Liverpool Under-23s boss Neil Critchley has saluted Jurgen Klopp for having the “courage” to hand a debut to Ki-Jana Hoever.
The 16-year-old Dutch defender became the third youngest player in Liverpool’s history when he came off the bench in this week’s FA Cup tie with Wolves.
Hoever has enjoyed a remarkable rise since joining up with the under-18s squad following his move from Ajax last summer. He only made his first start for the under-23s against Everton in late November.
“You don’t get many 16-year-old defenders playing against Premier League opposition,” Critchley told the ECHO.
“You’ve got to give massive credit to the manager for having the courage to throw him in.
“Ki had been training at Melwood for a couple of weeks so that will have helped him. He gave a good account of himself. He knows this is just a start and he’ll stay grounded.”
Academy graduates Curtis Jones and Rafa Camacho were also handed debuts by Klopp at Molineux.
“It was a special night for the three of them,” Critchley added.
“They won’t ever forget their senior debuts. It would have been nice to be part of a winning team but it wasn’t to be.
“Considering the circumstances, they acquitted themselves reasonably well. With the manager making changes they got the chance to step up.
“We don’t just want players to make one appearance, we want players stepping up from the Academy and playing 50 plus games.
“I know those boys won’t get carried away. It’s a taste for them and they will want more of that. It’s up to them to keep proving themselves and keep impressing the manager.”
Critchley is waiting to discover whether he will have them back on under-23s duty for Monday night’s Premier 2 clash with Brighton at the Academy (7pm kick-off).
A heavily depleted team drew 1-1 at Tottenham on Monday on a night when prolific striker Bobby Duncan made his first start for the under-23s.
There was also an outing for Connor Randall, who has returned from his loan spell at Rochdale. The 23-year-old’s stay at the Academy is only likely to be brief.
“Considering the personnel on duty and the preparation time we had, I thought the effort and endeavour of the boys was top drawer,” Critchley said.
“Bobby acquitted himself well. He had to do a lot of work without the ball. He also kept the ball well for the team. He only had one opportunity with a header. Stepping up for his first start at this level in an unfamiliar team, he could be pleased with his performance.
“Connor returned from Rochdale after a nasty injury earlier this season when he broke his cheekbone. I didn’t realise until afterwards that it was the first time he had played a full 90 minutes since pre-season.
“He played in midfield for us and the effort he put in getting up and down the pitch for us was terrific.
We converted Connor into a right-back but he had previously played in midfield and can do a great job there.
“I’m sure Connor will be keen to get back out somewhere and play. It’s a waiting game to see what happens over the next few weeks.
“We’re looking forward to Monday night under the lights at the Academy. We had a difficult game against Brighton at the start of the season when we drew 0-0 so we know we’re in for a tough one.”