That old cliche about becoming famous overnight actually happened to Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn.
One day, only Reds diehards had heard about the kid who’d impressed in pre-season.
The next, he was in the record books after scoring a goal against Leeds United aged 17 years, 45 days to become the youngest scorer in Liverpool’s illustrious history.
Ben Woodburn turns 20 on Tuesday but he has not given up hope on fulfilling Liverpool dream
Liverpool youngster is on loan at League One Oxford United to get improved game time
Last season the 20-year-old struggled during a loan spell with Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United
The previous holder, Michael Owen, was among those who sent congratulations.
‘When I scored, I didn’t have a clue about the record,’ says Woodburn, whose time as a teenager and boy wonder officially ends on Tuesday when he celebrates his 20th birthday.
‘I remember walking off the pitch with Trent (Alexander-Arnold). The players were saying well done, the manager (Jurgen Klopp) was saying well done because I’d scored my first Liverpool goal.
‘It was probably only when I started checking Instagram I realised the significance.
‘Obviously that game was when I got quite a lot of attention. I was definitely recognised going out in the streets, shopping in Liverpool One, people asking for a few pictures. You had to get used to people looking.
‘The club helped us and I got a lot of advice from family, friends and my agent, but you also have to take quite a bit of on your own shoulders and it’s a bit strange when it happens.
‘I look back now and think I handled it well. I don’t think I was big-headed, I took it during the years and took it in my stride. If someone wants a picture, I am more than happy.’
It is nearly three years since Woodburn became Liverpool’s youngest goalscorer against Leeds
Woodburn broke the record set by Michael Owen but has struggled to progress since
Turning 20 means Woodburn can no longer be called a teenager. Rather than being alarmed at the passing of time – and he is still very young of course – you sense a slight relief that he’ll be judged on what he does on the pitch, rather than his exciting potential.
BEN WOODBURN CV
2016-19: Liverpool 11 apps, 1 goal
2018-19: Sheffield United (loan) 8 apps, 0 goals
2019-20: Oxford United (loan) 11 apps, 1 goal
2017-19: Wales 10 caps, 2 goals
The intervening three years since that goal in a League Cup quarter-final at Anfield have had ups and downs.
He also scored his first Wales goal at 17, the winner against Austria, but only two more senior goals have followed since; a second Welsh goal against Trinidad, and one for Oxford this season in a defeat at Bristol Rovers.
Despite the hype, the reality was Woodburn’s arrival on the scene at Anfield coincided with Klopp’s recruiting of world-class players to challenge for the biggest trophies. Mohamed Salah arrived the summer after Woodburn’s debut.
His first loan to Sheffield United last season didn’t work out and in the summer he had the courage to drop into League One with Oxford whose manager Karl Robinson used to coach him as an eight-year-old with Liverpool boys.
Woodburn takes instruction from Jurgen Klopp ahead of scoring his first goal in 2016
Woodburn was captain of Steven Gerrard’s Under 19 side in the UEFA Youth League
It was all going well with Woodburn starting every game until he broke a bone in his foot at Accrington just over a week ago. He is currently back at Liverpool for rehab but should return to Oxford in a month or so when he’s able to resume training.
‘I feel proud about that goal and becoming Liverpool’s youngest scorer but I don’t want people to just remember me for that moment,’ he says with an impressive air of maturity. ‘I want to push on and do other things, and bigger things.
‘I had to accept at Liverpool with players like Salah and Sadio Mane, you are likely to be dropping down to the Under 23s. I tried to push on in my own way.
‘Last season was tough. I wasn’t playing at Sheffield United but couldn’t complain because they were doing really well and won promotion. I
‘I have learned so much at Oxford this season, knowing I am able to play 90 minutes and keep fighting for the team. I have taken a lot of kicks and heavy tackles and shown I’m not lightweight.
‘I feel like I have had so much experience and yet I am still only young and learning. Watching someone like Serge Gnabry develop is a big help.
Woodburn drills the ball into the back of the net for his first Wales goal against Austria in 2017
Aaron Ramsey leads the celebrations from team-mates after Woodburn’s long-distance strike
‘I saw his four goals for Bayern Munich against Tottenham in the Champions League. When he was 20, he couldn’t get a game on loan at West Brom.
‘He has shown you can push through if you keep working hard and hopefully I can do something like he’s done.
‘I am looking forward to this birthday. I’m happy that maybe all these people calling me the young lad will realise I am turning into a man and ready for it. I know what I can do and I have to just show it on the pitch.’
There is no doubting Woodburn’s technical ability and now he’s started to physically fill out, he’s a lot stronger. Robinson has used him as the right-sided midfield player in a 4-3-3.
Though he’s been playing in the third-tier, there is no doubting Woodburn’s ambition to make it at his boyhood heroes.
‘I grew up as a Liverpool fan when Steven Gerrard was the main man. I remember being a ball boy at Anfield at the age of 11 or 12.
Woodburn came through the Liverpool youth system alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold
‘Those European nights were unbelievable, to be a ball boy and that close to it all. You’re told to throw it back as quickly as possible – you feel part of it!
‘He (Gerrard) would have played in those games and then I played for him. I was captain of his Under 19s team in the Champions League.
‘It was maybe strange at first but you have to get in the mindset that he is your coach. You can’t be in awe of him, treat him like a normal coach like he sees you as a normal player.
‘I was lucky to train with the Liverpool first-team from a young age. Philippe Coutinho was the man when I first came up. They have so many now it’s hard to choose.
‘I’d probably say I am more of a creator but I think I will score goals as well. I’ve hit the post four or five times, I know they will go in if I carry on getting in the right positions.
‘I’ve been doing the right amount of gym work. Glutes, hamstrings, calves. You don’t want to be a body builder but you do want to be strong, fast and nimble.’
Woodburn is a football fan as well as a player. He shares a house in Oxford with team-mates Cameron Brannagan and Simon Eastwood. Friday nights before a home game, they will watch the EFL or Premier League action on the television while Eastwood organises the cooking.
‘I don’t mind eating healthy,’ says Woodburn. ‘I wouldn’t be able to eat a bowl of lettuce but I like pasta, chicken, easy dishes.’
His mum Alison – who ferried him to and from training as a youngster – is a regular visitor from the North West to the Kassam. Though the injury earlier this month was a setback, Oxford have plans for him to have a strong second half of the season.
After the ‘tough love’ of Wilder – and Woodburn doesn’t complain about his lack of game time at Bramall Lane – Robinson is a different arm-round-the-shoulder character.
Within earshot of the interview, he lets Woodburn know he could go on to be better than Chelsea’s Mason Mount.
His game time dwindled after the arrival of the calibre of players like Mohamed Salah in 2017
The Oxford boss also tried to prank his player on the night Oxford beat West Ham 4-0 in the League Cup. Liverpool won 2-0 at MK Dons that evening with 17-year-old Ki Jana Hoever among the scorers.
Robinson told Woodburn that this Dutch kid had taken his Liverpool record off him. In actual fact, Hoever was a few months older than Woodburn when they scored their goals.
Woodburn got a glimpse of what it’d be like to be part of Klopp’s revolution. He was in Madrid for the Champions League final victory over Spurs and went to the team party afterwards.
‘It was a massive relief when Divock (Origi) scored the second goal. Matt McCann (from Liverpool’s PR department) sat behind me and was so nervous he could hardly watch the game.
‘The party after was a good laugh, everyone had a great time. There was live music, it was one of the best experiences I have had in my life.
‘I think my eyes are always going to be set on playing at Liverpool. That is my main goal, that is who I grew up supporting and have been for years.
‘Harry Wilson did well at Derby last season and is on loan at Bournemouth now, he’s a couple of years older than me.
‘A lot of managers look at who is trustrworthy, who has games under their belt and that’s what I am aiming for with Oxford this season. If I am back in the Liverpool squad, I have to show everyone I am ready.’