Rhian Brewster never quite kicked on as expected at Liverpool.
On the verge of a first-team breakthrough at 18, but six months after his 20th birthday, he is still yet to make his Premier League debut.
It’s through no fault of his own. Things would have been different if not for a derailing ankle injury that stole more than a year of his career, and it’s testament to his talent and attitude that even the Reds’ rapid ascent while he was out – registering a club record points total and winning the Champions League – failed to fully leave him behind.
He returned from a fruitful loan at Swansea this summer seemingly ready to cannonball himself into the deep end, but the opportunities just weren’t there for him. Sensing that he needs a fresh start to fulfil his potential, the decision was taken at Anfield to shake hands on a departure, and Brewster heads to Sheffield United with the best wishes of all at Liverpool, and the door wide open to a return.
That call wasn’t made without the help of a formidable offer. A fee north of £20m for a 20-year-old with no top-level experience under his belt seems a no-brainer at the best of times, but especially so while caught in the pincers of a global financial crisis.
The decision to sell rather than sanction another loan has been seen as mercenary from Liverpool, but it makes sense for everyone involved. From the champions’ perspective, it’s financially logical – there is no guarantee that Brewster will hit the ground running in his first season of Premier League football, so there is no guarantee of another substantial offer next summer.
The added protection of a buy-back clause, undisclosed but described by The Athletic as ‘realistic’, means the risk vs reward equation is favourable.
Sheffield United, meanwhile, are landing a player with a hell of a lot of obvious potential, who was outscored only by Said Benrahma in the second half of the Championship season. Brewster should be able to score goals in the meantime, and could still develop into a world class striker. It’s more of a risk from their end given the fee involved, but should he hit such a level that Liverpool decide to bring him back, then there is profit to be made.
The deciding factor in all of this, however, is Brewster himself. Liverpool would never have sanctioned a move if they didn’t feel it was right for the player to develop, but they evidently feel that Bramall Lane is the right place for him to establish himself at the top level.
It’s a move he wanted, with multiple reports claiming that he actively pushed for it, without stepping on any toes at Anfield. He will be licking his lips looking at United’s motley crew of unreliable striking options, thinking he can offer something Oli McBurnie, Lys Mousset, David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp have been unable to in the Premier League – regular goals.
The only complaints about the signing, incidentally, come from the Liverpool end. But while it can be frustrating to see promising young players leave for a fraction of their perceived potential value, it’s worth noting that whatever comes next for Brewster will only happen because of this move.
He was never going to hit his ceiling with a handful of cup appearances in Merseyside, and he isn’t currently good enough to justify anything more.
It will be interesting to watch how he develops at Bramall Lane, and Liverpool will be keen to see him fulfil the potential he couldn’t quite at Anfield. Much has been made about how they might come to regret letting him go, but the terms of the deal mean it’s hard to imagine how either club can come out of it kicking themselves.