Two years on from Harvey Elliott’s lowest moment at Liverpool and the youngster is getting ready to embrace a new role under Jurgen Klopp
It’s two years to the day since Harvey Elliott woke up in Leeds General Infirmary with the biggest test of a young career staring him in the face.
Around 12 hours earlier, the Liverpool midfielder had arrived at the facility with club doctor Jim Moxon after suffering a horrendous dislocation of his ankle following a challenge from Leeds United’s Pascal Struijk at Elland Road.
“It is a serious injury, definitely for an 18 year old boy,” said Jurgen Klopp, while his opposite number at the time, Marcelo Bielsa added: “For that to happen to any player is saddening. For a young player, playing at a high level, even more.”
It was a sickening setback for someone who was taking his tentative steps towards first-team stardom with three starts from the first four games. It was an injury that left some of Elliott’s colleagues, like Naby Keita, visibly in distress and that the ankle was able to be put back into place so quickly owed a lot to the reaction of Mohamed Salah, who immediately stopped playing to call for the physios who arrived on the scene within seconds.
While in hospital, Elliott made the recovery period of a 13-year-old Liverpool fan by the name of Jacob easier when he gave him his kit as a souvenir of their chance meeting while they were both assessed by the medical staff. “I’m a big Liverpool fan so I told him he’s a really good player and he gave me a lot of helpful advice,” said the youngster at the time.
“Harvey was asking him about his football, how he got his injury and everything,” said Jacob’s father, Imran. “He was so brilliant and lovely with my son and was giving him advice on football, how to handle himself and everything. He could have easily not wanted to talk to anybody after his injury but he went out of his way to chat to Jacob and really lifted his spirits.”
It spoke volumes of Elliott’s character that he still had the presence of mind to make a young supporter’s day as he faced up to the severity of his own long-term injury just as he was breaking into the side of his boyhood club.
For the England Under-21 international, though, it’s that sort of mentality that aided his lengthy recovery process. While the teenager’s comeback was helped physically by the fact he was not an older player whose body had been worn down by other injuries or the general rigours of elite football, the maturity he displayed mentally during that time frame was equally as important.
In a sense, that the awful setback came so early – both as a footballer and as a young man – was preferable to suffering the same fate further down the line when his body’s natural ability to heal was not quite as strong. That will likely have been no comfort for Elliott at the time but his personality ensured his head did not dip too low during those long rehabilitation sessions.
“From a mental point of view, Harvey is rather an old soul,” Klopp later said. “I would say he is very mature for a young age. He is completely fine with the situation, he has accepted it, he deals with it.” Liverpool saw little risk in pushing Elliott into an early comeback given he was a player with so much of his career ahead of him, particularly at a time when the Reds were generally well stocked in midfield and up top at the turn of 2022.
So despite the upbeat and defiant approach to his own recovery, Elliott’s campaign was significantly hampered and he was made to wait until mid-February before his return. He became the youngest player to start a Champions League knockout game for the Reds at the age of 18 years and 318 days and turned in an enterprising cameo off the bench in the League Cup shootout triumph over Chelsea later that month.
But as the pursuit of four trophies intensified in the spring, Elliott saw his opportunities reduced as it became generally accepted that the teenager’s best form wouldn’t arrive until after the benefit of a full pre-season. And by the time he was once more ready to be dropped into the thick of the action on a consistent basis at the start of last season, Liverpool had started to tumble from the lofty position they had found themselves in just a few months earlier.
Forty-six appearances across 2022/23 cemented his place as a bond-fide first-teamer under Klopp last season and it wasn’t until April’s goalless draw with Chelsea that he didn’t feature in a match-day squad. There were highlights along the way – Manchester United at home and Tottenham away, two notable examples – but Elliott’s encouraging development was obscured by the general underperformance of an exhausted squad. Since then, it’s been all change in the middle of the park, presenting the player with fresh responsibilities as a result.
The revolving door that was fixed onto the side of Liverpool’s engine room this summer has theoretically led to a new role for Elliott in this squad. Now out of his teens, the former Fulham youngster is growing in stature and influence and he will no doubt act as a sounding board to the likes of Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Ryan Gravenberch and Wataru Endo as they adapt to their new surroundings and demands from Klopp.
At the age of 20, he is still one of the juniors of the squad but he is no longer the wide-eyed fledgling looking to make his mark with the limited opportunities that are handed to him. In an evolving midfield department, Elliott is about to take a new position within the ranks as Klopp moves gradually away from the hard-pressing makeup of his midfield favoured in previous years.