Liverpool winger Ryan Kent’s loan move to Freiburg exemplifies Germany’s dominance as the giver of opportunities for prospective talents.
After what must have been an anxious period of ambiguity as to whether an agreement could be reached, the 20-year-old eventually secured his anticipated loan deal to Bundesliga side SC Freiburg on transfer deadline day.
The move is perceived as a message from the club for the player to use his time in Germany as a platform to prove he has what it takes to deliver at the elite level of the game.
Freiburg fans will rightfully be hoping that Kent can add a new dynamic to their front line following a productive pre-season for the Reds. His performance against Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich proving a particular highlight from the academy product as his powerful running ensured that the seasoned Rafinha was kept honest for much of the second half.
Physically strong with lightning-fast pace and a direct style of play to match, the Oldham-born winger has been in the Liverpool academy since 2003, joining the side at the tender age of seven.
Prior to securing his season-long move to “the Brazilians of Breisgau”, Kent spent successive seasons on loan to the English Football League, initially at Coventry City before spending the last campaign at Barnsley.
The England Under-20s international was a key member of Barnsley’s team as they battled to a respectable 14th place finish within the division.
Although his 44 appearances for the Yorkshire side will have undoubtedly provided him with an insight as to the performance levels needed to make it in the professional game, his relatively underwhelming output of just three goals and one assist laid bare the necessity for him to develop his quality in the final third.
While Freiburg will be well aware of his current limitations, there is a sense of optimism that their new signing could still grow into an important asset for the club as the season progresses.
On completion of the deal, Freiburg sporting director Klemens Hartenbach was full of praise for the new man, declaring: “Ryan is a two-legged offensive player, who can play on either side and will enrich our game.”
With the side having been held to a goalless draw at home to Eintracht Frankfurt in the opening round of the Bundesliga before being humbled 4-1 away to last year’s runners-up RB Leipzig, the Freiburg attacking options have thus far failed to deliver on their objectives – something that could see the new arrival fast-tracked into the starting XI.
A bumper new contract that will tie him to Anfield until 2022 suggests there is a belief at the club that he does have the capability to develop into a long-term member of the first-team squad.
The game time received by the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn suggests that Klopp remains committed to his philosophy of providing opportunities for youth players to prove their value. However, Kent is still yet to make his Premier League bow for the club and the arrival of new boys Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mo Salah suggests game time could be limited for the youngster.
With the 20-year-old still yet to build upon his one FA Cup appearance for the club, the decision to move to Freiburg in the hope of securing regular top-flight football highlights the player’s apparent understanding that he verges on a period of his career that could define whether he can make good on his dream of becoming a Liverpool regular.
Freiburg’s ability to attract Kent to the Bundesliga highlights what appears to be a growing trend that has seen more players from the English academy system consider Germany as a land of opportunity from which they can kick-start their fledgling careers.
With the Premier League flushed with cash following the new financial packages for clubs resulting from lucrative broadcasting rights deals, opportunities for prospective youth players – which were already at a premium – have further diminished at other clubs.
This is further evidenced by the move of Jadon Sancho, widely considered to be one of England’s greatest talents, opting to swap the ranks of the Manchester City academy for the prospect of joining Borussia Dortmund with an eye firmly on establishing himself with the club’s first team.
While English players may not be renowned for their willingness to travel overseas in pursuit of furthering their career opportunities, the 17-year-old has expressed his belief that Germany is the environment from which he blossom: “It was a difficult decision but the time is right for a new challenge where I can start to fulfil my potential.”
Time will tell whether the decisions to leave the comforts of their homelands will pay dividends for these two English hopefuls and Oliver Burke’s unsuccessful move from the Championship’s Nottingham Forest to the then newly-promoted Leipzig highlights that there are no guarantees of success when it comes to moving to Germany.
However, the arrival of two highly rated youngsters highlights that the Bundesliga’s reputation as arguably the best environment in which burgeoning talents can be provided with both the tools and the opportunity to flourish continues to grow.
By Joe Thomas.