Liverpool Under-21 coach Michael Beale has lavished Kevin Stewart with praise ahead of the midfielder’s potential appearance tonight in the FA Cup against West Ham.
Many Reds hadn’t even heard of the 22-year-old when Jurgen Klopp chose to field him against Exeter in the 3rd Round, but he did well in the away leg and the home win, but really impressed at home to West Ham last time out.
Stewart signed from Tottenham in 2014, but endured largely unsuccessful loan spells at Cheltenham Town, Burton Albion and Swindon Town since, which makes his progress back at Liverpool all the more remarkable.
Beale explains, via the Echo, that Stewart originally arrived as a defender, but that his attributes meant he was tried centrally instead.
“Kevin came here as a full-back – a bit like Flanno (Jon Flanagan) as he wanted to be a right-footed left-back,” Beale began.
“He could also play centre-half but that was never really his position.
“He felt he was a bit hard done by at Tottenham. In the first few months he spent a bit of time at Melwood and played for Brendan (Rodgers) in pre-season.
“In his first or second training session with us I had a conversation with Alex and we both felt he had the qualities to play in midfield. Two-footed, very athletic.
“At that time Jordan Williams and Jordan Rossiter were both at Melwood playing as No 6s so our focus was very much on them so Kevin doubled up as a full-back.
“The under-21s played Norwich away just before Christmas last season. Connor Randall, who was going to play in midfield, felt ill in the pre-match.
“I sprung it on Kevin. We hadn’t worked on it in training, but I played him in midfield and he was outstanding that night.
“It took us back a bit. We thought: ‘wow, we’ll persevere with that’. He played four or five more games in midfield before going out on loan.
“One thing I’d say about Kevin since he’s come in is that he’s the hardest working player we have got,” Beale continued.
“We have to kick him out of the gym! He’s the one we have to close the building on.
“He’s here all day. He lives away from home and his family are all in London so he’s not going home to anyone.
“But he’s got a real zest for football and is a top young professional. I’m pleased he’s getting his moment now.
“You do worry with young kids whether their pathway is going to get blocked. It comes down to circumstance sometimes.
“He’s in a very competitive position but injuries to Rossiter and Williams have enabled him to get a step up and he hasn’t let anyone down.
“I thought his performance against West Ham was very strong. Kev showed exactly his level, where in the previous two games I felt like he was still getting used to it.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. He’s been a genuine Liverpool fan all his life. I know a lot of people sign for the club and say that but he’s got the pics as a little kid to prove it.
“John Barnes was a big influence on him growing up.
“It was great he performed that well against West Ham and I know there’s much more to come from him.”
Liverpool lack natural anchorman in the first-team squad, with Lucas the only player practiced in the position. Emre Can prefers a box-to-box role while Joe Allen is more of a deep-lying playmaker, meaning Stewart has the chance to forge himself an Liverpool career if he continues to impress.
It’d be a great story, akin to Francis Coquelin’s success at Arsenal. He was 23 before he got the chance at the Emirates, having floundered on loan in in the lower leagues for a number of seasons.
Now, as a ball-winning midfielder, he’s one of the first names on the team-sheet when fit.