When Liverpool handed a 17-year-old Frenchman his first professional contract earlier this month, it was no surprise that it didn’t make headline news.
This wasn’t the Reds handing a new deal to a talent like Harvey Elliott, a player already well known having made his Premier League debut at 15 and seen as one of the best in his position, at his age, in Europe.
Rather, this was much more run of the mill.
A contract being handed to a promising teenager the same way that 99.9 percent of contracts are handed to teenagers by football clubs. Quietly, with little in the way of fanfare.
But then, a few days after, Jurgen Klopp spoke.
And the German manager’s glowing reference wasn’t the kind of thing you usually see from a first-team boss when discussing a largely untried and untested teen.
“Billy the kid. He doesn’t look like a kid!”
“In my opinion, his face looks like a kid but then all the rest is like, wow!
“Yes, he’s a big talent.”
The kid in question is Billy Koumetio, who was handed a 20-minute cameo at the heart of defence as Liverpool kicked off their 2020-21 pre-season with a 3-0 win over Stuttgart in Austria.
Curtis Jones shone, Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino scored first half goals, and Rhian Brewster tapped in on his return from his successful loan at Swansea, as he staked his claim to remain at Anfield this term and fight for a place.
But after making 11 changes at the break, with half of the second period gone, Klopp elected to take out Sepp van den Berg and, on a tricky surface amid an Austrian downpour, throw Koumetio – a ball boy in the famous 4-0 triumph over Barcelona – in for his first senior appearance.
A France Under-18 international, left-sided Koumetio only made 12 appearances for the Reds’ U18s last term due to a groin injury.
However, highly-rated by staff at Kirkby, he is set to progress to the Under-23s this season – the “perfect situation” according to Klopp – where he will again link up with coach Barry Lewtas.
Klopp and his staff elected to take him to Austria to see how the 6ft 3in defender mixed with the first team. Could he handle the intensity of the training sessions?
Klopp has been delighted.
So much so that, having not wanted to overdo the physical work with the youngster, last week he pulled Koumetio from one morning session and, rather than leaving him to do some light work with another coach or a physio, took Koumetio aside for a one-to-one session.
“I think things like this help him a lot.”
Liverpool were comfortable at 3-0 when Koumetio entered the fray against the Bundesliga new boys. But that comfort had actually seen a largely second string side take their foot off the gas somewhat, allowing Stuttgart to take control.
There had been some sloppy turnovers in midfield, and Adrian had been forced to make a couple of smart saves, one down to his left just moments after the giant young defender had entered.
The resulting corner from the right was swung over towards Sasha Kalajdžić, Stuttgart’s 6ft 7in centre-forward. But he barely got off the ground as Koumetio leapt and powered away the delivery with a towering header.
The second thing he did moments later? Power away a corner with a towering header from the opposite side.
It was quite the show of dominance, so soon after his introduction.
In the remainder of the game he showed composure in possession, firing a couple of line-splitting passes into Rhian Brewster and showed that he doesn’t mind just clearing his lines when necessary.
You could see some of the rough edges too, as he occasionally got too close to opponents or left a little too big a space down his channel to be exploited. Those will be ironed out in the Under-23s with more experience at a higher level.
“I’m pretty sure he will make big steps,” Klopp said last week.
His Austrian bow showed exactly why.
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