Ben Woodburn reveals Hearts and Wales ambitions after learning from Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and others at Liverpool
As a Wales internationalist once handed a Liverpool captain’s armband by Steven Gerrard, Ben Woodburn does not want for footballing profile.
Hearts’ latest loanee learned from global superstars like Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum at Anfield and intends putting the knowledge to use in Edinburgh.
The fact Gerrard named him skipper of Liverpool’s youth team underlines the 21-year-old forward’s quality. Previous loans haven't been of great benefit so he intends to make this one count.
Whilst seeking to impress Hearts and their fanbase, Woodburn is also determined to regain international recognition. He boasts Wales ten caps plus two goals and hopes Tynecastle Park is the place to help him capture interim national coach Rob Page’s attention.
“Everyone wants to play for their country so hopefully I can get back in the squad. Hopefully Hearts is a good place to show them what I can do,” said Woodburn. A winning goal on his Wales debut against Austria at the age of 17 is the pinnacle to date.
Recalling that intense hype back in 2017, he stressed the need to create new moments of glory to progress his career. “I think I kind of blocked it out, it was strange at the time. You only realise what you did back then a few years later.
“At the time I was a young kid. I was playing with a few of my mates. It was strange. Did it come too early? Possibly. That’s probably opinions. That’s probably what everyone remembers me for but I need to move on now and make other memories for people to know me by.”
His close mates are household names: James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold. One Liverpool legend left a greater mark on young Woodburn than most.
“I had Steven Gerrard as my Under-19 Champions League coach and he made me his captain. It’s special when someone like him does that. He’s a legend, isn’t he? It was a great experience,” said the player.
“He was a great gaffer, to be fair to him. I’ve only got good things to say about him. At the time it was almost like a dream, really. When you’re growing up you never expect Steven Gerrard to give you the armband. I enjoyed it and we had a good team as well, those were good times.
“I got quite close to loads of people at Liverpool. I was in there for quite a few years and in and out of training and going on loan. The main ones were Milner, Henderson, obviously Trent was one of my best friends growing up so we are really close. Ox [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain], all the English lads, really.
“The ones I looked up to? When I first came in it was Philippe Coutinho, who was ridiculous. Some of the things he would do were mind-blowing. Mane and Salah are different level – mental, physical, the way they play, the way they score goals. It has only helped me really.”
Alexander-Arnold is back in the Liverpool first team and the England squad after missing Euro 2020 with a thigh injury. The full-back is an inspiration to Woodburn in both a personal and professional sense.
“He has probably taken a slightly different route to me, but never say never. I’m hopeful, I believe I can do it, we’ll see. That’s the end goal, it should be for anyone. I believe I can do it so I don’t see why not.”
Showing his talent
His Liverpool contract expires at the end of the season and moving to Scotland offers the chance to showcase his credentials. If that does not result in an extended deal at Anfield, then it might just attract a few other suitors.
“This place [Oriam, the Edinburgh complex where Hearts train] is amazing. It’s probably one off the best training facilities I’ve ever been at,” said Woodburn. “That’s obviously going to help with everything going on. It’s a massive club and I’m just excited about getting going.
“I think it’s just a different challenge for me. I felt like it would be a good way of showing what I can do. Hopefully I can repay them in performances. It’s not just [showing] the people at Liverpool, it’s everyone. I just feel it’s the right time to show everyone what I can do.
“Probably all the loans I’ve been on haven’t gone to plan for various reasons. But look, I’ve come back now and feel I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I just need to show everyone how good I am now and what I can do. You could say it’s a fresh start.”
Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, eventually authorised the player’s new beginning after initially swithering about keeping him as back-up. “I was on the bench against Norwich so I was happy about that. Then I had a conversation with the gaffer and he said he wanted me to stay for a few days and see what went on.
“Then a few lads came back from injury a bit quicker than everyone expected. After that, they gave me the green light to go and the gaffer helped me with coming here. He was massive for that.
“I just feel at the age I’m at now I need to play games week in, week out. With the players Liverpool have got, it’s going to be tough to do that. Obviously Hearts have some great players here but I just feel I have better chance of doing that here.”