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A Loan Well Done

Unknown Thursday, April 18, 2013 ,
Which two Liverpool first team members played in a League Cup Final during the 2012-13 season?

In coming years that could be a trick question in pub quizzes all over Merseyside.

Should you be on the receiving end of that then you’re lucky because I’m about to tell you the answer: Danny Wilson and Michael Ngoo, who both played for Hearts in their 2-3 defeat to St. Mirren in the Scottish League Cup final.

The two were loaned to the Scottish side earlier this year and both have since become permanent fixtures in the first team. Whilst that was sort of expected for Wilson – he is, after all, a Scottish international – it was far from a given for Ngoo.

Yet the tall striker has done more than establish himself at Hearts; he has become a cult hero. Goals have played a major part but there’s more than that. Ngoo’s physical presence, technical skill (the classic “good touch for a big man”) and speed have taken the Premier League by storm. Every time the ball comes his way, the call ‘Ngooooooo’ follows from the stand whilst T-shirts with his image have done good business after being put for sale by an enterprising website.

In short, it is a loan that has done what it should: given invaluable experience to a player, shown that he has the skill to succeed at a reasonably high level and added to his value.

It is also the kind of loan which Liverpool have rarely been able to place in recent years. Far too often, players have been sent out to sides where they either don’t get to play or where the level of football won’t tell anyone anything about their ability (or both): Liverpool need to build a system where there get more stories like Ngoo’s.

Indeed, the only downside to his experience in Scotland has been the heightened expectation that there now is around him. Doing well in Scotland means that there are now more people who expect to see him come back to Liverpool’s first team. Yet that is unlikely to come about.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Back in 2007, Adam Hamill was sent to Dunfermline for his first taste of regular first team football and the winger excelled. Not only did he score a fantastic goal but he was routinely the best player on the pitch.

On his return to Liverpool, however, he went back to the reserves and from there to Barnsley where he was sold on a permanent basis. There he did well enough to earn a move to Wolves but the Premier League proved to be a stretch too much for him. For a couple of years, however, there were those who constantly bemoaned the decision to sell him and were adamant that it was a wrong move that would come back to haunt Liverpool.

The loan spell at Dunfermline served Hamill well. By his own admission at the time, he started to appreciate what it meant to go out to play conscious that you had to give everything in order to get a result. What that experience did not do, however, was convince the staff at Liverpool that Hamill could have a future at Anfield. And this is a player who had well and truly excelled.

It is likely to be much of the same for Ngoo. Whilst he has done well, the gap between the Premier League and the Scottish Premier League is far too wide. More often than not, when players move from Scotland to England it is to join Championship or League One sides. Only a handful get to the Premier League and normally it is at the lower end of the table.

So, whilst Liverpool scouts have monitored every one of Ngoo’s games (as they should), it does not indicate any special treatment in his quest for first team football. This is, after all, a player who never got a look in despite the lack of strikers at Liverpool earlier in the season. It would be very surprising if a good spell in Scotland has improved his situation by any degree.

If Ngoo isn’t going to progress to Liverpool’s first team squad, what makes this such a well done loan?

The answer lies in the added value to Ngoo, who now is a player with a reasonable track record. Forget what money Liverpool might get if they opt to sell him, there is no doubt that he will now attract better clubs than if he had stayed in the reserves.

This article was originally published for the paying subscribers of The Tomkins Times.

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer