Jarell Quansah has given Liverpool no other option after major Virgil van Dijk claim

-Credit: (Image: Eddie Keogh - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: Eddie Keogh - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

In a campaign that showcased the depth of quality of a thriving Academy scene, Jarell Quansah was head and shoulders above the rest at Liverpool.

How the centre-back emerged from a difficult spell with Joey Barton's Bristol Rovers to the cusp of England's European Championships squad in less than 12 months was down to circumstances, Jurgen Klopp's willingness to trust in youth and, most of all, his own quality.

In less than a year Quansah went from academy rookie to first-team star and Klopp leaves having helped shape the defender into a serious, long-term option at the back.

It would entirely fair to suggest it was not always in the plan to ease Quansah into life with the first team but his ascent can be attributed by his own willingness to grasp an expected opportunity that was handed to him back in August.

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With Ibrahima Konate injured, Quansah was thrust headlong into the fray when Virgil van Dijk was sent off in a memorable win at Newcastle in August. It's easy to forget now nearly a year on but Liverpool were facing considerable calls to move into the market for a big-money and experienced centre-half at the time.

Quansah more than held his own at St James' Park, playing his part in keeping the Magpies out before Darwin Nunez's two-goal intervention off the bench. How Liverpool's season might have turned out differently had that day been a damaging one for a squad that was still largely learning on the job.

With Van Dijk suspended, a full debut came in a 3-1 win at Wolves the following month with Quansah once more shining as a beacon of clarity and composure at the back. Europa League and Carabao Cup action helped him build his confidence and experience and while it was a defeat to Union Saint-Gillioise in the final European group game, a first senior goal was dispatched with aplomb in Belgium's dead-rubber.

Another Premier League start came in December's 2-1 win over Crystal Palace and while the concession of a penalty was perhaps a harsh one, Quansah was otherwise flawless in a 2-0 win at Burnley on Boxing Day.

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Captain Van Dijk singled him out for praise following the game and after a season-ending injury to Matip earlier that month had opened the door to more opportunities, Quansah never really looked back.

“Jarell has dealt outstandingly well with every challenge that’s come his way so far,” Van Dijk said at Turf Moor. “He’s only 20 years old, he’s still growing. As a centre-half, you get better with experience.

“I was never this far, doing it consistently — like Ibou (Konate) and Jarell — when I was that young. He just has to keep going. There will be times when it’s tough, that’s absolutely normal, but it’s about how you deal with that. He’s a good boy. Mentally, he’s in the right frame of mind and that’s a good start. I’ll be there for him, whenever he needs. He’ll be just fine.”

For the exalted Van Dijk to insist he was not as advanced as his younger team-mate at the same age was a major feather in the cap of Quansah. It represented quite the word of praise.

Another assured display came in a 2-0 win at Arsenal in the FA Cup as he continued to look unruffled by the level he was now performing at on a weekly basis.

“He’s one of these players where people knew that he’s a real talent but he only showed his real face in the moment he became close to the first-team," Klopp reflected. "Since then he played only good games. In pre-season each game was good, when he came on at Newcastle he was outstanding in a really difficult game. And from that moment it’s just really good."

The first real misstep came in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford in April when Liverpool's dominance saw them become complacent when leading 1-0 in the game.

A slack pass under no pressure was seized upon by Bruno Fernandes who duly punished it with a first-time finish from inside the centre circle over a stranded Caoimhin Kelleher. It was a brutal eye opener to how even marginal errors can be taken full advantage of at the sharp end of the game but Quansah, to his credit, didn't let the mistake batter his own confidence levels.

Klopp urged the youngster in the post-match press conference to avoid social media in the immediate aftermath but assured him publicly that he was absolved of any real blame.

“When our idols in the past made these kind of mistakes there was no social media, so I hope he’s smart enough to switch that part off," Klopp said. "That’s part of the business, that’s part of the game. We want to play football, we want to keep the ball, we want to have the ball, we want to be playing [in the] build-up, all these kind of things.

“It is not a great situation, but how I said, there were bigger mistakes in football and they were not used, but Bruno saw the opportunity and took it, and that’s how it is."

By May, Quansah had muscled ahead of Konate as Van Dijk's first-choice partner and he started the last four games that included goals against Aston Villa and Wolves in the final couple of matches.

International recognition started to emerge as Ghana privately sounded out a potential call-up but the Warrington before defender, who qualifies for the African nation on his father's side, was determined to make the grade with England.

A place in the Three Lions' final squad for the upcoming Euros might prove a bridge too far for an as-of-yet uncapped Quansah but the long-term future looks bright for both club and country.

A new and improved contract is now a must at Anfield, Quansah's breakthrough term has given them no other option.

End-of-season rating: 9