James Balagizi may have grown up in the shadow of the Etihad Stadium, but he has his sights set on a future at Anfield. In that sense, Liverpool’s loss maybe Manchester City’s advantage.
The gifted defensive midfielder already has a lot going for him at the age of 17. Tall and solid, imaginative and classy, the Reds’ expectations of finding another player capable of following Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones from the academy into Jurgen Klopp’s first-team setup are rising.
But first things first. If Liverpool’s Under-18s are to reach their second FA Youth Cup final in three seasons, Balagizi will play a key role on Wednesday evening. Marc Bridge-side Wilkinson’s are heavy favorites to beat Ipswich Town at Portman Road, with the winner going to either Aston Villa or West Brom.
James Balagizi – The Wonder Kid
Balagizi has been a standout performer so far in the competition. He scored a hat-trick in the last 16 against Leicester City. And then put in another strong performance in the quarterfinals, laying on two goals as Arsenal were defeated 3-1 at Anfield.
Klopp was in attendance that night. He was inspired by what he saw from Balagizi. He has played with Liverpool’s senior squad. And participated in a highly competitive 11v11 training match at Kirkby during the March international break.
That day, Balagizi was on the ‘away’ side. Fabinho, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Naby Keita made up the ‘home’ team’s midfield diamond, but Balagizi, along with U18s teammate Mateusz Musialowski and U23s mainstay Leighton Clarkson, is said to have looked at ease in such illustrious business.
Anyone who has watched Balagizi and Musialowski thrive this season, especially after Christmas, would not be surprised. At the U18s level, Liverpool is a strong team. And those two, along with the in-form Max Woltman, have been the standouts.
Balagizi is one of six siblings who grew up in Manchester’s Beswick neighborhood. He joined Liverpool as an U11s player after being spotted playing local league football at the age of six. When Manchester City declined to enroll the youngster at St Bede’s, he chose Liverpool. He was a private school attended by the likes of Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho. Balagizi and his family, are originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo.