In our weekly Scout feature, we take a deep dive into an emerging player on track to become a footballing superstar before our very eyes.
This week’s edition focuses on Liverpool midfielder Leighton Clarkson, a player who has already drawn comparisons with Germany legend Philipp Lahm.
Clarkson is the central midfielder who has been tasked with pulling the strings in Liverpool’s Under-23s.
A member of the club’s youth ranks since childhood, the 19-year-old was handed his full first-team debut when the Reds’ youngest ever side saw off Shrewsbury Town in last season’s FA Cup fourth round.
An impressive Champions League debut followed in December, but in the meantime, the youngster has turned orchestrating a midfield into an artform.
Heavy how there's a lad playing centre-mid for Liverpool who is less than five foot tall and he's *still* absolutely running the show in his European Cup debut 🤷♀️
Well played, Leighton Clarkson. pic.twitter.com/6zK6lzUlB4
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) December 9, 2020
Operating primarily as a deep-lying playmaker, Clarkson has already showcased a tenacious appetite for notching assists.
Despite standing at just 5 ft 9 in tall, his physical attributes have drawn glowing praise from Jurgen Klopp.
Why the hype?
The first string a modern-day number six must have to his bow is composure. Clarkson exhibits this most fundamental of traits in abundance and boasts more than his fair share of class to boot.
He holds a terrific understanding of the game from a tactical standpoint. This manifests itself in a great awareness of what and who is around him to complement his internal clock that will rarely see him caught in possession.
He also possesses excellent vision. When required, Clarkson will keep it simple to control the pace and flow of a game. But once the opportunity to showcase his passing range opens up, he’ll have his forwards haring down on goal in an instant.
His small stature might give the uninitiated hiccups given the physicality central midfield requires. His Champions League debut versus Midtyjlland proved why such fears are unfounded, however, with Klopp remarking: “He’s a smart footballer, fast, physically strong.
“If you see his legs they are not like 19-year-old boy legs, they are already grown.”
Reminds you of a young…?
Xavi, Iniesta, Lahm… Comparing Clarkson to that type of world-class figure is obviously premature, but those are the types of player the Liverpool midfielder will be aiming to emulate should his career progress as many at Anfield expect.
A more down-to-earth example would be Wolves centrepiece Joao Moutinho.
The Portuguese veteran did not make his Premier League bow until the age of 32. Most players that age wouldn’t stand a chance with the English game’s rapid pace and fierce intensity.
But Moutinho proved that class is permanent and that many of the traits he shares with Clarkson – technique, vision, composure – are evergreen.
Few moments sum up Clarkson’s blossoming talents quite as perfectly as his goal to round off the scoring as Liverpool sunk Blackburn 6-0 in a June mid-season friendly.
The vision to find a one-two in the box? Check. Intelligent movement? Check. Calmness and composure at the vital moment? Check… You get the drift.
Liverpool academy product Leighton Clarkson wraps up a 6-0 win for the Reds 💪pic.twitter.com/faTvNgk7bk
— Goal (@goal) June 12, 2020
The Experts’ View
Ahead of his mature debut performance in the Champions League, Klopp set tongues wagging with the following statement.
“In Germany, there’s a famous player who played similar to him. You might have to go back a little longer and I don’t want to put pressure on the boy but he reminds me a lot of him.”
The Athletic revealed that player to be Bayern Munich and Germany legend Lahm. Praise does not come much higher than that in the present day, with Clarkson even reported to have assumed the nickname among Reds coaching staff.
Living up to those lofty expectations will require more than just metronomic midfield performances.
As Liverpool’s Under-23s returned to action with Everton last week, Clarkson rubber-stamped his credentials with another ‘standout’ performance.
🔵Everton U23s 1-1 LFC U23s 🔴 An enjoyable contest that saw Everton in front inside a minute only for Tyler Morton to score a brilliant equaliser. A good performance from the young reds with Clarkson the stand out performer for me 👏🔴🔵#miniderby #LFC #everton #PL2 pic.twitter.com/grM00LMINs
— Neil Mellor (@NeilMellor33) January 18, 2021
A perfect fit for…?
Summer recruit Thiago Alcantara has assumed the mantle as playmaker-in-chief since his arrival.
As a rare veteran signing for owners FSG, however, the classy Spaniard is unlikely to be a long-term performer.
In the intermediate years, both Clarkson and fellow Scout alumni Jake Cain have a fantastic opportunity to prove why they can be the next in line for Liverpool’s number six shirt.
Has been linked with?
In December, The Athletic noted that clubs from Europe and the Championship had enquired about his availability for a loan stint.
With Liverpool’s FA Cup run already over, the possibility of further first-team opportunities appears limited this season.
Whether a last-ditch loan exit materialises remains to be seen, but if not, Clarkson is in good hands.
Already a regular in first-team training, we can think of few better for Clarkson to work alongside than Thiago.
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