Whatever Happened To Liverpool’s Youngest Ever Player Tipped As A Future England Star?
Six days after his 16th birthday, he became the youngest Liverpool player ever to appear in a competitive game, as Jerome Sinclair was compared to a young Michael Owen and Raheem Sterling.
Jurgen Klopp and Brendan Rodgers showered praise on the striker. But his career has fallen far short of expectations, after the youth-team goal machine left Anfield under a cloud at the age of only 19.
Sinclair, now 23, is currently on loan at Dutch strugglers VVV-Venlo and has failed to score in 23 Eredivisie games this season.
What went wrong?
The hype was very real. Boasting pace, movement, quick feet and clinical finishing, Sinclair was an LFC academy star - an explosive prospect who idolised Thierry Henry.
At age 15, Rodgers added him to the first team and in September 2012 he broke a record that still stands. Coming off the bench in the League Cup against West Brom - his boyhood side - he remains the youngest Red ever to play a competitive game.
His first senior Liverpool goal came later, against Exeter in the FA Cup in January 2016. But only 10 days after this, he bizarrely confirmed he was leaving the club in the summer, hinting at a move to Spain - despite a Klopp warning ringing in his ears.
"I like Jerome, he is a real talent and if he wants to stay with us no problem," said the new Liverpool boss. "If not, we cannot force it."
"He has skills, he is a very good shooter but physically it is not easy for him in the centre position in a Premier League game against 6ft 4in defenders to survive. But he is very young and he can develop."
It seems crazy to think that a teenage striker had Klopp asking him to stay, yet deciding to leave. He eventually departed for Watford for a £4 million fee - but has scored just once in 12 matches for the Hornets since, while a series of loan moves have gone badly.
Why did Sinclair walk out of Anfield as a teenager? Klopp seemed to hint at a wage dispute; that the player or his people were perhaps unhappy with the contract on offer.
"If it is not easy for you to be happy, then no one can help you," he said while Sinclair was still at the club. "But what we try to do is create a situation where younger players know it is not important to get the highest wages in your life in the first year of your career."
Fans immediately took to blaming Aidy Ward, the player's then agent who also engineered Raheem Sterling's contentious move from Liverpool to Man City a year earlier.
This is what Liverpool fans see when they think of Aidy Ward. @empireofthekop @Jordan_AC90 #LFC :snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake::snake: pic.twitter.com/CWh9sPJzkt
- Robert Summerscales (@robsummerscales) May 21, 2016
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But Ward also represents Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and helped put together his transfer to Liverpool in 2017, so it's fanciful to see any agenda against the club.
Sinclair's career has undoubtedly floundered post-LFC, however. Loan spells at Birmingham (five games, no goals), Sunderland (19 games, two goals) and Oxford (six games, two goals) all failed to work out, before his barren spell in the Netherlands.
His time as a prodigious, free-scoring prodigy must seem a long time ago - but it definitely happened.
Sinclair once netted six goals in seven UEFA Youth League games for Liverpool, slotted past Manchester United U21 as a young teen - past Champions League winner Victor Valdes in goal, no less - and fired in three goals in five games for the England Under-16 side. Sinclair then played and scored for England's Under-17s.
He was also a bright lad who reportedly got good GCSE results at school, plus an A-level in Business Studies. There have been none of the personal issues that have dogged, for example, former Man United prodigy Ravel Morrison.
What there have been are some frustrating injuries. Plus these telling comments from the player after his failed stint at Sunderland - one Black Cats' fans had huge hopes for, given the previous excitement around the youngster.
"I enjoyed my time at Sunderland," he said on joining Oxford. "It is the focus for the whole area so you are always under scrutiny. It did take me by surprise a little bit, if I'm totally honest.
"I knew it was a big club but it's only when you play for them you really appreciate it."
If Sinclair, as is perhaps implied here, felt a bit overawed by the size of Sunderland, playing under the scrutiny of Liverpool FC would have been a real challenge.
Still it is remarkable how far his star has plummeted, given his lack of starts and goals during his season-long loan at VVV-Venlo.
The truth is that he's never found his goalscoring form at senior level and, without getting on a run of finding the net, it's easy for a forward's confidence to drop. At 23, he's played for six different clubs and appeared in the Premier League, Championship and Eredivisie - but without scoring in any of those leagues.
He is, at least, currently fit and has time on his side to really find his form at another club.
But the harsh truth is that not every academy wonderkid can live up to the hype. For every Owen, Sterling or Robbie Fowler, there will be a Dominic Solanke who struggles to live up to their early reputation.
Or a Sinclair, a Liverpool record-breaker whose last senior goals came in League One in March 2019. That same month, the club he was expected to star for were knocking Bayern Munich out of the Champions League on their way to being crowned kings of Europe.
All imagery: PA Images
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