Secondary school. Science lesson. All your classmates gathered round a screen, watching a video of you recorded over the weekend. It’s the stuff of nightmares, right?
Not for Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe, who scored his first, stunning, professional goal as a 15-year-old at Wycombe against Sheffield Wednesday. He remembers his lessons back at school on the Monday afterwards being disrupted with a viewing of The Football League Show on BBC iPlayer. There was one potentially embarrassing moment when Ibe was booked for celebrating with his mum on the sidelines, but generally the reaction from his peers must have been one of awe.
Ibe, now 20, started playing football on caged pitches in Bermondsey and at Tabard Gardens, a park near Borough station. “We used to just have kickarounds from the early days,” he remembers. “Especially on the weekend – I just played games and enjoyed myself.”
Chelsea were his first team of choice, but until the age of 12 he played for Charlton’s academy. Being released from the Valley didn’t dent his dream. “I got into Wycombe and the rest is history,” says Ibe. “[It was just a case of] working my way up from the under-13s, the youth team and then getting into the first team.”
It did, however, mean a lengthy commute for most of his teenage years: “Twice a week, then as I got older it was nearly every day. It wasn’t that bad – it was like 40 miles from central London, me and three other boys went up together.”
Ibe stayed at Wycombe for longer than many would have – guided by the influence of his mum, who wanted her son to continue with his schoolwork and, perhaps, delay his being thrust into the limelight.
“I learned a lot,” Ibe recalls of his time at Adams Park. “The coaches were phenomenal, so it was a great move for me. It wasn’t that long, only two seasons, then I made my way into the first team.”
The inevitable happened after his goal against the Owls. Six weeks later, Ibe signed for Liverpool. But it took him 18 months to make his debut for his new club. Was it difficult, we ask, to go from being on the edge of the first team at Wycombe to being back with the under-18s when he signed for the Reds?
“Playing in the reserves was great,” he says. “There are a lot of players who are in first teams, and in the Liverpool first team, who I played with in the reserves: Andre Wisdom [on loan at Norwich], Suso [now on loan from Milan at Genoa] and Raheem [Sterling], who obviously went on to Man City. I saw a lot of players from different countries, and there was a lot of competition, so it wasn’t easy.”
This year, Ibe reached the 50-game mark for Liverpool, albeit with the majority of his appearances coming from the bench. “It’s a great achievement,” he says. “Hopefully there will be many more games and medals to come.”
It has been a mixed season for Liverpool, but the arrival of Jurgen Klopp as manager has, Ibe tells us, freshened things up. “He’s a cool guy,” he says. “He has a great relationship with all the players, he’s given everyone confidence. As he is on TV, he’s just the same on the training ground. So it’s a great vibe, he’s great to work with.”
The German has brought in a new style of play which, Ibe says, has required improved fitness levels from the squad.
“He likes the high press, so we’ve started to learn that. It’s more demanding on the legs, but it’s the football the manager wants to play and the football that will get us better as a team. It’s been a massive change, but obviously we’ve seen from some games that it’s working for us.”
Klopp has some unique motivational techniques, too. That includes the occasional slap, as Ibe revealed in an interview with The Independent recently.
“He’s done it to quite a few players,” he tells us. “Obviously he’s encouraging, but you just have to make sure if you’re not at your best in training you have a hood on so he doesn’t catch your neck!”
Jordon Ibe is wearing the Nike Tech Knit collection available now at nike.com