the next year. (Ultimately, he didn’t fit Brendan Rodgers’ plans and was sold to Swansea City this summer, but that should not be a deterrent here.)
A season away from Anfield at a club that could grant him regular playing time could prove vital in his development. This kind of thinking would presumably be behind the recent loan departures of young left-back Jack Robinson and midfielder Suso to Blackpool and La Liga new boys Almeria, respectively.
In a squad that currently boasts a host of options in Ibe’s attacking midfield position—Raheem Sterling, Iago Aspas, Philippe Coutinho, Joe Allen, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Oussama Assaidi, Luis Alberto, Fabio Borini, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are all capable of playing there—the No. 44 may find his first-team chances limited in his first full season in the Liverpool senior team, to cup and substitute appearances.
To ensure his development isn’t stunted on the bench, Rodgers may well consider sending Ibe out on loan.
Ibe the First-Team Player
But with the raw speed, dribbling and ability to excite that Ibe has in abundance, Liverpool fans would be forgiven for wanting the young prospect to fly down the Anfield wings and terrorize opposition defenders.
And it is this combination of raw ability that sets Ibe apart: None of his direct rivals in the first team have such an impressive combination of physical attributes, and those who have the pace (like Coutinho) may not marry it with the dominant physique that Ibe also has.
Does this mean there might be a place for him in Rodgers’ first-team squad?
Given current rumors, it would be unrealistic to assume that both Downing and Suarez will still be at the club by September, and given that Rodgers prefers using Sturridge and Borini as out-and-out strikers and Gerrard in a more withdrawn playmaking role, Ibe could well fit in as a squad player whose unique attributes will grant him playing time.
After all, it was comfort on the ball, pace, dribbling and upper-body strength that saw Raheem Sterling become a key member of the Reds XI just a year ago, albeit in an injury-stretched squad—and Sterling earned rave reviews and an England call-up to boot.
Against lower-table teams who might have a tendency to play more defensively and to sit back and deny space to Rodgers’ possession-based footballing approach, Ibe could be another option that provides the cutting edge that Liverpool have sorely lacked in recent seasons, another outlet on the flanks, another potential source of goals, and perhaps even another match-winner.
Any concerns that Ibe would be overexposed at such a young age—Sterling himself burned out after a sustained period in the first team and found himself out of the team in the second half of last season—should be dispelled after Rodgers’ experience with Sterling.
At any rate, the additions of Aspas and Alberto, two seemingly immediate squad players, have upgraded the quality of the bench in that area of the pitch, which should ensure more necessary balance in first-team appearances across the board.
And it is under this premise that we will conclude for now that Jordon Ibe deserves a run in the first team, an arrangement that could end up working well for all parties.
Ibe could get further chances to shine and make a difference, while Brendan Rodgers will have another potential match-winner with a unique set of abilities at his disposal over the course of the season.
Things could change in the remaining weeks of the summer transfer window, of course: Liverpool could end up letting go of two attacking players and getting none, making Ibe a more essential keep, or they could also sign one of the multitude of players currently linked to Anfield.
At the time of writing, however, all signs point to Jordon Ibe enjoying a productive spell of first-team football, not at somewhere else on loan, but as a Liverpool player.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and other Premier League-related matters.