Ben Doak: Scottish wonderkid at Liverpool wins Rooney and Sterling comparisons

Ben Doak produced a stunning winner as 10-man Liverpool beat Rangers 4-3 at Firhill in the Uefa Young League
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 goal and a defender breathing down his neck, Ben Doak looked bereft of options. Ten seconds later he had the ball in the net.

It was a breathtaking solo goal out of thin air. A shoulder drop, then another. A dart in the box and a slide past three blue shirts. Then a sublime and buckled finish in the furthest corner with the outside of the boot.

The exquisite strike settled a seven-goal UEFA Youth League thriller in favor of Liverpool at 10 against Rangers. It also sums up perfectly 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 clear your doubts. This kid is special.

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

BBC Scotland delves into Doak’s story so far and uncovers comparisons to Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling despite just 40 minutes of top team action.

Doak’s Celtic rise brings a ‘posse’ of clubs to call

Celtic’s loss is undoubtedly Liverpool’s gain, with Doak swapping the Scottish champions for Anfield in the summer. The compensation costs of around £600,000 already seem like a theft.

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

Shortly after, an invitation came to train with the first team. The story goes that players quickly adorned him with a nickname: “Wazza”, a nod to the stocky teenager’s similarities in stature, talent and cannon style to a young Wayne Rooney.

Doak clearly impressed manager Ange Postecoglou as his rapid trajectory made his 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 fired on during the dying minutes of the emphatic 3-0 derby win over Rangers that lifted Celtic top of the table. Even in these appearances, he stood out – a pocket rocket charging at defenders with gleeful abandon.

A derby appearance against Rangers last season was not enough to keep Ben Doak at Celtic
A derby appearance against Rangers last season was not enough to keep Ben Doak at Celtic

So, having tasted the big moment, how could Doak – a Celtic fan – choose to pursue his career elsewhere? The player’s agent, former Celtic and Scotland full-back Jackie McNamara, provides insight.

“Honestly, I thought the Old Firm game might have tipped him,” McNamara says. “Because my whole thing was to show the kid that you’re going to keep him, to show him that he’s not behind six or seven other players. He doesn’t want to play against the civil service buggies in the team. B.

“But for the Old Firm game he was being bombarded with tickets, for this, for that, where he lived in Ayrshire. He turned off his phone. You forget he was only 16. I I asked what he was thinking and he just didn’t want to stay.

“When Ben went to visit Liverpool, Klopp said: ‘Ah Ben, I saw your stuff. He was immediately well received.”

Tommy McIntyre, the former Celtic B team manager, remembers a “cluster” of interested clubs swarming after Doak was exposed to the top team.

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

“He was always very popular. Only his age prevented me from bringing him into the B team earlier, because you have to be 16.

“He wasn’t with me long before Ange took him to the first team. He’s so exciting because he’s a player who gets the fans going – when he gets the ball he’s so direct. He’s fast paced and has a trick. He can pass people, he provides crosses in 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 calm child who transformed into a fearless competitor when he entered the field.

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

“The way he approached things was amazing. He has a real winning mentality and it shows in the way he played. He was a pleasure to work with.”

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

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

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

“The last time I remember anyone doing that was Raheem Sterling. There was a substitute performance from Sterling towards the end of a season when he really got people talking.”

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

Arrived at Liverpool injured, he had time to recover and then take action. Soon there was nothing holding him back.

He played at Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 level for the Reds, scoring eight times and providing six assists in his 16 appearances.

It is on the European scene with the under-19s that Doak has particularly found his rhythm. Four goals and four assists from six games as Liverpool topped a group including Napoli, Ajax and Rangers showed their appetite for the big occasion.

At the international level too, it has been accelerated. After missing the Euro Under-17 final in May through injury, he was promoted to Under-21 status and took eight minutes to cap his debut with a goal in the win against 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 cited Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah as a role model and acknowledged that his all-around game, especially in the defensive aspects, needs to improve.

Of course, there’s no guarantee he’ll even get the grade at Liverpool, where 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 showing that the path to the first team is there,” Gibbons said.

“You really think there will be opportunities for him, maybe more next season if he has a good summer with the team, because the manager is a big proponent of giving youngsters a chance.”

So just how good could Doak be if his potential were realized? Does Scotland have a superstar in the making?

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

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