Liverpool's Solanke selling point as Klopp looks for edge over rivals
Dominic Solanke's call up to the full England squad for Tuesday's friendly with Brazil may be a little surprising given that the striker has yet to even start a Premier League game, but Liverpool should be using his promotion to their advantage when trying to persuade the brightest young stars that Anfield is the best place for their future development.
This year has shown us that English football is awash with talented young players, as England won World Cups at both Under-20 and U17 level. You can't do that without having some special players coming through the system, but those players need the opportunity to play if they are to fulfil their potential.
Solanke was the top scorer in the U20 World Cup, while his Liverpool teammate Rhian Brewster emulated his achievement for the U17s. The pair have more in common than just a Liver bird on their chest and a golden boot on their mantelpiece, though. Both left Chelsea for Liverpool because they saw a clearer path to the first team and perhaps others will now follow their lead?
Solanke, 20, has made just one start for Liverpool (in a Carabao Cup defeat at Leicester) but he has been a regular coming off the bench. Possibly he should have played even more than he has, but at least he is featuring now which was not the case at Chelsea. Brewster is three years younger and has understandably not appeared at senior level yet, although he has been an unused substitute in a Premier League fixture and regularly trains with the first team.
The point is, Jurgen Klopp has made both feel as though they have a bright future with his team and the more chances they get the more their peers will take note. Players on international duty always talk to each other about life at their clubs and there may now be some envy from teammates when Solanke and Brewster are discussing the opportunity they have with Liverpool.
There will certainly be players in those England youth squads who are on the radar of Liverpool's scouts, and perhaps some of them may even be considering following the path chosen by Solanke and Brewster. If so, Liverpool need to be in position to pounce, and being able to point to Solanke in the full England squad can only help.
What would help even more is seeing him in Liverpool's team more often, and therein lies the difficulty for Klopp.
The German speaks glowingly about the talent and potential of his young players such as Solanke, Brewster, Ben Woodburn, Marko Grujic and others, but finding room for even one of them in his starting XI is difficult due to the expectations of everyone connected to Liverpool. He needs to somehow find a way though, because Liverpool cannot compete financially with some of their rivals and therefore need to think more outside of the box.
Attracting the best young players might be their best chance to level the playing field, but to do that they need to be able to offer something their rivals cannot; a clear path to the first team. Of course there is risk involved when the players have not reached their full potential and you need to pick your spots when introducing them to the team. Going out of the Carabao Cup at the first hurdle was damaging in this regard and has made it more difficult for Klopp to select his younger players, but he at least seems prepared to give youth a chance. Joe Gomez (another who has been called up by England) has been a regular this season, while Trent Alexander-Arnold has also seen plenty of action, especially in Europe.
The reality is that youngsters at the wealthiest clubs have little chance of forcing their way into the first team picture, hence Solanke and Brewster both ending up at Liverpool. It's one of the few advantages Klopp has over those he is competing with. Perhaps some of Manchester City's best prospects could also be lured away by the chance to play first team football? Or those at Chelsea or even Arsenal?
There are at least three players in Liverpool's academy set up who quit Arsenal to move to Merseyside, and there are others who defected from City too. None were as high profile captures as Solanke and all were several years younger, but nevertheless there is a trend emerging.
Liverpool are a wealthy club themselves of course and can still compete at the top end of the market, but they have to pick and choose their battles carefully. They do not have the luxury of doing what City did last summer and splurge £133million on full-backs for instance.
They can perhaps buy one or two big money players each summer, but going head to head with City, United and Chelsea is impossible so they need to be smart, and luring away their rivals' best young talent is one way of doing that.
Liverpool must now use Solanke's call up as a selling point to every young player they want to sign as it might be the only edge they currently have over their rivals. To maintain that edge though, they are going to have to find a way to get Solanke and some of their other talented prospects extended playing time in the first team.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.