Pinned to the touchline, with his back to the goal and a defender breathing down his neck, Ben Doak seemed bereft of options. Ten seconds later he had the ball in the net.
It was a stunning solo goal created out of nothing. Shoulder drop, then another. Arrow into the frame and sliding past the three blue jerseys. Then a raised, curled finish to the far corner on the outside of the boot.
A superb strike settled a seven-goal UEFA Youth League thriller in favor of 10-man Liverpool against Rangers. He also clearly described why Doak is the most exciting Scottish attacking talent to emerge in recent years.
Maybe it was just under-19 level, but speak to anyone who has seen the dynamic 17-year-old winger in action or worked with him, and they will clear your doubts. This child is special.
As manager Jurgen Klopp commented after Doak’s impressive first-team debut for Liverpool last month: “He’s a really lively lad, a smart player, good dribbler, quick, can use both feet. A lot of things are obviously natural to him, which is really helpful .”
BBC Scotland delves into Doak’s story so far and reveals comparisons to Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling despite just 40 minutes of first-team action.
Doak’s Celtic rise brings a ‘posse’ of club calls
Celtic’s loss is undoubtedly Liverpool’s gain, as Doak swapped the Scottish champions for Anfield this summer. A compensation award of around £600,000 already looks like a steal.
The winger was Celtic’s brightest academy prospect, a prodigy on a different level from his peers. At the age of 14, he played for the U-18, and as soon as he turned 16 in November last year, he was selected for the B team.
Soon I received an invitation to train with the first team. The story goes that the players soon nicknamed him: ‘Wazza’, a nod to the stocky teenager’s similarities in stature, talent and fighting style to a young Wayne Rooney.
Doak has clearly impressed manager Ange Postecoglou as his rapid trajectory earned him a first-team debut against Dundee United in January, making him the club’s second-youngest player of all time at 16 years and two months.
Four days later, Doak was brought on in the last few minutes of a 3–0 derby win against Rangers that sent Celtic to the top of the table. He even excelled in those cameo appearances – a pocket rocket who charged at defenders with glee.
So after getting a taste of the big one, how did Doak – a Celtic supporter – end up deciding to pursue his career elsewhere? The player’s agent, former Celtic and Scotland full-back Jackie McNamara, offers an insight.
“Honestly, I thought the Old Firm game could have changed it,” says McNamara. “Because my whole thing was, show the kid you’re going to keep him, show him he’s not behind six or seven other players. He doesn’t want to play against the Civil Service Strollers in the B team.
“But for the Old Firm game he was bombarded with tickets, for this, for that, where he lived in Ayrshire. He switched off his phone. You forget he was only 16. I asked him what he was thinking and he just didn’t want stay.
“When Ben went to visit Liverpool, Klopp said, ‘Ah Ben, I’ve seen your stuff.’ He immediately felt welcome.”
Tommy McIntyre, the former manager of Celtic’s B team, recalls that after Doak’s presentation of the best team, “a consequence” of interested clubs gathered.
“Celtic did their best to keep him,” says McIntyre. “They gave him that platform to perform on the big stage, but in the end it was his decision.
“He was always valued. Only age prevented me from bringing him to the B team earlier, because you have to be 16.
“He wasn’t with me long before Ange brought him into the first team. He’s so exciting because he’s a player who gets the fans off their seats – when he gets the ball he’s so direct. He’s got lightning pace and he’s got trickery too. He can go past people , throws into the penalty area, creates chances, finishes.”
‘He’s the Scottish Rooney’
Doak’s obvious ability is complemented by his work ethic and temperament. McIntyre recalls a down-to-earth, careful and quiet kid who transformed into a fearless competitor when he stepped on the field.
“For someone so young to have that mental strength is an excellent quality,” he adds.
“The way he approached things was incredible. He has a real winning mentality and you could see that in the way he played. He was a pleasure to work with.”
That mindset shone through when Doak was brought off the bench in the 74th minute of Liverpool’s EFL Cup win over Derby County last month.
Klopp’s side eventually pushed through on penalties, but fans spoke of Doak’s impact on his short-lived debut – including a game-high three dribbles. John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap podcast was among those impressed.
“Sometimes when young players make their debut, they can be a bit intimidated,” says Gibbons. “Other times they step up and do well. Then there’s the rare occasion when someone says, ‘Look at me. I’m going to make this a Ben Doak show.’ That’s what he did – he is a special player.
“The last time I can remember anyone doing that was Raheem Sterling. Sterling had a substitute appearance towards the end of the season when he really got people talking.”
Within five days of his debut, Doak turned 17, sat on the bench for the Premier League win against Southampton and signed his first professional contract, capping off a whirlwind year for the teenager.
After arriving at Liverpool with an injury, he was given time to recover and then hit the ground running. Soon no one could hold him back.
He featured at U-18, U-19 and U-21 level for the Reds, scoring eight times and providing six assists in his 16 appearances.
On the European stage with players under the age of 19, Doak was particularly successful. Four goals and four assists in six games as Liverpool topped a group featuring Napoli, Ajax and Rangers showed his appetite for the big occasion.
He was also fast at the international level. After missing the Euro Under-17 final in May through injury, he was promoted to the Under-21s and took all of eight minutes to crown his debut with a goal in the win over Northern Ireland in September.
Doak cited Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah as a role model and admitted that his all-round game, especially in defensive aspects, needs to improve.
Of course, there’s no guarantee he’ll even make the grade at Liverpool, where many prospects before him have failed. But the potential and the attitude are there. And he could benefit from a transitional period at Anfield.
“Guys like Harvey Elliott and Carvalho and even Curtis Jones are good examples for him in showing that the pathway to the first team is there,” says Gibbons.
“You definitely feel there will be opportunities for him, maybe more next season if he has a strong summer with the team, because the manager is a big believer in giving youngsters a chance.”
How good could Doak be if his potential is realized? Does Scotland have a superstar in the making?
He is Scotland’s Rooney, says McNamara. “I told Ange that at Celtic, I told him I’ve never seen anything like Ben.”