For all the criticism that has gone the way of the Liverpool Academy at Kirkby over the last few years, there have been success stories. Stephen Warnock has certainly demonstrated with his subsequent success at both Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa that there are players with talent coming through the youth ranks on Merseyside. Danny Guthrie is certainly another example of this, and although he was a youth at Manchester United for a number of years, the majority of his football education came at Liverpool from 16 years old, up until he broke into first in October 2006 at the age of 19. Guthrie stated as much recently that he learned a lot during his time at Anfield and especially from the Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard:
“I’ve been at Liverpool with Gerrard, and, for me, he’s the best central midfielder in Europe. You can only learn good things from him and I’d like to think that’s come into my game. You see him every day, and how he handles himself. He’s a top lad, and it was all good experience. When I was growing up there was Scholes, Keane and Vieira. As I got a bit older there was Lampard and Gerrard. It was great to work with him and hopefully that can benefit me and Newcastle United.”
His desire to emulate Gerrard, as he says, certainly shows through in his game. During his time at Anfield, he was called up for the England Under-15 schoolboys and the England U-20’s side before his performances in the Academy team impressed enough for him to become a leading figure in the Reds reserves where he became a regular captain for the side. From here though, he didn’t break through into the Liverpool first team reckoning and was subsequently loaned out to Southampton and Bolton Wanderers. During his time especially at Bolton he impressed me and many others in his strong displays in midfield. He played 30 games for the Trotters during the 2007/08 season and played 6 times in the UEFA Cup.
Such a season gave Guthrie bags of experience and I thought at the time it would hold him in great stead on his return to Anfield in the summer. However, it was clear that Rafa Benitez had already made up his mind on the 21 year old Guthrie and he was transferred for £2.5million to Newcastle United. It was a sizeable sum for a player with just one year of Premier League experience but then Magpies boss Kevin Keegan was confident of Guthrie succeeding on Tyneside. He compared the midfielder to previous Newcastle stars Rob Lee and Paul Bracewell:
“Young Danny Guthrie, he’s a little bit of a mix, for the older fans, between Paul Bracewell and Rob Lee. He’s that type of player. Good engine, a very good passer of the ball. A link-up player who can get around the field and of course in the Premier League you need that. And over time he’ll probably learn to play in a defensive-midfield holding position.”
There are certainly comparisons to be made with Gerrard as well though. Guthrie is an all-action, energetic, box to box midfielder and his strong running, competitive style has won him many admirers with the Toon Army. He is an excellent passer of the ball and can be superb when delivering free-kicks or corners. During his time at Newcastle he has established himself in the starting eleven, forming a good central midfield partnership with Nicky Butt in the 2008/09 season, while this campaign in the Championship he has been a key figure in Newcastle’s push for promotion. Even just last weekend at Barnsley he put in a man of the match performance, scoring two goals in a 6-1 victory.
Such performances make me wish he never left Liverpool. Although Lucas is a decent defensive midfielder, I would take Guthrie over him any day of the week. Not to mention that he was a product of the Liverpool youth system, he offers a great deal more going forward than Lucas and during Liverpool’s current troubles, I certainly would have loved to see both Guthrie and Gerrard fighting for every ball and then being able to combine going forward. I think Rafa made a misjudgement on Guthrie and although it would certainly be harsh to say it was a blatant error due to the fact that Guthrie is currently plying his trade in the Championship, the fact that Lucas and Guthrie would be perceived to have similar attributes, I would have kept faith with the home grown talent rather than shelling out on an unproven import from Brazil like Rafa did for Lucas in 2007. With Guthrie 22 and Lucas 23, the coming years will show who develops into the better player.