Dominic Solanke has the chance to prove himself at Liverpool
This article has been updated since it was first published on June 7, 2017
Dominic Solanke may not have been the striker Liverpool fans were expecting their club to sign, or indeed that they wanted their club to sign, but this week they were presented with the first shreds of evidence that manager Jurgen Klopp might have snapped up a bit of a bargain.
Solanke scored the winner for England in the Under-20 World Cup quarterfinals in South Korea on last Monday, which saw him help his team on the road to glory in Sunday's final against Venezuela and claim the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player for himself. It was a good finish: a poacher's finish, calmly slotted home without any evidence of nerves, and converted from the unfamiliar position of the deep-lying, withdrawn striker. But after the year Solanke has had, every position on the pitch must feel unfamiliar.
This has been a bit of a wasted season for the 19-year-old forward, a season spent looking in on the title-winning Chelsea team from the outside while making only sporadic appearances for the development squad. It's long been apparent that he would leave when his contract expired this summer, but that doesn't diminish the sadness of the way his long association with the club has ended.
Solanke's favoured position is at the front of the attack. Tall and strong, he is more than capable of leading the line for Liverpool, making or taking chances, and is intelligent enough in his movement to create space for others. It's not hard to imagine him flanked by Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho, though Klopp is expected to introduce Solanke to the first team slowly. Nevertheless, with Liverpool's injury record and their Champions League obligations, he's bound to be granted a chance before long in the role currently occupied by Roberto Firmino.
Solanke had been at Chelsea since the age of 8, winning two FA Youth Cups and the UEFA Youth League as well as the U17 European Championships with England. Few academy players have make the grade at Stamford Bridge -- none has made more than 50 league appearances for the Blues since John Terry, with Ryan Bertrand's 28 between 2010-11 and 2013-14 remaining the closest challenger since -- but Solanke had a better chance than most.
Solanke was a prolific scorer at the youth level, and then-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said in 2014, "If [Lewis] Baker, [Izzy] Brown and Solanke are not national team players in a few years, I should blame myself."
Baker hasn't played a minute for Chelsea since and, now 22, is on loan at Vitesse Arnhem. Brown, acrimoniously poached from West Bromwich Albion's academy in 2013, is now 20 and spent last season on loan at Rotherham and Huddersfield. But Solanke didn't go anywhere after his contract talks with Chelsea broke down, and was plonked on the naughty step instead.
As is so often the case, the reasons offered for the impasse differ. There were reports in the media that the blame lay with Solanke's representatives and their demands, and reports that one UK newspaper was forced to retract and apologise for its story. (When asked by ESPN FC, Chelsea would not comment on the specifics of the situation.) Meanwhile, Solanke's spokesman explained his client's move to Liverpool by saying, "His primary motivation is to play first-team football, to become the best player he can be and to win trophies with the team he plays for."
Top-level football can break a young player as well as make him, but without it there's no way of knowing for sure if a young star can fulfil his potential. And it has to be sustained first-team football, too: It's hard to prove yourself in brief, occasional bursts of action. Harry Kane looked to be little more than a bustling old-fashioned English centre-forward until he enjoyed a run in the Tottenham team.
There is no question that Solanke has something. That much has been obvious for years. Liverpool weren't the only club tracking him: Celtic and Red Bull Leipzig, both clubs with good records for spotting potential, were also on the hunt. He may have scored only seven goals in 25 appearances for Vitesse Arnhem in 2015-16, but the nature of those strikes suggested a player worth watching closely.
In one game against Groningen in March 2016, he hit a late brace, both goals giving indicators of his different strengths. The second goal was an impetuous, deft lob, a strike of sumptuous class that would catch the eye of even the most casual observer. But the first goal was the product of something rather more basic yet no less valuable. Clumsily felled on the edge of the area, Solanke could have rolled around to catch the referee's eye. Instead, he immediately bounced back to his feet, kept going and thus found himself in the perfect position to capitalise on a defensive error.
Talent will usually get you somewhere in football, but determination is what keeps you there. And this willingness to keep working, to keep striving, was not an isolated incident.
Solanke has a chance now at Liverpool, a chance to prove there's more to him than hyperbole. A chance to prove that, far from being just another entitled young footballer expecting a fortune before he has proved himself, he has left the only football club he's ever known because proving himself is all that matters. Under Klopp, who has shown none of Chelsea's reticence to give extended runs of games to young players, he'll have no excuses for coming up short.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.