BY DANIEL NHAKANISO HE might still be in the early stages of his professional career, but Zimbabwean young star Isaac Mabaya has been tipped to make an early breakthrough to the Liverpool first-team after being invited to train with the big boys as the Reds began their pre-season camp on Monday.
The 17-year-old England-born starlet is among 11 Liverpool Academy players that trained with the Liverpool first-team squad at the AXA Training Centre last week.
He was part of the Reds squad, which left for Bangkok last night for the first leg of an Asian tour that will also include time in Singapore and games against Manchester United and Crystal Palace.
The match against Manchester United will be played at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Liverpool are also scheduled to make their way to Austria and Germany for a training camp before returning to England ahead of the new season, which begins on August 5.
Mabaya is among the few young players who are expected to be part of the Liverpool squad on tour.
While it is not yet clear if he or any of the other young players included in the touring party could feature in some of the games, his involvement with the first team in the preseason will certainly brighten his chances of an imminent breakthrough.
A number of Liverpool-based publications last week wrote glowingly on Mabaya after his invitation to the first team.
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“A regular in the UEFA Youth League level last season where he filled in as a right-winger with injuries hampering Liverpool’s chances when they exited the tournament against Juventus, Mabaya has a big future ahead of him. He has the potential to really kick on again next season, with attributes to become a really exciting full-back at Liverpool. Like Conor Bradley, he is better going forward than defensively, but he is also a solid performer out of possession,” wrote Matt Addison, the editor of Liverpool.com on Thursday.
This Is Anfield, an independent Liverpool Football Club website, which extensively covers the Premier League giants tipped Mabaya to use the preseason opportunity with the first team as a stepping stone in his fledgling career.
“Though Mabaya only played his first full season with the U18s last time out, he appears one of the best suited to the jump from the academy to the first team,” the publication said.
“Equally adept at right-back as he is in midfield, Mabaya possesses real strength, technique and a relentless drive that earned him debuts with the under-21s and under-23s last term.”
The website added that Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp’s trust in youthful players could enhance Mabaya’s chances of a first-team breakthrough in the near future.
“Jurgen Klopp is a firm believer in the adage that ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ and Liverpool have reaped the rewards of that mentality in recent years. One only needs to look at current first-team members Trent Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott to see that come to life, while others can attest to the same.
“Last year, the likes of Tyler Morton, Conor Bradley, Owen Beck and Kaide Gordon used their summer experiences as a springboard with each having gone on to make their first-team debut. And it begs the question as to who will be the next to follow in their footsteps this summer, with the Reds not short on talent across the academy.”
Born in Preston, England, to Zimbabwean parents, Mabaya signed his first professional contract at Liverpool in September last year before being named in the Reds’ matchday squad for the first time in the FA Cup’s third-round encounter against Shrewsbury four months later.
Although Mabaya was an unused substitute during the match, his inclusion in the matchday squad alone was a major endorsement to the progress he has been making at the club.
Due to his solid performances for Liverpool’s youth teams, Mabaya received a call-up to the England Under-18 team in March where he scored on his debut against Sweden’s Under-18 side.
Mabaya is a midfielder by nature, but has been readily utilised at right-back, consistently highlighting his versatility alongside his impressive forward forays where his pace and power are shown off.
The Zimbabwean rising star scored six times and assisted 12 goals last season, with that total of 18 goal contributions highlighting the decisiveness that he has shown in attack, and while some of those contributions came while playing in midfield, it seems likelier that his long-term position will be at full-back.
He has since been billed to follow in the footsteps of one of the club’s stars Trent Alexander-Arnold, who famously switched from midfield to become Klopp’s first-choice right-back in recent seasons.
Mabaya has been subject to advances from his parents’ native country in a bid to have him play for the Warriors in the future, but his early success at Liverpool and subsequent call-up to England’s youth teams will make it very difficult to convince him to play for the Warriors in the future.
The teenager’s father, David, worked as a pharmacist at United Bulawayo Hospitals up to 2000 before relocating to England.
They hail from Mutare where he last visited in 2014.