LONDON: It was a chilly night at Fleetwood's Highbury Stadium in November, 2011 when twenty scouts from an assortment of Premier League and Championship clubs took their seats to watch an FA Cup first-round tie. For most, there was one player in their eyeline as the hosts took on Wycombe Wanderers - the prolific Fleetwood striker Jamie Vardy (now of Leicester City).
For two of the VIP guests, the officials from Liverpool and Manchester City, it was a 15-year-old who spent the first 44 minutes warming up who was the subject of their attention - Wycombe's Jordon Ibe.
Two weeks earlier Ibe had become the youngest Football League scorer with a goal of individual brilliance against Sheffield Wednesday. It had been Ibe's first start for the club he'd joined after being released by Charlton Athletic as a 12-year-old, and England's biggest clubs had been alerted to a prodigious talent. Ibe was introduced as a substitute against Fleetwood and instantly stood out with a physicality that belied his years.
Impressed with the technique and maturity he was witnessing, Liverpool's representative at the fixture - their former Academy director Frank McParland - returned to Anfield armed with a glowing scout report urging his club to join the bidding.
Within a month Liverpool had beaten City to secure a pounds 750,000 deal, a considerable fee for a player who was just about to turn 16. Ibe, originally from Bermondsey, would make just 11 starts for Wycombe.
Although City could offer more cash, McParland convinced Ibe's parents his club offered a pathway to the first team, citing recent examples such as Jack Robinson and Andre Wisdom who had just been promoted to the senior squad. There were also references to another emerging talent, Raheem Sterling, who would make his Anfield debut towards the end of that season under Kenny Dalglish prior to his elevation under Brendan Rodgers.
One of the Northern Irishman's first acts as Liverpool manager was to include Ibe alongside Sterling in the club's North America tour in the summer of 2012. It assured Ibe that McParland's promise Anfield would be a land of swift opportunity was genuine.
"I had a trial at City when I was younger but this was a good choice for me," Ibe said. "There was a time when Liverpool spoke to me when I was a bit younger and there were a few clubs. I was about 15 and I thought it was the right time for me to move away from home. My dad was a Liverpool supporter.
"When I was growing up I supported Chelsea a little bit but I have been a Liverpool supporter since I started watching the games. I watched the 2005 Champions League final until like ten in the evening [he was nine years old at the time]. I wasn't allowed to stay up but I watched it. It was a bit difficult to move at first but as I was leaving secondary school my family moved up with me. Because of that I haven't been homesick at all and I had education when I was in the youth team so everything has been cool."
Ibe initially enjoyed steady rather than spectacular progress, assisted by a couple of loan moves. He spent much of last year at Birmingham City, but his six months at Derby County this season under Steve McClaren proved to be the catalyst for the teenager to step up a level. "He is like the jinky wingers we used to get in the game," McClaren said of the youngster. "We wanted to bring players here who can get the crowd on the edge of their seats when they pick the ball up. That is what Jordon does. He lit us up when he played."
The feedback was such that Rodgers ditched efforts to sign the Lille striker Divock Origi six months early to make Ibe part of his immediate rather than long?term plans.
Ibe admits he was initially unsure if ending the loan move was the right decision if he'd only be on the Liverpool bench. "I enjoyed it at Derby," he said. "The team was great and I was playing all the time so I was thinking to myself was I going to come back and not play at Liverpool?
"Steve McClaren is a good manager - a great coach on the training ground. He always helped me and I enjoyed my time with him. He called me in after training one day and told me I was going to head back to Liverpool. I was excited. It was a confidence booster because it meant I had been doing well. It's given me confidence coming to come and join in with the first team and try and prove myself."
Since returning to Anfield in January, Ibe has established himself in the first team, preferred to the pounds 20?million signing Lazar Markovic in the right wing-back role. He is most likely to start ahead of the Serb at Southampton today. His star displays in the Merseyside derby and the Europa League tie with Besiktas have seen Ibe's name casually dropped into the category of (whisper it) a new golden generation of English talent with the likes of Sterling, Tottenham's Harry Kane and Everton's Ross Barkley.
The wing-back role seems to suit Ibe, although he is eager to contribute more as a goalscorer as much as a creative force. "It's a new position for me," he said. "It's still good because I can still attack the full-back but it's new for me to cover attacking and defending. I am learning from the attacking players, like Mario, Raheem, Sturridge and Coutinho and I'm trying to add goals to my game."