Ben Doak: The Scottish prodigy at Liverpool earns comparisons to Rooney & Sterling

Ben Doak produced a stunning winner as 10-man Liverpool beat Rangers 4-3 at Firhill in the Uefa Youth League

Pinned to the touchline, with his back to the goal and a defender breathing down his neck, Ben Doak seemed out of options. Ten seconds later he had the ball in the net.

It was a jaw-dropping solo goal conjured out of nowhere. A drop on the shoulder, then another. A dart into the box and a slide past three blue shirts. Then a sublime curling finish into the far corner with the outside of the boot.

The exquisite attack settled a Uefa Youth League thriller with seven goals in 10-man Liverpool’s favor against Rangers. It also nicely encapsulates why Doak is the most exciting Scottish attacking talent to emerge in years.

It may have only been under-19 level, but talk to anyone who has seen the dynamic 17-year-old winger in action, or worked with him, and they will abuse you in any doubt. This kid is special.

As manager Jurgen Klopp commented after Doak’s eye-catching first-team debut for Liverpool last month: “He’s a really lively kid, smart player, good dribbler, quick, can use both feet. A lot of things are obviously natural to him, which is very useful.”

BBC Scotland delves into Doak’s history so far and discovers comparisons to Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling despite just 40 minutes of first-team action.

Doak’s Celtic rise brings ‘stock’ of clubs ringing

Celtic’s loss is undoubtedly Liverpool’s gain, with Doak swapping the Scottish champions for Anfield this summer. The compensation fee of around £600,000 already looks like a steal.

The winger was Celtic’s brightest academy prospect, a prodigy on another level to his peers. At the age of 14, he played for the U-18s, and as soon as he turned 16 last November, he was drafted into the B team.

Before long, an invitation came to train with the first team squad. The story goes that the players soon graced him with a nickname: ‘Wazza’, a nod to the stocky teenager’s similarities in stature, talent and barrel style to a young Wayne Rooney.

Doak clearly made an impression on manager Ange Postecoglou when his quick pace earned him a first-team debut against Dundee United in January, making him the club’s second-youngest player of all time at 16 years and two months.

Four days later, Doak was thrown on in the final minutes of the emphatic 3-0 derby win over Rangers that sent Celtic top of the table. Even in these cameo appearances, he stood out – a pocket rocket that fires at defenders with glee.

A performance in the derby win over Rangers last season was not enough to keep Ben Doak at Celtic
A performance in the derby win over Rangers last season was not enough to keep Ben Doak at Celtic

So after getting a taste of the big time, how did Doak – a Celtic fan – end up choosing to pursue his career elsewhere? The player’s agent, former Celtic and Scotland full-back Jackie McNamara, gives an insight.

“In fairness, I thought the Old Firm game might have swung it,” says McNamara. “Because the whole thing was, show the kid you’re going to keep him, show him he’s not behind six or seven other players. He doesn’t want to play the Civil Service Strollers in the B team.

“But for the Old Firm game he was bombarded for tickets, for this, for that, where he lived in Ayrshire. He turned the phone off. You forget he was only 16. I asked what he was thinking and he just wished not to stay.

“When Ben went down to visit Liverpool, Klopp said: ‘Ah Ben, I’ve seen your stuff.’ Right away he felt really welcome.”

Tommy McIntyre, the former Celtic B team manager, recalls that a “stock” of interested clubs swarmed after Doak’s top-flight exposure.

“Celtic did their best to keep him,” says McIntyre. “They gave him that platform to perform on the big stage, but ultimately it was his decision.

“He was always highly thought of. It was only his age that prevented me from bringing him in earlier for the B team, as you have to be 16.

“He wasn’t with me long before Ange brought him up to the first team. He’s so exciting because he’s a player who gets the fans out of their seats – when he gets the ball, he’s so direct. He’s got tremendous pace and has a trick too. He can get past people, he crosses into the box, he creates chances, he finishes.”

“He’s a Scottish Rooney”

Doak’s obvious ability is complemented by his work ethic and temperament. McIntyre remembers a grounded, attentive and quiet boy who transformed into a fearless competitor when he took to the field.

“For someone so young to have that mental toughness is a great quality to have,” he adds.

“The way he approached things was incredible. He has a real winning mentality and you could see it in the way he played. He was a joy to work with.”

That mindset came through when Doak was unleashed from the bench in the 74th minute of Liverpool’s EFL Cup win over Derby County last month.

Klopp’s side eventually came through on penalties, but it was Doak’s impact on his fleeting debut – including three dribbles – that had fans talking. John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap podcast was among those impressed.

“Sometimes when young players come on a debut, they can be a bit overwhelmed,” says Gibbons. “Other times they go up and do well. Then there’s the rare occasion when someone says, ‘Look at me. I’m going to make this the Ben Doak show.” That’s what he did — he’s a special player.

“The last time I can remember anyone doing that was Raheem Sterling. It was a substitute appearance by Sterling towards the end of a season when he really got people talking.”

Within five days of his debut, Doak had turned 17, sat on the bench for the Premier League win over Southampton and signed his first professional contract, capping a whirlwind year for the teenager.

After arriving at Liverpool with an injury, he was given time to recover and then eased into action. Soon there was no holding him back.

He has been at Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 level for the Reds, netting eight times and providing six assists across his 16 appearances.

It is on the European stage with the U19s where Doak has hit his mark particularly well. Four goals and four assists in six games as Liverpool topped a group including Napoli, Ajax and Rangers showed their appetite for the big occasion.

He has also been fast at international level. After missing the Under-17 European Championship final in May through injury, he was promoted to the Under-21s and took eight minutes to crown his debut with a goal in a win over Northern Ireland in September.

Ben Doak became Liverpool's sixth youngest player when he made his first-team debut against Derby in November
Ben Doak became Liverpool’s sixth youngest player when he made his first-team debut against Derby in November

Doak has cited Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah as a role model and acknowledged that his all-round game, particularly in defensive aspects, needs to improve.

Of course, there are no guarantees that he will even make it at Liverpool, how many prospects before him have fallen by the wayside. But the potential and the attitude are there. And he could benefit from a transition period at Anfield.

“Guys like Harvey Elliott and Carvalho and even Curtis Jones are a good example for him in terms of showing the way to the first team,” says Gibbons.

“You definitely feel there will be opportunities for him, maybe more next season if he has a strong summer with the squad, because the manger is a big believer in giving youth a chance.”

So how good could Doak be if his potential is realized? Do Scotland have a superstar in the making?

“He’s a Scottish Rooney,” says McNamara. “That’s what I said to Ange at Celtic, I told him I’ve never seen anything like Ben.”

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