An English champion at 17, the youngest player in the history of the Premier League, already described as a future star for the club he grew up idolizing: Harvey Elliott would be forgiven for taking his foot off the gas after a breakneck start to his professional career.
Nothing could be further from the truth for the Liverpool youngster, currently shining on loan in the Championship with Blackburn Rovers. Days into his 18th year he has taken the difficult next step up from top prospect to carrying a creative burden in senior football and has done so with no little style. With 10 goals and five assists he has made more direct contributions to goals than any other teenager in English football this season.
Garlanded with accolades, silverware and now a major boot deal with New Balance at an early age, Elliott is not one to get carried away with praise. “You need to take it in stride and just forget about it,” he tells CBS Sports. Still, Elliott acknowledges it can be tough not to be drawn into the world of social media where supporters herald the latest young superstar at ever earlier ages but with the help of his Liverpool mad family, who would surely never settle for his team winning just one Premier League title over the coming years, he is firmly focused on the future, not what he has already achieved.
“After you’ve had your career you can look back and go through your achievements,” Elliott shrugs. “But that’s for the future.
“That’s when you think to yourself, I did have a good career or I did achieve that and it was brilliant. But me personally, I don’t really think about these things. I just go into every game thinking about the game, not what I’ve done in the past.”
It is a sign of the greatness that so many see in his future that New Balance should make Elliott one of the leading lights in their push to secure the leading young stars in soccer alongside Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, who he remembers “ripping us to pieces” when he was at Fulham.
Both are at the vanguard of a movement of young English attacking talent, many of whom are being honed in the Championship. Where Mason Mount and Emile Smith Rowe have used the second tier as an ideal stepping stone in past years, making their mistakes away from the overpowering spotlight of the Premier League, so is Elliott now.
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It is not without its culture shocks. With Liverpool Elliott found himself playing against opponents prepared to sit off him and his team-mates for fear of being picked off. Whether they are first or 24th, nobody pays their opponent such respect in English football’s second tier.
Elliott explains: “In the Champ you don’t get much time on the ball. Everyone’s in your face, if not trying to get in your face behind you.
“The tempo of the game, it’s is very, very high. I can remember playing Watford going into the game and it was 100 miles an hour in the first 20, 30 minutes. And I thought surely, it’s not going to be like this for the whole game. And when you’re up against a top side like them, it was. They’re always trying to pick you off and always trying to find a dope in a team that just switches off and work their way around him to try and create a chance.
“You have to think that one step ahead before you even get the ball: where I’m going to play or where I’m going to take my touch. You need to have care and detail in everything you do.”
That intensity is demanded from Elliott with and without the ball. A future Liverpool forward must be as relentless in his pressing as his finishing, something which the youngster concedes has been one of the most significant challenges of moving from youth football to the senior game. “I will admit, there’s been a couple of moments in games where I have switched off,” he says.
“I think now, especially when I’m playing for Blackburn, and even for Liverpool as well, you realize how important the defensive side of work is. Single handedly you can sort of mess up for the whole team; if you’re not doing your job, someone else has to come out and cover for you, then they’re leaving their man and it just dismantles the whole thing.
“When I was younger, I just used to press the life out of everyone. I used to run left, right and center. But then the tempo wasn’t as high as it is now. You can’t just run around the whole pitch for 90 minutes, you physically can’t. It’s just about being clever about when to press, or if they’re showing one way, keep them that way.”
For all its difficulties he has swiftly adapted to that challenge. Already described as “Premier League quality” by veteran teammate Stewart Downing, a man who knows what it takes to play for Liverpool, Elliott has at times found himself handed the creative reigns by Tony Mowbray whilst having his starts minutes carefully managed. He has relished the opportunity to take on a greater role in getting the Blackburn attack going than he would have had at Anfield.
“It’s going to help me for the future,” he says of the responsibility that Mowbray places on his shoulders. “To have the pressure now then hopefully, if I was to get to the top level and play week in, week out these are the sort of things that already know that I can do. That’s the sort of attitude I go into every single training session with, every single game, just knowing that I can either score or create a goal.”
Not just any assist or goal either. Elliott takes no delight in individual success that does not benefit his side.
“I get frustrated with myself if I get an assist or score a goal that doesn’t lead the team to win. Because it’s sort of like what’s the point in assisting or scoring [if we don’t win]? I just feel like I can do more. Obviously, there is always a point, but it’s just it doesn’t mean much when you lose the game.
“For example, the Norwich game where I came on and assisted, last game, to get the draw it meant a lot. That’s when they become my favorite. And I think it was one of the games [a 2-1 win over Rotheram] where I think I scored in the 80th minute and then we won the game in the 92nd minute. It’s just stuff that I think are the most enjoyable assist or goals where something happens because of it.”
Even before moving to Blackburn, Elliott was carving out a role for himself at Liverpool, featuring in 12 Premier League squads during their title charge — enough to earn him a title winners’ medal — and making eight senior appearances across all competitions. A season that had begun with his boyhood club signing him from Fulham saw the youngster gain minutes in a number of competitions and crucially fall under the wings of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, of whom he cannot speak highly enough.
When New Balance were courting Elliott, it was Mane he turned to for advice, Liverpool’s No.10 offering the same good humored support on this major step in his career path as he does around the training ground.
“Salah and Mane are obviously the world class players as well as mentors and I think that they’re even better people off the pitch,” says Elliott. “They’re always wanting to help everyone else in the best possible way as well as get the best out of themselves.
“Sadio in particular helped me a lot because we have the same gym program. Obviously, I’m not as strong as him yet but whenever I’m doing an activity or an exercise and he thinks it’s too easy for me, he’s always trying to push me on a bit more and change the weight or he’s even trying to knock me about himself just to get me used to being knocked around and to make sure that I’m ready [for it on the pitch].”
His relationship with Mane is nothing but supportive, equally Elliott knows that he cannot always look up to them but will soon have to compete for minutes with them. “As well as having those world class mentors around me, they’re sort of competition in a way because at the end of the day in the long term I want to do all I can to try to compete with them to get into the team.”
He acknowledges that that ultimate goal remains some distance in the future but he does not lack for self-belief ahead of his return to Liverpool, setting himself the target of being a regular in Jurgen Klopp’s squad next season.
“I’m going to go into preseason thinking that I can get into this team. And whatever way my chance comes, it’s just about making sure I take it. Obviously, nothing’s going to come easy but [I want] to sort of make sure that I’m in and out.
“If I’m needed off the bench make sure that I’m the person they look to. It is just making sure that I’m one of the go to people to come on or to start and influence the game. That’s my position and that’s my role to score or create. I think if I’m doing that, and obviously working hard for the team as well, I think I’ve had a chance to be in and around it.
“I’m just going to do whatever it takes.”