Liverpool’s young midfielder John Welsh had an excellent game for the England Under-21 team last night, scoring a great goal, and so now finds his name has become a little more well-known and the comparisons are going to be obvious.
19-year-old Welsh is a graduate of Liverpool’s academy, a local lad who knows how to tackle and pass. Steven Gerrard is the player John Welsh is being compared to.
The national newspapers still believe Gerrard is leaving at the end of the season – and in the meantime they’re ready to put Welsh in as his Liverpool replacement. This isn’t what Welsh wants though – he wants to play with Gerrard, not against him: "I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the season – hopefully he’ll stay because I know he loves Liverpool. Whenever he makes his decision, it’s down to him."
Welsh has only just broken through into the first-team squad at Anfield, a substitute appearance in the Champions League against Leverkusen his most recent appearance. He wants to play more, and he wants to share the midfield with his club captain: "Hopefully, I’d love to play alongside him. It’s up to Rafael Benitez whether he picks me but I’ll keep working hard and hopefully I’ll get my chance.”
Speaking to PA News after Tuesday night’s England under-21 game, Welsh sees one area of his game that he needs to improve if he wants to be more like Gerrard: “I don’t score that many goals so nice to get on scoresheet, few of the lads were giving me a bit of stick and asking if it was a cross. The staff at the club feel I should score more goals and that’s an area I’m looking to improve. My strengths include my tackling and hopefully my passing but there’s lots I can improve upon – I’m only young and I know I’m not the finished article.”
Welsh was a Liverpool fan before joining the reds, and doesn’t just see Gerrard as his team-mate: “He’s one of my idols and you look at him, what he’s doing week-in week-out and try and model yourself on that. It’s brilliant to be compared to him but I think he scores a few more goals than me. I grew up at Liverpool and I’ve seen some brilliant players there. He’s obviously the latest to come through the academy, along with Jamie Carragher, and watching them from the stands has been brilliant. You always try and learn off the best players and Steve for me is one of the best players in the world.”
John feels lucky to be training and playing alongside what he considers to be outstanding talent: “Carra has been tremendous this season and we all know Steven Gerrard’s one of the best players in the world. Even Xabi Alonso, Milan Baros and Morientes – the list of world-class players keeps going and to work alongside them, you can only learn off them. When I’ve been involved in games, Carra and Stevie are always talking to you, helping you along, and in training they give you tips and say ’maybe try this’ and giving you their opinion of what you can do.”
One of the many criticisms aimed at Gerard Houllier as his reign as manager drew closer and closer to the end was his lack of faith in Liverpool’s youngster – leading to rumours of a serious rift between himself and academy boss Steve Heighway. Although Benitez has brought some new players in from Spain, he’s mainly chosen quality rather than quantity, and is happy to compliment the big names with the youngsters. To this end Welsh feels he at least has a chance of making many appearances as long as his performance merit it: "I’m at one of the best clubs in the world, for me, I’ve always supported them from a child and I love the club. So I’ll be patient. I know there’s a lot of good players there. The gaffer has shown he’ll put the young kids in if they deserve it so I’ll keep working hard. The gaffer keeps talking to me, telling me what I should be doing, so I listen to him and take it from there. You need first-team football as you go along but Rafael Benitez wants me to stay at Liverpool. I love the club and I want to make it there.”
England’s under-21 boss Peter Taylor was full of praise for Welsh, who made his full-debut in the game against Azerbaijan, following on from a second-half appearance as substitute on Friday: "John has certainly helped our performances. His second-half show on Friday, was first class and although it was a bit easier for him against Azerbaijan, I like him in that position. He reminds me of Jamie Carragher when I had him at Under-21 level."
With the injury crisis at Anfield right now, John knows he’s got to take all the opportunities he’s given.