Rhian Brewster played his first 45 minutes since January 2018 for Liverpool Under 23s on Friday afternoon – and needed only six minutes to get back among the goals.
Brewster, who went on to score a second, has had to be patient in his recovery from a serious leg injury, which required operations on both his ankle and knee, and there was a stage when it looked as though he might not ever play for Liverpool again when he turned down several offers of a new contract amid interest from Germany.
But Brewster eventually put pen to paper on a new five-year deal in summer 2018, and now Reds fans are understandably excited by the prospect of the England Under-17 World Cup winner challenging for a place up front with the seniors.
The 19-year-old has been training with the first-team squad since he was 16 and has already appeared on the bench in the Premier League, against Crystal Palace in November 2016, and his brace in his comeback 45-minute appearance for the U23s has raised hopes he could even make his full debut before the end of the season.
Brewster top-scored with eight goals at the U17 World Cup, netting back-to-back hat-tricks in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and there is no shortage of people backing the former Chelsea youngster to build on that success with plenty more in the years to come…
Speaking about Brewster’s time out injured, Klopp gave the impression he will consider the forward for selection sooner rather than later.
“He grew as a person in that time (out injured) and physically as well,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website.
“He is a different stature when you look at him. Now he is a proper man. When he got injured, he was a boy. All will be good.
“With a little bit of luck – which you always need – we will have a lot of fun with him.”
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 29, 2019
They are certainly not empty words from Klopp, who arranged for Brewster to undergo his rehabilitation on site with the first team rather than with the Academy.
“To know that the boss really wants me to be in his plans for the future is amazing, especially a boss like him,” Brewster said of the support he has received.
“They could easily have left me at the Academy to do my rehab, but they wanted me to do my rehab with them, so I can’t thank them enough.
“During this injury I’ve had that, he has been there from beginning to the end and to know he still wants me – even though it’s been so long – gives me a great boost.
“Every time I see him he gives me a big hug. Not only him, every time I see the players they are asking about how I am, ‘How long?’. They can’t wait for me to be back in training and hopefully make my debut this year, if not next.”
Brewster became firm friends with fellow long-term injury victim Oxlade-Chamberlain during his rehab, and it has been a relationship of mutual support.
In fact, rather than the younger man relying on the first-teamer for guidance, Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted it has often been the other way around.
“Rhian’s been brilliant, he’s a great lad and I don’t really have to tell him too much,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said in January 2019.
“A lot of the time he’s checking on me, I’ll be honest.
“He’s always so positive and he’s just got that youthful enthusiasm about him which is really going to have around, it keeps me going.”
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was at the Academy this afternoon to watch Rhian Brewster play his first minutes since suffering a long-term knee injury in January 2018. pic.twitter.com/OpRcXSals0
— James Carroll (@James_Carroll84) March 29, 2019
It certainly seems as though Brewster is wiser than his years might suggest.
In fact, in December 2017 Brewster gave an interview to The Guardian which he himself requested in order to list seven incidents in which he or one of his team-mates has suffered racist abuse.
Herman Ouseley, chairman of Kick it Out, was one of the many to urge action on the back of Brewster’s comments: “Rhian has been very courageous. A guy has come out and told us exactly what is going on. Are the institutions going to fail him?
“People might say it is a 17-year-old who is not yet playing at professional elite level – well, hello, that [the lower age levels] is really where the problems begin.”
Klopp said: “I am really happy he is brave enough, and he needed to be brave, to do what he did because it is such an important thing.
“I really can’t believe people still have these thoughts in their mind now. It’s so strange that it happens in this world now and we need a 17-year-old boy to shout out and say it is still happening all the time and that we need help to stop it.
“We are really happy he did that, but it is not a situation you want a 17-year-old to be in. If he needs help we will give it to him.”
Giving another insight into the old head on his young shoulders, Brewster said that, rather than giving him a sense of comfort, his contract at Liverpool had given him extra determination to prove himself.
“I don’t like the comfort zone,” he said. “I like to work hard for my stuff so the injury and trying to get back fit, working hard, is all I’ve been doing.
“I want to prove to everyone that the boss has kept faith in me for a reason and I want to prove to everyone that I’m good enough to be in the first team.
“When I’m back, that is what I hope to do. It doesn’t stop, I’ll keep pushing myself.
“I’ve got to keep going and hopefully I’m here for longer than five years.”
🗓 Oct 28th: Scores in the U17 World Cup final
🗓 Nov 21st: Does the job for Liverpool
Rhian Brewster can't stop scoring! ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/zbbv0Qe0k3
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 21, 2017
Born and raised in London, Brewster joined the Shield Academy as a seven-year-old and was scouted by Chelsea after his very first game.
Seymour, who created the Shield Academy in 2007, said Brewster is the best young player to have come through the doors.
“He was scouted in the first two minutes of his first game after rounding the entire opposition, scoring and then grabbing the ball and putting it back on the spot,” Seymour said.
“In the time it took that to happen, Martin Taylor, the academy scout at Chelsea, approached his dad and me, and said he wanted him immediately.”
“He has natural flair and is very talented in many, many ways,” he added. “He looked like a footballer at seven – the way he stood and moved. He was fearless and was delighted to take players on.
“He’s also a very well mannered young man and comes from a humble family.
“I’ve yet to see another player as good as him in all the time I’ve been at the academy.”
Continuing the theme of humility, Seymour said Brewster’s family had no idea just how good a talent he was.
“He was just exceptional,” Seymour said.
“He wanted to take everyone on, and he could. He had the ability to literally take on every single player and they just couldn’t get the ball off him. It was the way he walked, the way he moved. He just wanted the ball all the time. It was a delight.
“His dad came in at the end of training and we asked to have a chat with him because Rhian had been so good. His dad’s first response was, ‘What’s he done wrong?’.
“He’s really humble and that probably gives you an indication. They do know now but over the years Rhian and his parents just didn’t really understand how good Rhian was.”
Speaking after Brewster’s exploits at the World Cup, England Under-17s manager said Brewster, who named Roberto Firmino as the Liverpool player he models himself on most, is about far more than just goals.
“It is an amazing achievement to score a hat-trick in a quarter-final and a semi-final,” he said.
“I am not normally one to talk about individuals, but to do that needs a special mention. There is no doubt about that. He deserves it and the team deserves it.
“If you see the way Rhian speaks to the rest of the players in the dressing room about the service he is getting then it says a lot about him.
“And it is not just his goals but the effort he is putting in for the team. We want to win the ball back as quick as we can and we want to press and that starts with your No.9.
“Rhian is a goalscorer, but he is more than that. He is a fantastic character. The feeling is pride and satisfaction in the way we did it.”
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) October 25, 2017
Speaking about Brewster first being invited to train with the first-team squad as a 16-year-old, Klopp backed up Cooper’s assessment of an all-round talent.
“Rhian has a lot of respect in the squad, nobody thought ‘who’s this?’” Klopp said.
“Physically stronger, wonderfully skilled boy, real striker, good finisher, fantastic work ethic and all that stuff.”
Ever the one to stress the importance of hard work to match talent, Gerrard had some sound advice for Brewster when praising him in his role as Liverpool Under-19 manager in November 2017.
“Everyone has seen it all over the world that Rhian is capable of scoring goals,” Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo.
“You have to enjoy the plaudits but not get too high and not start believing in all the hype. You have to keep showing everyone what you are about.
“In football, people forget pretty quickly, both the good and the bad. You are only as good as your last game.
“We all know he has got the talent and the ability.
“If Rhian wants to go far and stay at the top, if he can put in that work rate and relentless running, that’s how he’s going to get the better of most defenders.”
"I was obsessed to be the best!"
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 15, 2017
Many talented young players have failed to make it in the past, of course, but speaking about his decision to swap Chelsea for Liverpool, Brewster left nobody in any doubt that he has the right attitude to make it at the very top.
“I didn’t see a pathway to become a first-team player at Chelsea,” he said.
“There were a few clubs interested but once I knew Liverpool were one of them it was an easy choice.
“All I want to do is one day play for Liverpool’s first team. I will do all I can to try and make that happen so if that means doing extra work in training I will do it.
“If it means not going out with my friends, eating well and working hard every day, that has to be done and I will do it.”