Per Qvist, writer for Swedish blog TotaalLiverpool.com, looks at Sporting’s Tiago Ilori for The Travelling Kop Prospect.
It’s common knowledge among LFC-fans that Brendan Rodgers is keen to sign Sporting centre-back Tiago Ilori. The talks between the clubs are ongoing, according to several reliable media sources in the UK, and there’s a feeling the clubs will indeed agree a fee sooner or later.
Ilori is one of several excellent talents coming out of Sporting Clube de Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani are impossible to ignore when looking at their former academy graduates, while keeper Rui Patricio, teenage winger Bruma and Ilori are their hottest properties at the moment.
There’s a clear pattern among the Sporting talents; they are usually pacy and technical players, while their youth coaches are always trying to encourage the youngsters to be brave and take initiative as that’s regarded as key in the development of a players’ mentality. Sporting don’t want their players to always play it safe and hide in games, but often their youthful talents lack the necessary tactical ability to match their technical skill.
Sporting obviously have a decent scouting organization though, and it’s no coincidence that their best talents are perfectly adapted to their way of playing at least at youth level. Despite being a centre-back, Ilori is no exception to the ‘young talent’ tag often applied to the club’s up-and-coming attackers. At the age of 20, Ilori is a very interesting raw talent. His main attributes are his pace, decent technique and quality reading of the game .. plus at 6’3″ tall, he is a commanding figure at the back.
In terms of pace, Ilori is quick across the ground both in long and short distances with good acceleration, which makes him able to defend from deep positions or maintain a high defensive line. His quickness is especially useful when the opposition counter-attacks .. he’s able to track-back to, for example, turn a situation like a 3-v-2 in to a 3-v-3 instead.
Ilori is a good passer of the ball but is perhaps a little bit of a risk-taker, despite his position, and this has got him in to trouble a few times in Primeira Liga. His pace has seen him able to rectify many of his own errors, but he won’t be able to rely on that if he should make the step up to the English Premier League. He is also comfortable on the ball, and has the ability to bring the ball forward from the back with more than decent dribbling, but can take too many touches, or try to beat one too many players. However, I’m hopeful these mistakes will be the creases that get ‘ironed out’ as he gets more playing experience. Afterall the 2012/13 season was his debut in the Primeira Liga and it’s natural that he showed a lack of experience on a few occasions.
Liverpool have scouted Ilori very closely, and will have noticed his aerial game. While I didn’t point it out as one of his main attributes, it’s still of high quality. He’s dynamic, which also means he’s an impressive jumper and that’s a major asset for him in aerial duels – both on defence and attacking at set-pieces. I’d like him to improve his core and upper body strength to help him win aerial duels when he can’t rely on his jumping alone – a must in Premier League games – but that’s also quite natural for a young player like him.
Overall, I think the young Portuguese player has immense potential, but he needs games to keep developing his game. A move to Liverpool could benefit him if he gets games, which is far from impossible, but which can’t be taken for granted. That’s in a short-term perspective; I’d say Ilori has the potential to become a top class centre-back in the long-term, and that’s probably why the club wants to sign him.
My guess is that Rodgers thinks of Ilori as a replacement for Sebastian Coates as the fourth centre-back choice. Ilori is definitely a better option for LFC, even though he’s less experienced than Coates was when he moved to Merseyside. Ilori’s attributes are better suited to the football Brendan Rodgers wants Liverpool to play. Despite having a better CV at the moment, Liverpool will probably have to pay more for Ilori than they’ll get for Coates should they let the big Uruguayan go.
I don’t think the fact that Ilori speaks perfect English because of his half-English father is relevant from Liverpool’s perspective, even though it’s something that surely would help him settle and communicate with the squad. Some would point out that his language skills makes him the perfect bridge between the English and Spanish/Portuguese speakers in the squad, but I’d say that’s a little bit of overanalyzing what he could add in a group perspective.
The negotiations with Sporting are poised to continue and hopefully Ilori will become a LFC player sooner rather than later. I think the style comparisons with Raphaël Varane are understandable, even though Ilori is raw and very much a long-term prospect.
Editor’s note: Chelsea have apparently shown interest in the player, with Sporting rumoured to be holding out for a fee around the 8.5mil mark – and Liverpool having two offers under that rejected so far [if the stories are to be believed]