Being an understudy to Fernando Torres must be a bit like being a support act for The Beatles. You know that if you hit the right notes and keep everything on key then you’ll do your job well, but ultimately no-one is going to be going home talking about you at the end of the night. The shadow cast by the headline act is an enormous one that’s almost impossible to emerge from, however hard you try.
Liverpool’s 20-year-old French striker David Ngog was given centre stage in this week’s Carling Cup tie with Leeds United at Elland Road, not one of Liverpool’s biggest gigs of the campaign but an important date in this season’s tour, and played in front of a sell-out venue – one of the classic arenas in English football. Leading the line in a hastily-arranged line-up that often looked like it hadn’t played together before, Ngog stuck to his task manfully, persevering in not the most glamorous of roles and fully deserving his goal that ultimately won Liverpool the tie.
In today’s football world of instant judgment and criticism, it appears that a young striker who doesn’t immediately strike you as the next Thierry Henry, Torres or Wayne Rooney can be written off. Ngog has already been cast aside by many who salivate with joy at another name they can add to a tedious ‘worst Rafa Benitez signings’ list, declaring that the £1.5m that the Liverpool boss paid Paris St. Germain for the then 19-year-old last summer was a poor decision simply because, well, he was only worth £1.5m. So he’s obviously no good isn’t he?
Torres undoubtedly plays better as a lone striker – with his energy and movement often giving the impression that there are three men up there – and so the other forwards on Liverpool’s books have to be patient and accept that they’ll be on the sidelines for the majority of the time. A young forward like Ngog couldn’t ask for a better player to learn from than the Spanish forward, be it from training or watching on from the sidelines. He has pace, can head a ball and displayed a killer touch before that lethal finish at Leeds. With Liverpool not in a position to spend multi-millions on strikers every summer, surely the relatively cheap outlay on a youngster with all of these raw abilities – who’ll be training at close quarters with the best around in his position – is a calculated gamble that makes perfect sense. But this of course requires you to look at things in the long term, something that football fans aren’t very good at.
It could be argued that Ngog re-ignited Liverpool’s campaign last year. There was a funereal atmosphere around Anfield for a midweek game with Sunderland in early March, a clash that came four days after the Reds’ title obituaries had been written following an abysmal defeat at Middlesbrough. The sight of the young Frenchman battling upfront on only his second Premier League start raised the crowd and restored a bit of hope to a forlorn side. Ngog scored the opening goal – one of five he’s now got to his name in a Red shirt – and created the other in the 2-0 win, and, feel-good factor restored, Liverpool went on to register 13 goals in their next three games against quality opposition such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa.
The man himself knows the tough job that he faces in trying to make a name for himself at a club like Liverpool, but just like on the pitch, he doesn’t hide from the task in hand: “Of course I know that I’m not going to play every game so when the Coach gives me a chance, I want to do my best for the team and try to score. I know I have to be patient and all I can do is when I get a chance, try and take it and show the manager what I can do. I hope I have done that in this match (Leeds) and shown the manager my qualities and that I can be another possibility in attack.”
There can be such a thing as patience in football, and if Liverpool supporters are prepared to wait for David Ngog to improve, get a bit more experience and gain the confidence that goes with being a top-class striker, then he could definitely prove to be worth the wait. All the top stars were support acts once.
Liverpool Club Focus
The People of Thailand & Singapore vs. Xabi Alonso – July 29
Should nobody expect a Spanish acquisition? – August 5
High hopes – August 12
False start – August 18
Plenty of bets, but no slip – August 21
Three games, two defeats and one big problem – August 25
It gets no easier – August 27
Smells like team spirit – September 1
Babel crows for return to homeland – September 4
Into the Twilight Zone – September 8
Settling the score – September 11
Benayoun defies hs critics – September 15
Probably not the best performance in the world – September 18
Darren Potter and the Cup of Youthful Dreams – September 21
David Ngog, following the leader – September 25