Sunday 19 May 2019

Ball boys revealed as unsung heroes of Liverpool triumph


The ballboy (circled) prepares to throw the ball to the full-back who set up Divock Origi’s late goal
The ballboy (circled) prepares to throw the ball to the full-back who set up Divock Origi’s late goal

Chris Bascombe

Liverpool's astonishing comeback against Barcelona was partly inspired by a pre-match drilling of the club's unsung heroes - ball boys from the Anfield academy.

Jurgen Klopp's first-team analysts gave youngsters from the junior ranks a video presentation on the eve of the second leg, helping maximise the chances of pulling off their historic victory.

The results were spectacular, with the quick thinking of 14-year-old Oakley Cannonier on the touchline pivotal as Trent Alexander-Arnold delivered the corner for Divock Origi's winning goal.

The Liverpool full-back can be seen benefiting from the swift actions of the academy starlet, giving him the time to catch Barcelona's defence off guard at the set-piece.


Klopp has often demanded more from the ball boys dispatched around Anfield and a particular effort was made for the visit of La Liga's champions.

Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates at the final whistle after Liverpool’s victory over Barcelona. Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates at the final whistle after Liverpool’s victory over Barcelona. Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

The first-team operations manager Ray Haughan liaised with the academy's coaching mentor Carl Lancaster, who is responsible for coordinating the ball boys. It ensured everyone involved was well briefed a day before the match.

The examples shown were of previous home games, including against Porto in the Champions League quarter-final, when the ball was not deemed to have been rolled back into the senior players quickly enough.

The contrast at Anfield on Tuesday night was pronounced, enabling Liverpool to maximise every second in their attempt to wipe out the three-goal first-leg deficit. Barcelona's sluggish means of preparing for dead-ball situations ultimately proved their downfall with Origi's strike.

Such attention to detail was critical to Liverpool's success as they now prepare for Sunday's title decider in the knowledge they will still have a chance to win silverware in 2019.

Defender Virgil van Dijk says there is no time for Liverpool to dwell on the scale of their achievement as they prepare to face Wolves at Anfield, a game they must win to retain hopes of ending a 29-year wait to be English champions.

"There's still a game to go and Brighton away is not easy [for leaders Manchester City]. But Wolves at home is certainly not easy either," said Van Dijk. "If it happens it happens. We have no influence on that. They have it in their hands. We'll see. If it doesn't happen then it's not the end of the world. We've had a fantastic season, both of us. Man City has been outstanding as well. To compete with them says a lot about how we're progressing from last year. It's just the start. It's not like next year we're not going to try to do it again. It's something we have to build on.

"There's still a game to play for them and us on Sunday and we'll see. We need to try to get three points. If we do that then we did what we could do. We'll see what's going to happen in Brighton. I'm definitely a proud man anyway. We've been working very hard this season. It's just the start."

In any other season, Liverpool would already be celebrating the title, but Van Dijk insists City will be worthy champions should they claim their final-day victory.

"If City wins the game on Sunday and we win as well then they deserve their one point more than us. That's just the fact," he said.

"Hopefully, we are going to keep challenging for the title. Man City is one of the best teams in the world and they've shown it the whole season - how difficult they can make it for any team in the world. We'll see. But we're still in this season and still anything is possible."

Despite the disappointment of defeat to Real Madrid in last year's Champions League final, Van Dijk feels no urgency to make amends for the events in Kiev. He is sure Liverpool will continue to create opportunities for success.

"I don't think we should think as a failure if we don't win the Champions League," he said.


"We're going to do everything possible to win it and we will definitely be disappointed but it's not the end of the world. It's not like we had a terrible season or we failed this season. It's just the start and hopefully we can do this every year - try to do this every year.

"City already have that bit of status, because they have been dominating last year so much and hopefully we can keep going and make it very difficult for any team in the world.

"We have a great age group so hopefully we can do it all together for the next couple of years at least and grow as a team and hopefully get a lot of successes."

Liverpool expect Mohamed Salah to be back to face Wolves. They must still check on Andy Robertson and Roberto Firmino, who have calf and groin problems, respectively.

Captain Jordan Henderson played through the pain barrier with an injured knee against Barcelona. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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