'I had no calves at all' - Liverpool wonderkid Brewster back on track for superstardom after injury nightmare
The 18-year-old striker is nearing a return to action after 14 months on the sidelines with ligament damage in both his ankle and his knee
It’s not the pain that sticks in Rhian Brewster’s mind, it’s the noise.
It is 14 months since the Liverpool striker’s progress was checked in the cruellest of fashions. An under-23s game against Manchester City, a routine aerial challenge, an awkward landing and the teenager’s world would be turned upside down.
“I didn’t want to look, to be honest,” Brewster tells Goal, wincing at the memory. “I knew it was a bad one, because I heard it. I heard something go. Immediately, I thought I’d broken my ankle.”
He hadn’t as it turned out, but this was no lucky escape. His ankle ligaments had been badly damaged in the fall, and so had his knee. He would require separate operations, a month apart, to correct them.
The initial diagnosis was that he would be out for around four or five months, back in action by the end of August. The reality was different. Brewster’s recovery has been long and arduous. He has only recently returned to training, having spent months in the gym and pool, building up the strength in his legs.
“I had no calves at all,” he says, checking the backs of his legs. “They’re coming back now, I think, but when you have two operations on your leg, the muscle mass just goes completely. There’s nothing you can do.”
Brewster recently admitted there were times he wanted to “scrap football” during his rehabilitation. He’s a positive character, and he’s needed to be. Those long, repetitive days at Melwood were enough to test anybody, let alone an 18-year-old yet to make his first professional appearance.
“You find out a lot about yourself,” says Brewster, who ranked 31st in this year's NxGn list of the world's best under-19s. “You have to be tough mentally.
“The operations were big ones, so I knew it’d take a lot of hard work. It’s hard, you know? You’re in the gym for hours on end doing strengthening exercises, and that’s just so you are able to start running again. You can’t even think about getting on the pitch to start with.”
He’s thinking about it now, though. Having recently returned to training, he’s eyeing up a run-out or two for the under-23s before the end of the season.
“Argh, don’t!” he says, excitedly. “I just want to score! It’s all I’ve been thinking about!”
Long-term, the plan remains the same. Brewster is by no means a shy kid, as he has already demonstrated in his fledgling career. He knows what he wants.
“I want to be a Premier League player, a Liverpool player and an England player,” he says, his back straightening. “Those ambitions still burn inside me, of course. Even more so now, I’d say!”
Brewster could have left Merseyside last summer. He could have followed Jadon Sancho to Germany had he wished. RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach made offers, tempting ones too, but so did Liverpool.
The Reds’ determination to keep their injured starlet was absolute. They think the world of him at Anfield.
“It’s huge for me,” Brewster says. “They still wanted me even when I was out for months, and for a player that’s a big thing.
“They’ve done so much. I’ve had days when I’m down or whatever, and they’ve let me go home to London to clear my head, or they’ve been there to pick me up and keep me going. I won’t forget it.”
Jürgen Klopp, too, has played his part. Each week when the Reds boss is asked for injury updates in his pre-match press conferences, he makes a point of mentioning Brewster as he would any other first-teamer.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It shows that he has a lot of faith in me,” he smiles. “And, when I’m back, I want to repay that faith.
“He could easily have forgotten about me, sent me back to the Academy to do my rehab or whatever, but he didn’t. He wanted me at Melwood, in and around the team, and for that I can’t thank him enough.”
Brewster speaks like a man eager to make up for lost time, and no wonder. He has been forced to sit and watch while peers, players he has matched and outshone at youth level, have accelerated towards stardom.
Sancho, for example, is now a full England international. Callum Hudson-Odoi, another Under-17 World Cup winner with England, is starring for Chelsea and being courted by Bayern Munich. Phil Foden, Reiss Nelson, Ryan Sessegnon, Emile Smith-Rowe, Morgan Gibbs-White, they’ve all made progress.
Even at Liverpool, Brewster has seen the likes of Curtis Jones, Rafa Camacho and Ki-Jana Hoever pick up first-team experience. He hopes his turn will come.
“Seeing them do it, it makes me think that I can do it as well,” he says. “It’s a good motivation for me. I can’t wait until I can show what I can do.
“I’m a very ambitious player, and I want to be around those top players. I want to compete with them and learn from them.
"Training should be tough, it should challenge you, because that’s how you improve. You want to get to that level, I don’t want to be the one where people say ‘ooh, maybe he’s not ready for that level yet’. I want to be up there with them.”
It's a good way to finish. 2018 was a miserable one for this supremely talented teen, but time is on his side.
Next year could be the year of Rhian Brewster.