Jurgen Klopp feared media would ruin Liverpool 'prince' - now he is available for free

Ben Woodburn in action for Liverpool U21s
-Credit: (Image: 2020 AMA Sports Photo Agency)

Once backed for big things at Liverpool, Ben Woodburn is now a free agent after seeing his contract at Preston North End expire.

The Welsh winger burst onto the scene in 2016 after being fast-tracked from the Reds' Academy to the first-team, making his Premier League debut after appearing as a late substitute in a 2-0 win against Sunderland.

Three days later, aged 17 years and 45 days old, Woodburn became Liverpool's youngest-ever goalscorer after finding the back of the net at Anfield in an EFL Cup quarter-final win over Leeds United.

In doing so, he broke a record previously held by Michael Owen and came in for huge praise from Jurgen Klopp after the full-time whistle. "We know what Ben is capable of and what he is already able to do," said the German. "My first job is to help these boys to be the best, in this case Ben Woodburn. There is a lot to do, especially to keep the public away for as long as possible. That is quite a difficult thing to do but on the other side we only brought him on because we want to use him so that means when he is on the pitch he is absolutely allowed to score goals, to prepare situations and to make crosses like Trent [Alexander-Arnold] did, for example. It is all good.

“I am really happy for him. The only problem is that I am a little bit afraid of you all [in the media]. That is the thing why I am so quiet. Maybe you can just write ‘goalscorer: Ben Woodburn’, and nothing else. That is quite a challenge. I heard he made history, Milly [James Milner] was the youngest goalscorer for Leeds, so he can still have a decent career.”

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His progress at club level also translated to openings on the international stage with Wales, with a senior cap arriving in September 2017. Woodburn marked his debut with a stunning strike in a World Cup qualifier with Austria and teed up Hal Robson-Kanu to score in a 2-0 win over Moldova a few days later, resulting in the nickname of 'The Prince of Wales' emerging.

“I heard someone say ‘The Prince of Wales’ - I love it! I said it twice this morning," said Klopp. "It was fantastic. We all know, and maybe we know Ben best, and he did brilliantly for us already. It was a hard start in pre-season, it was not too easy and he couldn’t perform as he did before. But in the last two or three weeks he was really in a good way. I saw the games and he had a big impact; that’s really rare for a 17-year-old boy, so it’s a really nice story.

“There are so many stories from the past when very young boys showed up and later you didn’t hear anything of them anymore. It will not happen with Ben," added Klopp.

Liverpool decided to send Woodburn on a season-long loan to Championship side Sheffield United during the summer of 2018 after seeing opportunities limited, though appearances at Bramall Lane were equally hard to come by, not helped by an ankle injury he sustained in December, and his spell was cut short in January 2019 after making only one start.

Speaking after Woodburn's return to the club was confirmed, Klopp remarked: "Ben Woodburn is an outstanding talent, still pretty much a kid, and I am happy to see him here, running around, completely fit and really settled in the squad."

A loan to Oxford United was next on the agenda the following season and began in promising fashion after a run of starts under manager Karl Robinson, though disaster struck in October 2019 after breaking a bone in his foot. Due to return to Oxford in December, Woodburn suffered a carbon copy of his existing injury in his other foot during a Liverpool training session and would not play again until Oxford's play-off semi-final first leg with Portsmouth in July 2020.

Accepting his first-team prospects at Liverpool were at this point fading, Woodburn was loaned to Blackpool and Hearts in the two following seasons before being released by the Reds in the summer of 2022. Preston North End were the club to offer the 24-year-old a chance to revive his career in the Championship, presenting the player a fresh start with a new location he could finally call home.

Regular game time was forthcoming under manager Ryan Lowe after making 42 appearances during 2022/23 but only one Championship start was on offer last term and the offer of a new deal did not come the way of Woodburn. As of today, he is officially a free agent and now searching for the next step in his career.