Edgeley Park, Stockport. The archetypal ‘old school’ football ground, hidden away among a cluster of tight-knit terraced houses in the heart of a community.
It’s seen better days, of course. It could do with a lick of paint here and there, and the pitch has been ripped up to be re-laid ahead of next season. “Much needed,” says the guard on the gate.
At one end of the ground, the 31st Stockport Beer & Cider Festival is in full swing. Pies and pints are keeping the patrons happy, while a local Ska band will take to the stage later in the evening. For £2, it’s a decent day out. “A proper community event,” says one happy customer.
Goal, though, is here for something else. Over in the Danny Bergara Stand – named after the man who guided tiny Stockport County to four Wembley finals in the 1990s – one of English football’s brightest young prospects is waiting to speak to us.
He’s got plenty to talk about, too. Rhian Brewster may only have turned 18 in April, he may not have made a senior club appearance yet, but as interviewees go he’s as eloquent, thoughtful and interesting as they come. The boy has things to say, and he knows how to say them.
He’s here for a fashion shoot, promoting Lyle & Scott’s latest range, but over the course of our chat he speaks with great maturity about issues ranging from racism to transfer rumours to the difficulties English football has in bringing through young talents. Eighteen years old? You sure?
The obvious place to start is with Brewster’s own situation, which at the time of the interview remained uncertain. Interest from Germany, in the shape of Borussia Monchengladbach and RB Leipzig, had been widely reported. Liverpool were desperate to keep their young star, but had yet to convince him to sign a professional contract at Anfield.
The scene has changed since, which is good news for the Reds. Though Brewster's deal is still, as we speak, unsigned, the understanding is that he will be staying on Merseyside, having been convinced by the club's plans for him. It's a big call, but one Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp are very happy with.
So what does the man himself make of it all, then?
“At the moment, I just want to be playing regular professional football for the first team,” Brewster tells Goal. "Whether that was at Liverpool or somewhere else, yeah it was uncertain.
“But hopefully in 12 months’ time I’ll be sat here saying I made the right decision in what I chose to do. I want to be able to reflect positively on that.”
It is clear that this was not to be a decision motivated by money, but by opportunity. Brewster's desire to play senior football, even at such a tender age, shines through in just about everything he says. He wants to go to the top, and he's not shy of saying so.
He has already made one big call in his young career, leaving Chelsea at the age of 15 to move to Liverpool because he felt the pathway was clearer. He's a smart boy who knows what he wants.
But with Premier League clubs finding it harder and harder to bring through youth graduates to their first team – Chelsea, in particular, have become emblematic of the struggle – alternative options have been emerging. The Bundesliga has already tempted English players across, with Reece Oxford and Ademola Lookman enjoying loan spells of differing success, and Jadon Sancho swapping Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund.
Sancho’s case is particularly instructive. He and Brewster were born a week apart, both in London, and have grown up together through the England youth system. They were both members of the U17 World Cup winning squad last year, and both are tipped for big, big things.
So was Brewster tempted to follow his pal to Germany?
“Sure, I look at people like Jadon,” he says. “But then I look at people like Trent [Alexander-Arnold].
“You can do it both ways. You can go down the road of staying, waiting for a chance and then taking it, like Trent did, or you can look at it like Jadon did, and think maybe I won’t get my chance here, so I can go somewhere else, abroad maybe. I look at it both ways.
“I’m going to do what’s best for me. If that meant going Jadon’s way, I’d go Jadon’s way. If it means staying and doing what Trent did, then I’ll do a Trent!"
'A Trent' it is then. Like Alexander-Arnold, Brewster certainly has the talent to make an impact on Liverpool's first team, and the club's reluctance to sign a striker this summer shows exactly what they think of him. He will be fast-tracked towards the first team under Klopp, who is as big a fan as anyone.
It is perhaps unusual to hear a player, and especially one so young, speak so clearly about their ambitions, but if strikers are supposed to be single-minded and driven, then Brewster ticks all the boxes.
“I just know what I want in life,” he says “I know what I want to achieve.
“People say ‘follow your dream’ and that’s what I want to do. But there are others who try and put you down.
“Those people, they only inspire me. If they hate on me for doing something good, then it makes me want to do even better and stay at that level.
“I love it, to be fair. If you play football and fans are booing or saying negative stuff, it makes me play better. All I want to do is put the ball in the back of the net and say, ‘what are you gonna say now?’ If I have a centre back giving me stick, I want to score and say, ‘shut your mouth!’ It makes me strive, man.”
That ambition and that work ethic will be needed if he is to complete the journey from talented prodigy into established professional. When we meet, he is still using crutches, recovering from a serious ankle and knee injury suffered playing for Liverpool’s U23 side in January. It is expected that he will be out of action until late-August.
In the meantime, he has been using his time wisely. He is a regular at Anfield, an avid football watcher. He was in Kiev for the recent Champions League final, watching Alexander-Arnold, watching Sadio Mane, watching Roberto Firmino. His eyes, naturally, are drawn to those he wants to emulate – or to overtake.
“I don’t switch off,” he says. “I like to watch the games, and watch what I am missing. It makes me want to be out there even more.
“Being injured gives you the chance to reflect on the players who play in your position, too. You see things you can do, things you can maybe do better. It’s about doing everything you can to get to the top, so any little advantage you can take, you should do it.
“I do it off my own back. The staff at the Academy will sometimes invite me to games, but it’s more something I like to do myself. I like to watch Firmino and the rest. It’s about being the best I can be, and if that means learning stuff off other people, then I’ll do it.”
He's warming to the theme now, his eyes lighting up as he discusses the strikers he admires from around the world - past and present.
“If I was building an ideal striker?” he smiles. “Ooh, it’d be a bit of Firmino, a bit of Suarez, and a bit of Thierry Henry.
“Growing up, Henry was my idol. He’s the reason I wanted to play football. If you could put all those three together, you’d have some player!”
And what about himself? Where do Rhian Brewster’s strengths and weaknesses lie?
“Obviously you want to be the perfect player, so you have to always work towards that aim,” he says. “If that’s working on my left foot, scoring goals with both feet, then that’s what I’ll work on. Or if it’s my first touch or my physical attributes, I’ll work on those. You can’t stop working.
“Mentally and tactically as well, you have to develop. You could play for different managers, who want different things, so you need to be able to adapt to everything. If you do that, you will play.
“You don’t want to be just a big striker that only plays one way or under one manager, you want to be able to do everything, whatever a manager needs from you.
“I speak to a lot of people, to get their advice and their thoughts. But ultimately, you have to do what you want to do. What’s in your head? If you want to be at the top, be at the top. If that means making sacrifices, then that’s what I am going to do.
“No, it’s not easy! I still have my friends, and they’re wanting to go out places and stuff. I can’t. I train and I rest and I play. Even when I’m off, I have to be careful, I still have to do the right things. For me, it’s about being careful and sensible. You make big sacrifices, staying in, eating the right things, but that’s what you have to do to get to the top – and I want to get to the top.
“Of course it’s been hard. Your friends are chilling while you’re training, but what would you rather do? Go to their house and chill, or go training? My rewards will come.
“At the end of the day, I’m doing something I love. In the future, that may lead to money, but the main thing is that you don’t want to be in a job that you don’t like. You want to be in a job that you love, where it doesn’t feel like work.”
How refreshing to hear, especially from someone who has already seen both sides of ‘The Beautiful Game’. World Cup wins, golden boots and eye-catching performances are one thing, but Brewster - still a teenager remember - has already felt compelled to speak up about one of the game’s big issues; racism. An interview given to The Guardian in December detailed seven separate instances where he has suffered abuse playing for club and country.
One of those was during a UEFA Youth League game for Liverpool against Spartak Moscow at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park ground. Brewster reported the incident to UEFA, but saw the case dropped three months later due to ‘insufficient evidence’. He was not surprised.
“No, not at all,” he says. “I just wanted to put my voice out there and be heard. No it doesn’t surprise me the way the ruling went, but hopefully it does change at some point in the future, and that it helps bring the rubbishness out of football.
“With the World Cup being in Russia, I hope no-one gets abused over there. I think it happened recently with France, but my hope is that something can be done about it and we can change it, to be honest.
“You hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else, but if it does then my advice is to follow the rules. Control yourself, as hard as that is, tell people and speak up. It’s not easy, but it's the best way.”
Of course speaking out about such issues is important, but for one so young to do so was striking. Brewster's courage struck a chord within football; the reaction to his interview was huge, elevating him into the public eye perhaps more so even than his exploits at the U17 World Cup a few months previously.
He is thankful for Liverpool’s support during that period. Klopp made a point of mentioning Brewster in a speech given to the Football Writers’ Association at their annual awards dinner last month, praising the youngster’s “power, command and composure” in going public on such an important issue.
“It’s a really close-knit club,” Brewster says. “The feedback and the vibe I got off them was that we are a family. Everyone was behind me, nobody said I shouldn’t do it.
“Even the fans, I got lots of messages and I really appreciate that. No-one was against what I did. It was a bad time, but people were there for me. I won’t forget that.”
Of course having a public profile comes with its own risks; scrutiny of footballers is huge, whether they are 18 or 30. The social media age means fame is instant, but so is judgement. Every move is analysed, debated, criticised.
Can Brewster, a Londoner born and raised in Chadwell Heath, handle all that? Is he spotting the looks from strangers in the street?
“Yeah man, I see it!” he smiles. “When people look at me, I look at them back like ‘what you looking at?’ but I have to be careful now! They know my face!
“It happens when I’m out and about at home or in Liverpool, I get asked to take pictures and stuff. It can be a good and a bad thing, but for me it’s more good than bad. It shows that people are recognising you and that you are progressing.
“Where I’m from, you have to grow up quickly. That’s a fact. I just want to be a footballer and a big face in the game. I want to be an idol to young children. It’s starting to happen now, and I hope it continues."
It will do so at Liverpool, for now at least. But wherever that first-team chance comes, you can be sure Rhian Brewster will do everything he can to take it. It's just who he is.
“You have to stamp your mark,” he says. “You have to get the chance and you have to take it.
“My hope now is to be playing regular football, so I can play at the highest level for club and country. The next World Cup or even the next Euros, I want to be in with a shot of being picked. That’s what I strive for, to be the best I can be, to hopefully give me the best opportunity to get there.
“The only way you can do that is by getting a chance in club football. I can’t wait for mine.”
Lyle and Scott are delighted to announce Rhian Brewster as their new ambassador. Rhian launches the new World World Cup campaign focusing on Rhian and his rise to U17 World Cup Champion and Golden Boot winner.