James McConnell Player Profile: Liverpool FC

james mcconnell assist on debut

It isn’t easy to make it at Liverpool Football Club, such is the level at which the club operates. With world-class stars regularly being signed to play for the first-time, a youth player has got to be both good enough to make an impression and also lucky enough to get a change.

For James McConnell, the second part of that proposition came his way during the 2023-2024 campaign, with the Reds fighting on four fronts for the majority of the campaign and the youngster therefore given an opportunity to show his skills. Having been born and brought up in Sunderland, playing for the club at youth level, his move to Liverpool came in 2019.

The Liverpool squad during Jürgen Klopp’s tenure seemed to constantly go through moments of being short in one area, such as the 2020-2021 campaign when the Reds suffered a number of injuries at centre-back and the likes of Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips needed to perform to allow Fabinho Tavares and Jordan Henderson to head back into the midfield after having acted as defensive cover.

In the 2023-2024 season, Liverpool suffered a number of injuries to key midfielders, giving players like McConnell the chance to force themselves into the German’s thinking during his final campaign in the Anfield hot-seat.

Who is James McConnell?

Born on the 13th of September 2004 in Morpeth in the North-East of England, James William McConnell signed for the Sunderland youth system and was then offered a trial at Liverpool as a youngster. He arrived at Kirkby in 2019, playing for the Under-15s, impressing enough to make his way through the ranks.

He played in the Under-18s during the 2021-2022 season, playing for them regularly when he was just 16-years-old. That was proof, where it needed, that he was a talented young player who had the chance to go all the way, proving his worth against kids that were mostly a couple of years older than him.

If he was over-awed by the step up then he didn’t show it, scoring an excellent goal on his U18 Premier League North debut that helped Liverpool to a 2-1 win over Stoke City. That was in the February of 2021, with McConnell becoming a regular in the Under-18s the following season under the tutelage of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson.

His progress at the level saw him given a first professional contract as a 17-year-old in the September of 2021. Part of the decision to give him a new contract came thanks to the fact that he had demonstrated his versatility, playing in the majority of midfield roles during the 2021-2022 campaign.

One of those positions included starting on the left in midfield, from where he scored against Everton in the Under-18s Merseyside derby; always a sure-fire way to win over supporters. He was asked to play as the fulcrum in midfield the following season, again winning over fans by finding the back of the net in a 4-2 win over Manchester United.

He performed well in the Reds’ UEFA Youth League run, performing well against Napoli in a match that Liverpool won 2-1. The Reds made it all the way to the quarter-finals, with McConnell starting six of the eight matches played. He was also used during the EFL Trophy campaign that season.

The faith that the Reds had in McConnell resulted in him signing a new long-term contract the month after a narrow loss to Rochdale in the EFL Trophy, which was followed by a debut in the Premier League 2, with McConnell appearing in the second-half of a 2-1 win over Everton. Sadly for the youngster, he then suffered an injury that saw him ruled out for a few months.

When he returned, he hit the ground running with goals against Manchester City and Nottingham Forest in successive games. By that point he was one of the older players in the group, seen as a mature head that could offer quality and control to the Under-18s team.

Making the Step Up

During his entire tenure at Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp was never afraid to ask young players to step up to the plate if he felt as though the Reds needed some support from the Academy. It was with this in mind that a host of talented youngsters were asked to go with the first-team squad on the pre-season training camp to Germany, with McConnell being one of the names on the manager’s list.

He was also included on the tour to Singapore, playing in both of the friendly matches that were played out there. That meant that he was essentially considered to be part of the fringes of the first-team by the manager, resulting in him being named as a substitute more than a dozen times.

His debut for Liverpool came in European competition, with the fact that the Reds were playing in the Europa League meaning that there was much for flexibility for Jürgen Klopp than there would have been if we’d qualified for the Champions League. He was a late substitute in Liverpool’s home win over Toulouse, with the Anfield crowd showing their appreciation for the youngster.

That was followed up by another appearance from the bench, this time during our home Premier League game against Brentford. A dead-rubber Europa League game against Union Saint-Gilloise saw McConnell get another 15-minute runout.

Whilst McConnell might have hoped for a chance to impress Jürgen Klopp after having been given a place on the bench for the 2023-2024 season-opener against Chelsea, he will doubtless have been delighted by the number of chances he actually got. His first start for Liverpool came in the 5-2 win over Norwich City in the FA Cup on the 28th of January 2024, playing in the midfield alongside Curtis Jones and Ryan Gravenberch.

If he was already on cloud nine simply by virtue of starting the cup match, that will have gone up a notch when he supplied the assist for Jones’s opening goal after 16 minutes had been played.

A Cup Winner

Having made his first start for the club, McConnell had to contend with a return to the substitute’s bench for the next few matches, not coming on again until the 3-1 win over Burnley in the Premier League. He also appeared from the bench against Luton Town in a game that Liverpool won 4-1, but arguably the most impressive thing for McConnell’s career came just four days later when the Reds played Chelsea in the League Cup final.

Having seen the officials deny Virgil van Dijk’s opening goal, the game ended up going to extra-time and the overwhelming feeling was that Chelsea would have too much for Liverpool.

This feeling was largely thanks to the fact that Jürgen Klopp was forced to make several substitutions, taking over senior players in favour of youth. Bobby Clark had replaced fellow Academy graduate Conor Bradley on the 72nd minute mark, whilst McConnell and Jayden Danns joined Kostas Tsimikas in replacing Alexis Mac Allister, Cody Gakpo and Kostas Tsimikas respectively.

It saw Liverpool’s average age drop dramatically, with a further fall coming in the 106th minute when Jarell Quansah came on for Ibrahima Konaté. You can but imagine McConnell’s delight, therefore, when Virgil van Dijk heading in the winner with just two minutes to play.

It meant that the Kindergarten Klopps had won the League Cup, putting the first trophy into the cabinet in a season that still promised plenty for the manager and his squad. Having signed a new long-term contract with the club in the January, McConnell will have felt justified in his decision to commit to Liverpool. His performance in the cup final meant that he was a cup winner, whilst also resulting in another start three days later when the Reds took on Southampton in the FA Cup.

This time it was the turn of Alexis Mac Allister to replace him when he was substituted off after 63 minutes, receiving a warm ovation from the Liverpool fans inside Anfield.

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