The chances are most Liverpool fans have already heard of Lauri Dalla Valle, as the club had to fight off suitors from around Europe to secure the boy’s signature in January 2008, even though Dalla Valle was just 16 years old, and playing for Finnish First Division side JIPPO.
Despite his tender age, Dalla Valle has already been around the block in Europe. Now 18, he has already spent time on loan at Internazionale in Italy, after being scouted by the Italian club at just 14 years old. The move came too soon for Lauri however, and the boy got homesick, and returned to his native Finland, where he saw first team action and made 8 appearances, scoring 1 goal for JIPPO. Lauri was eventually scouted by former Liverpool academy chief scout Malcolm Elias whilst playing for Finland under-16s against the Republic of Ireland and despite apparent interest from Inter, Ajax, AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea, Lauri opted for Liverpool. Chelsea were said to have offered the Finnish starlet a three-and-a-half year contract and a 1 million pound signing on fee bonus in October 2007, but Dalla Valle believed he would progress faster at Liverpool.
Writing for the Guardian, Steve Claridge wrote an assessment of the player’s performance after Liverpool’s victory over Leicester City in an FA Youth Cup tie. Dalla Valle scored 8 goals in the tournament in 2008-09, including 4 against Birmingham in the two-legged semi-final. Claridge noted that Dalla Valle is similar to Fernando Torres in that both are:
“Exceptionally sharp mentally to spot a pass, physically quick, do more than their fair share of work without the ball and certainly find goals easy to come by. It is plain to see why so much was made of Liverpool’s capture of him.”
In 28 appearances for the U18s, Dalla Valle scored an impressive 20 goals for Liverpool last season, and was widely tipped to join the reserves at Melwood. However, the Liverpool reserves are packed with young strikers such as Pacheco, Simon, Flora and Nemeth, and the player has apparently become disillusioned with his lack of progression. The player was allegedly promised reserve team football, but with older lads ahead of him in the pecking order, he has remained with the U18s at Liverpool. An explanation for the change of plan with regard to Lauri’s development may be the restructure that Liverpool’s academy over went in July 2009. Liverpool brought in Jose Segura as the new academy director and Rodolfo Borrell became coach of the U18s. Malcolm Elias, the scout who brought Dalla Valle to the club, agrred to leave by mutual consent. The two Spaniards halted Dalla Valle’s move to Melwood, and it is believed in the summer, the player fell out with the clubs hierarchy.
Malcolm Elias, who joined Fulham as chief scout in the summer after leaving Liverpool, was rumoured to have advised Roy Hodgson to sign the young Finland U18 international, knowing the player wanted to move away from U18s football, where he was scoring for fun. The bid was never accepted however, but such was Fulham’s belief in the boy’s ability that they were willing to bid up £3.5m, and include a sell-on clause that would have seen Liverpool recoup 20-25% of any future transfer.
Benitez managed to keep hold of the player, but the former Valencia manager does not have a history of putting his faith in young players, often opting for experience instead. Should Lauri Dalla Valle be available, there will be no shortage of interest in the player, despite his young age and limited first team experience. One way or another, Dalla Valle will be one to watch out for in 2010.