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Conor Bradley: Why young full-back is tailor-made for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool structure | Football News


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Wide-eyed and exhausted, Conor Bradley was taking it all in at the final whistle at Anfield before the force of a Jurgen Klopp hug consumed him.

Both men showed a beaming smile as Klopp offered words of advice before Cody Gakpo stared into the camera, pointed to an embarrassed looking 20-year-old and nodded his approval.

“He’ll probably fall asleep in the dressing room,” Klopp said of the shift Bradley had just put in against Fulham in the 2-1 League Cup semi-final victory.

“Exceptional. What a boy! Wonderful character, a real talent, top potential and he’s in right team because everybody loves and respects him. Everyone wants him to succeed.”

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Highlights of the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg between Liverpool and Fulham at Anfield.

Genuine words for a genuine young man. With Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson injured Bradley has shown he can be a legitimate and reliable option as Liverpool go all-out for multiple trophies.

Those who have a working relationship with him at Melwood use words like ‘mature’ and ‘respectful’ to describe the Northern Ireland international.

Others describe his ‘inner determination’ and say his outlook is ‘like a senior pro’ with a calm persona and thirst for detail, as he learns the game at this level.

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Jurgen Klopp described Conor Bradley’s performance as ‘exceptional’ as the youngster produced an eye-catching performance in Liverpool’s 2-1 win against Fulham

Last season he won Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year at Bolton as he thrived in a first loan spell away from the Premier League club.

It was clear to all at Liverpool that he came back as a much-improved player after playing under Ian Evatt. Even when he injured his back in pre-season he impressed with his resilience and determination to recover ‘without cutting corners’.

He has already won 13 caps for Northern Ireland after making a senior international debut two months shy of his 18th birthday – a 3-0 win against Malta – when only “a few football nerds had heard of him”, in the words of Klopp in April.

Conor Bradley delivered an all-action display against Fulham in the Carabao Cup
Conor Bradley delivered an all-action display against Fulham in the Carabao Cup

Ian Baraclough was the man who gave him that senior debut having first watched the then 16-year-old at an underage tournament.

“He was a skinny right winger and kept bombing forward. His enthusiasm and ability stood out,” recalls Baraclough.

“Chatting to scouts and coaches you would often categorise players of that age into those who will have a good career or those who may be released in future.

“Conor was one of those that we thought, if he stays clear of injury, has the attributes and attitude to have a good career.”

Jurgen Klopp hailed full-back Conor Bradley's performance as 'exceptional' as Liverpool game from behind to beat Fulham
Jurgen Klopp hailed full-back Conor Bradley’s performance as ‘exceptional’ as Liverpool came from behind to beat Fulham

Baraclough was impressed how he stifled Gabriel Martinelli during the FA Cup win at Arsenal on Sunday but has not been surprised after seeing him play up close at international level.

“He has the respect of the senior Northern Ireland players because of his ability but also because they recognised he wasn’t brash or flashy. He’s filling out with the gym work but not losing any of that sharpness or ability on the ball.”

Following his friendly debut Baraclough brought him on for a competitive debut in Belfast, a 0-0 draw against Switzerland. Within moments the then-teenager had thrown himself into a crunching tackle on Ricardo Rodriguez, immediately lifting the home crowd.

“I looked at Jimmy Nicholl (NI assistant manager) and said I’m going to bring on Conor. Jimmy was very approving and had no hesitation. That tackle introduced himself to everybody.

“If you saw him walking through a university campus you’d wonder what course he is doing with the boyish look. He’s a ‘model A’ student.

“When Klopp was speaking to him on the pitch after the game his eyes were taking it in. That’s him. He’s always looking to learn and he’s thinking about what’s being said.

“I love watching players like that achieve success and it’s why he’s so popular with the Liverpool players.”

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Jurgen Klopp selected Conor Bradley in Liverpool’s starting line-up against Fulham and says he is a good player and that they have very limited options at full-back.

In an interview with Sky Sports News from the Northern Ireland team hotel in 2021 we saw many of the same characteristics. On that day I chatted to a polite and grounded Bradley.

He spoke about his admiration of Alexander-Arnold, his appreciation towards Robertson in helping him feel at home in the first-team environment and being in awe of Mo Salah’s gym work and work rate, despite being one of the best technically gifted players in the world.

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Kick off 4:30pm

He spoke about his love of Klopp and Liverpool’s motto of ‘earning the right to play.’ Much of this is testament to his upbringing and the hard-working values instilled.

As a young boy he was offered an extended pro deal by Liverpool and discussed it with his family. It meant receiving better terms than several other scholars but after learning about this they told Liverpool they’d prefer him to be on the same scholar deal as others. They wanted him to earn the pro contract through performance.

He’s certainly doing that, but the hard work continues.

Liverpool have got themselves a humble and determined talent who clearly loves being part of the team.

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