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Gerrard's free-scoring cousin Duncan setting Liverpool's academy alight

7:15 PM MYT 23/04/2019
Steven Gerrard Bobby Duncan
The teenager has helped fire the Reds to the FA Youth Cup final where they will take on his former club, Manchester City, on Thursday

For one Liverpool starlet, this week’s FA Youth Cup final with Manchester City will have extra significance.

Bobby Duncan will not require much geeing up ahead of Thursday’s clash, as the Reds striker goes into battle against his former club. The script is written and the stage is set.

Manchester City cost Duncan time, but at Liverpool he has been making up for it. Since moving ‘home’ to Merseyside last summer, the 17-year-old has gone from strength to strength. With 31 goals in all competitions, he is the leading goalscorer across the club’s under-18, under-19 and under-23 sides.

That will come as no surprise to anyone who watched the Whiston-born forward as a schoolboy.

For club and country, the strong, left-footed Duncan boasts a prolific scoring record, and his relationship with strike partner Paul Glatzel at Liverpool has been the outstanding feature of Barry Lewtas’ under-18 team this season. Between them, the pair have netted a remarkable 59 goals.

Lewtas and his staff, understandably, have been keen to downplay the importance of two such gifted frontmen. Hype is not something that is encouraged at the Reds’ Kirkby Academy, where Liverpool’s success has been built around a strong team ethos.

But goals pay the rent, and they write the headlines too. And in Duncan’s case, the manner of his arrival at Liverpool, and his family’s long and rich history with the club, means he will always command attention.

His cousin, of course, is Steven Gerrard, and there are similarities which stretch beyond the eye for goal and the ice-cold scowl. Like Gerrard, Duncan was born in Whiston and raised in Huyton. Like Gerrard, he attended Cardinal Heenan school in West Derby. Like Gerrard, he is a lifelong Liverpudlian.

Unlike Gerrard, though, he had to go away to come back.

Spotted as a seven-year-old playing for Mossley Hill, Duncan spent time at both Liverpool and Everton, but wound up playing for Wigan Athletic instead. At 10, he was picked up by Manchester City.

“They were building their new Academy at the time,” he said. “And with all that investment I thought it would be good place to continue my development.”

Duncan broke records galore during his teenage years, and at 12 remembers representing England in a schoolboy tournament at Wembley. He picked up the golden boot that day from none other than Zinedine Zidane.

In 2016, he made local headlines when becoming the first England player at any level to score a hat-trick against Brazil, achieving the feat in an under-16s international. The match ball from that game takes pride of place in Duncan’s home in Prescot.

“I’ve broken a lot of records in my life but nothing as big as that,” he told the Liverpool Echo at the time. “I thought about the likes of Shearer, Gerrard, Owen and Fowler – all big players who have come up through the England junior ranks.

“It had never been done before and to think that some kid from Huyton has now done it is amazing. It doesn’t feel true.”

Duncan scored 66 times for City in the 2015-16 season, but by the summer of 2017 had decided that his future lay elsewhere. The pathway to the first team at the Etihad, he felt, just was not there. It is a feeling that has been shared by plenty, of course, including the likes of Jadon Sancho and Rabbi Matondo.

And so Duncan turned down the lucrative professional contract offered to him, but with City retaining his registration he would effectively lose a year of his career, training with Wigan Athletic’s first-team for fitness, but unable to play competitive games.

It was a frustrating time, but the pay-off would come when Liverpool came calling last summer.

Duncan’s two younger brothers are both on the Reds’ books, and in June of last year Bobby completed the hat-trick. Liverpool, Goal understands, will end up paying around £200,000 in compensation to City. They saw off strong interest from clubs at home and abroad to secure his services.

A summer of intense fitness work – “he was in the gym and the pool every day,” Lewtas told Goal recently - meant Duncan was ready to hit the ground running this season, and his impact has been impressive. He scored on his league debut at Sunderland in August and has not looked back.

He has already been called up to train with Jurgen Klopp's senior squad at Melwood and, like Glatzel, has appeared for Neil Critchley's under-23s. His progress has been noted by the people who matter.

City have been on the receiving end too. Duncan scored the winner when the sides met at Kirkby in October, with his celebrations carrying extra feeling to say the least. The two sides will meet at the Academy Stadium in the final league game of the season next week.

Before that, though, comes Thursday’s showpiece. Liverpool have not won the Youth Cup since 2007, while City have been finalists in four of the last five seasons.

It promises to be a cracker, and do not be surprised if Liverpool’s No.9 lights it up. The big stage, it seems, was made for Bobby Duncan.