Jake Cain knows how important the next few weeks could prove to be. Having enjoyed his first taste of regular senior football with Newport County last season, the Liverpool midfielder has his eye on another loan move before the transfer window closes.
“I’m ready for another challenge,” the 20-year-old tells GOAL. “I need to go on loan again, I need men’s football, and I feel now that I’ll be ready to hit the ground running when the opportunity comes. I know that I’m ready.”
It’s not been the easiest of summers for the Wigan-born schemer. Having made 28 appearances with Newport in League Two last term, Cain had hoped for a chance to show Jurgen Klopp what he had learned in pre-season.
No such luck. While the likes of Bobby Clark, Stefan Bajcetic, Tyler Morton, Leighton Clarkson, Isaac Mabaya, Luke Chambers and Melkamu Frauendorf headed off with the senior squad for their Far East tour, Cain stayed behind on Merseyside, training and playing with Barry Lewtas’ U21 squad and waiting for the phone to ring.
“I can’t lie, I was disappointed,” he says, with admirable honesty. “I thought I had a good loan, I did what was asked of me, and I thought I could come back and show the first team what I can do.
“They’re the best team in Europe, so I know it’s going to be very difficult to push for a place in the team, but I thought I might have been able to go on the tour, show what I can do and see what the first-team coaches said.
“So, yeah, it was disappointing.”
Cain has been with Liverpool since the age of nine. He was part of the team which won the FA Youth Cup in 2019, beating a Manchester City side containing the likes of Eric Garcia, Cole Palmer, Felix Nmecha and Taylor Harwood-Bellis in the final, and trained regularly with Klopp’s squad during the 2020-21 campaign, when he was named on the substitutes’ bench 11 times.
As yet, though, his only ‘senior’ appearance came in February 2020, when he was, along with the likes of Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones, Caoimhin Kelleher and Neco Williams, part of a youthful side which beat Shrewsbury in an FA Cup fourth-round replay at Anfield.
He enjoyed his time at Newport, where he was given a swift introduction to the demands of men’s football.
“I left a boy and came back a man,” he says. “I found it difficult at first, because it’s so different to U23s football. You have to win, every point matters, and you have to learn that mentality very quickly.
“I started off quite slowly, but I think that after Christmas I turned a corner. I was playing regularly, I adapted my game and I was able to implement my style on the team.
"By the end, I think I was one of the best midfielders in the league. I felt comfortable playing against anyone.”
At Liverpool’s academy, Cain is known as a hard-running, hard-pressing No.8 with excellent set-piece delivery and an eye for goal. At Newport, though, he had to learn to adapt and adjust.
“I played a line deeper, as a No.6,” he explains. “That let me get on the ball and dictate play more, but it also meant I had to learn the other side of the game.
“At U23s level, you rarely come across teams who want to mix it up and play long, but pretty much every team in League Two can do that, so you have to be ready to do the horrible side as well.
“I had to change the way I played, but I think I showed towards the end of the season especially that I could do that. I was winning my tackles and my headers, and helping us keep the ball when we had it. I think I improved a lot.”
Long-term, he sees himself as more of an attacking midfielder than a holding player, but he hopes his versatility will enable him to flourish.
“I’ll be a James Milner!” he laughs. “I can probably play anywhere except centre-half, to be honest.
“I think my best position is as a No.10, playing behind the striker, getting creative, playing through balls. I think my weight of pass is good, I can get a shot off, I can score goals, I’m a set-piece taker.
“But I like to think I’ve got a good engine as well, if I need to be a box-to-box midfielder. I can get up and down, I can press, attack, defend. I feel I’ve got a lot in my locker.
“The more versatile you are, the more opportunities you can get. Managers see that as an asset, and that’s what you want.
"I benefited from that last year, showing I can play different roles. I think I surprised a few people.”
The hope now is that he can get himself fixed up with a loan move before the end of August. There have, GOAL understands, been plenty of enquiries, and even a few offers, but as yet the right opportunity has not materialised.
Expect that to change in the near future. Having had a taste, Cain is ready for more.