Paul Glatzel - Liverpool's highly regarded young striker battling back from injury

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Striker was on the fringes of the first team when disaster struck but conversations with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez have kept spirits up
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If any footballer is due a bit of good fortune, it’s Paul Glatzel.

He may have only turned 19 last month, but the Liverpool youngster has already had enough bad luck to last a lifetime. He’d been flying in the summer, too.

Having captained the Reds’ under-18 team to FA Youth Cup glory last season, scoring the winning penalty in the final against Manchester City in April, the teenage striker looked ready to make his mark with Jurgen Klopp’s senior side.

He returned from his close-season break in great shape. Sources at Liverpool’s Academy in Kirkby recall him “smashing” the dreaded “lactate test” on the first day of pre-season training, winning a war of attrition with team-mate Yasser Larouci. A few days later, he was with Klopp for a first-team friendly at Tranmere.

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His big chance had arrived. And then it happened. Glatzel, on as a half-time replacement at Prenton Park, set up a goal for Bobby Duncan, but soon after a knee-on-knee collision with Manny Monthe, Tranmere’s giant of a centre-back, left him in a heap.

He played on, but a few seconds later felt something give way in his right knee as he closed down Scott Davies, the Rovers goalkeeper. He limped from the field – bizarrely, to be replaced by Dan Atherton, a reserve goalkeeper who was asked to play the remainder of the game at centre-forward – but knew something bad had happened.

After seeing the swelling in the knee, feeling the discomfort and after undergoing a scan at Melwood the following day, he feared the worst. His instincts were spot on. He’d torn his anterior cruciate ligament, and there was damage to the lateral meniscus too. He’d need two operations, a patella graft ACL reconstruction and a tightening of the meniscus, followed by a lengthy rehabilitation period.

Glatzel, born in Liverpool to German parents, is known at the Academy for his mental toughness and placid, sensible personality - “A rock solid character,” according to Neil Critchley, the Reds’ former under-23s coach – but even he struggled to digest this latest setback.

“It was the worst I’ve felt,” he told LFCTV recently, during an interview with former Reds striker Neil Mellor. “I can’t describe what I was feeling really.”

This isn’t his first major injury setback, you see. A hamstring injury had curtailed a promising campaign at under-16 level, costing him four months. And then, on the brink of a return to action, he suffered a broken leg during a kickaround with schoolfriends. That cost him the best part of a season, denying him the chance to work regularly under the then-under-18s coach Steven Gerrard.

“That was tough mentally,” he told Goal last April, “because he’s such a legend and role model.”

His return was impressive, though. Under Barry Lewtas, who replaced Gerrard as under-18s boss in 2018, Glatzel flourished. He was named captain, and forged a prolific partnership with Duncan, which brought more than 60 goals in all competitions. Glatzel himself netted 28, though it was his all-round game which proved more striking.

His ability to drop off, to link play and to create space and opportunities for team-mates is as impressive as his finishing. His selflessness is best reflected by a moment in the quarter-finals of the Youth Cup at Bury last March, when he turned down the chance of a hat-trick to set up Duncan for the final goal of a 5-1 win. Afterwards, Lewtas described it as his favourite moment of the game.

It says much about how highly Glatzel is thought of at the club that, a few days after his ACL surgery, he received a call from an unknown number. It was Klopp, informing him that his rehab would take place at Melwood, alongside the first team squad and staff.

“That gave me a lift,” Glatzel told LFCTV. There have been hard yards since. Long days in the gym and the pool, heavy sessions on the arm bike to squeeze in some cardio. Glatzel has spoken with Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom have battled back from similar injuries. “Trust the physios and stay positive,” was the advice given to him. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s form this season, he says, has been an inspiration.

Glatzel began light jogging last month and had, prior to the current coronavirus crisis, hoped to squeeze in a competitive appearance for the under-23s before the end of the season. He regularly returns to the Academy to take in games, and was in the dressing room prior to the FA Cup fourth-round replay win over Shrewsbury, in which so many of his friends featured.

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Had it not been for injury, Glatzel would certainly have been in that team, and the Carabao Cup quarter-final side which lost to Aston Villa. Klopp has described him as “a wonderful kid” and there is huge backing for a player who joined the Reds at pre-Academy level, aged just five.

Academy director Alex Inglethorpe is among those who have remained in close contact throughout his latest rehabilitation. As for the future, who knows what that will hold. But one thing is for sure; in Paul Glatzel, Liverpool have a very talented young footballer, and very impressive young man, on their books.

All he needs now is a bit of luck…