Forward | Sheffield United | Wales
Sometimes phenomenally gifted young player bursts onto the scene with a bang, flirt with the prospect of succeeding at the top level, and eventually fade into obscurity, leaving supporters questioning what the hell happened to the next superstar.
It’s far too early to predict a similarly disheartening future for Woodburn at just 19-years-of-age, but concern is beginning to intensify amid his lengthy stagnation. Woodburn became a national hero by scoring a long-range stunner against Austria, just moments after coming on as a substitute for his Wales debut in 2017.
The incredibly agile attacking midfielder is capable of playing out wide or in a classic number ten role behind the striker. Exactly where he fits into the bigger picture at Liverpool - if he manages to fulfill his potential, that is - remains an unknown entity. The left side appears to be his most natural position, but his preference to drift into the centre of the field could be a telling indicator of his credentials to play as a number ten at the highest level.
2018 has been…
Incredibly disappointing. He spent the start of 2018 training with Liverpool’s senior squad, where he was deprived of opportunities to shine. But Jurgen Klopp has since allowed him to join Sheffield United on loan, a move which has been so uneventful discussion of a premature return to Anfield is already in full flow.
Chris Wilder’s side are flying high in the Championship without him and, as the manager has defiantly explained, he should not be, and will not be exposed to special treatment purely because he is a Liverpool player. The second tier of English football is gruelling, unforgiving and incredibly competitive in every sense of the world, but Woodburn’s failure to rise to the challenge does not force us to conclude that he must be a flop - just look at how Harry Kane turned out.
Woodburn was withdrawn at half-time in the one game he started this season, and aside from that his opportunities have been almost non-existent, with merely a handful of cameo appearances from the bench to report on the rare occasions in which he has been selected for the matchday squad.
The comparative success his compatriot and fellow Liverpool prodigy, Harry Wilson, enjoyed at Hull City at the start of 2018, and is now enjoying at Derby County is exacerbating the spotlight on Woodburn’s perplexing anonymity at the same level.
If Wilson can shine in the Championship then why can’t Woodburn?
2018 has provided a true test of character for Woodburn. On the one hand it would be acceptable to view his experience through the developmental lenses: this experience is an integral part of the learning curve. But, on the other hand, it might indicate that Woodburn is lacking the mentality to fulfill his potential. Either way, nobody can expect him to be a world beater at 19 and it would be absurd to write him off just yet.
The problem is that Woodburn needs regular opportunities in order to develop but, if he’s not getting them at a top level Championship club, where does he go next? Perhaps it’s time for him to follow in the footsteps of Jadon Sancho, Ademola Lookman and Reiss Nelson and try his hand in the Bundesliga.