Liverpool have always had a special connection with Scotland.
75% of the squad in the inaugural 1892/93 season for the club hailed from north of the border.
While the Liverpool squads throughout history haven’t quite kept up to that ratio, the club's story has been littered with Scottish stars. From Graeme Souness in the 80s to Andy Robertson helping end 30 years of Premier League hurt in the current day. Arguably the Anfield faithful’s favourite son – Kenny Dalglish – hails from the streets of Glasgow. I feel like I should preface what’s to come and my over-enthusiasm about the subject by saying that I am Scottish, so please excuse me, if it seems like I’m getting carried away…
If you’re a Liverpool fan (or Celtic fan, or interested in Scottish football) you’ve likely heard the name Ben Doak. The 2005 born forward – yes, he was born nearly six months after that night in Istanbul – made a name for himself last season in Liverpool's youth setup, particularly in the UEFA Youth League. Those performances earned him senior minutes way ahead of schedule, featuring in the Carabao Cup in November and even making his Premier League debut at Villa Park in late December.
The attacker – who was signed for around £600,000 – seems to be stepping up again, causing a buzz at Liverpool’s pre-season training camp in Germany. First, there was the viral training game clip in which we can hear Jürgen Klopp in the background describing the youngster as the “future of Scotland”.
Doak then went one better in Liverpool’s opening game of the season against Karlsruher SC, leaving Klopp simply describing his performance as “Oh my God” (in a good way).
So, what makes the Scottish youth international so exciting?
When it comes to Doak, there’s only one place to start. His ability to progress the ball through dribbling is not only efficient, but also electrifying. He is just as proficient at intricately (and even sometimes bulldozing) his way through the tightest of spaces as he is at bursting into vast areas of space. If we look at his most recent appearance, in the friendly vs. Karlsruher SC, nobody attempted, or completed as many dribbles as Liverpool’s number 50.
📊 No one attempted (6) and completed (4) more dribbles for #LFC today than Ben Doak.
An excellent first appearance for the youngster in pre-season. pic.twitter.com/fUBscIwYDh
— Bence Bocsák (@BenBocsak) July 19, 2023
One (of the many) noticeable moment was around the hour mark, where Doak received the ball from James McConnell just inside his own half. He takes one touch before having the intelligence to drive across his man, leaving the defender with the decision to either let Doak drive into space and give Liverpool a numerical advantage or bring him down for a cynical foul and a yellow (which he opts for).
We also see another characteristic of Doak’s after he’s brought down – his fieriness. Despite it being a meaningless friendly, the Ayrshire-born winger takes issue with Jérome Gondorf, the man who brought him down. It’s a characteristic that both helps and hinders the Scot.
In a combined 21 appearances in the UEFA Youth League and Premier League 2 he was booked five times – that’s roughly a booking every four games, more than your average for a winger. Yet it is also part of who he is, and part of what makes his game so effective. It gives him a competitive edge, he’s tenacious and doesn’t give up – sure, you may risk a booking or sometimes even worse – but he’s not doing this for the sake of it, he’s doing everything he can to win.
In a penalty shootout win against Porto in the UYL last season, a brawl broke out as Liverpool claimed victory, Doak emerged from a crowd of players with a bust lip but on the winning side, which seems like a good representation of the player he is.
Doak’s close control, and his ability to make his way out of crowded spaces – one way or another (as touched on before) – is probably his standout ability. If we look back to one of his highlights of last season, an incredible solo goal against old arch-rivals Rangers in the Youth League.
The goal encapsulates nearly everything that makes Doak so exciting. He picks the ball up near the corner flag with what appears to be very little one. He attempts to move past his man with a flurry of shimmies and shakes, before making his move. He then hustles and bustles through the first defender. That opens some space for him, who then body feints and deceives another oncoming Rangers player before driving into space in the box and finishing it with an exquisite outside of the boot finish into the far corner.
In his short career at Liverpool’s academy, Doak has put up incredible goal contribution numbers. Five games for the Under-18’s has seen two goals and two assists, eight games for the Under-19’s has seen four goals and four assists, 14 games for the Under-21’s saw five goals and two assists. That’s 19 direct goal involvements in 27 academy team appearances. It’s getting to the point – after just a year at the club and him still qualifying for Under-21 football for another four years – that youth football is probably a level below where Doak is at, and that senior minutes should be the focus.
Despite pulling off an outrageous bit of skill against Lucas Digne on his Premier League debut last season, minutes in the league will be hard to come by. Mohamed Salah is rarely injured and key to Liverpool’s success, and the reality is that despite such promise, the 17-year-old is not yet physically developed fully. The Europa League games – particularly against pot three and four sides – present an opportunity for game time. As do the domestic cup competitions. If Doak does want to make an impact at senior level, he’ll need to improve his off the ball work. He is tenacious and there is a willingness to put in a shift on that side of the ball. However, he is undeniably on the smaller side and going up against fully developed, seasoned professionals will take adjustment.
That last paragraph may seem harsh. Doak is way ahead of where he was expected to be at when he was signed from Celtic a year and a half ago. He’s one of – if not the – most exciting player that has been in Liverpool’s academy in recent times. His close control is some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen; he is tenacious and aggressive in a good way. He has incredible pace both over a long distance and short spaces, he is calm and composed in front of goal and has already a diverse catalogue of finishes in a Liverpool shirt.
There were concerns when he first joined the club on how his development would be handled, and these were – and still are – valid questions. There were points made around how much first-team experience he would receive. Doak has forced that narrative to go away due to his performances in the academy, but there does need to be a gradual and steady development plan from the club. The lack of Champions League football does allow them to experiment with Doak at Europa League level, and with him being so young a loan doesn’t feel necessary. There are of course weak points to his game, and his size – while it does help him with his low centre of gravity – does come with some limitations (unless he ends up Lionel Messi levels of good, which feels quite unlikely).
Yet Doak’s profile is becoming increasingly valuable. Of course, tactics move quick in football, but box midfields look here to stay for the foreseeable. These are naturally narrow and allow more natural wingers more space out wide. His ability to pick up the ball in wide areas and make penetrating runs into the box is a huge part of his skillset, in this sense, he can be very valuable to Liverpool in both the short term and long term.
Klopp is right, Doak is Scotland’s future. But he also has the potential to be a huge asset to Liverpool and Mohamed Salah’s successor.
Getting his development right could create a superstar, and save the club a lot of money in the long run.