LIVERPOOL manager Roy Evans splashed out £2 million to bring Millwall's Irish winger Mark Kennedy to Anfield yesterday and predicted: "We are buying for the future.''
Evans pounced for the Republic of Ireland under-21 international after former Anfield manager Kenny Dalglish had shown an interest in taking the player to Blackburn. But Dalglish baulked at Millwall's asking price for the 18-year-old from Blanchardstown in Dublin and as he backed off, Evans came in to land the youngster, who leapt to prominence with his thunderous strike as Millwall knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup at Highbury in January.
Kennedy, a lifelong fan of the Anfield club, joins Liverpool's list of sparkling young talents, with Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and England newcomer Jamie Redknapp already at the club. And Evans, who has kept a close eye on the player through the second-half of the season, said he was delighted to have completed the signing, which involves a £1.5 million down-payment and further money subject to appearances.
Kennedy is the player whom Jack Charlton once described as potentially, one of the Republic of Ireland's biggest assets in the closing years of the decade. The assessment of the Millwall player, who had just turned 18, was made not merely on the basis of his skill but also on the options he was capable of offering the national team. "He's exciting because he could, in time, give us the cover we've been missing in a couple of key positions,'' says Charlton. "It's an open secret that we need another left sided player to back up Steve Staunton. Mark Kennedy is capable of doing that and, perhaps, in time, developing into an outstanding front line player. It ought to be remembered, however, that he is still only a lad. He's made a good start but there is still a long road ahead of him.''
Kennedy moved to Millwall from the Belvedere Boys club at the age of 16 after several other cross channel clubs had lost interest in him, because of perceived problems in physique. He was, in their estimation, too light to make the grade and while still only developing, they doubted his ability to withstand the demands of a full-time professional career in England.
Mick McCarthy, the Millwall manager reckoned otherwise and after an intensive weight training course, the player has since put on almost two stone to tip the scales at 10st 8lb. "Without that kind of extra poundage, I doubt if I would have been able to take on players in the kind of situation which brought me to the attention of the bigger clubs with the goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup replay,'' he says. "I think I have matured a lot, mentally as well as physically since coming to London but it was still a dream come through when Liverpool came in with their offer. "Like a lot of other lads from Dublin, Liverpool was the team for me when I was growing up - I think I inherited it from my dad - and I didn't need to be asked twice when Roy Evans contacted the club about me.''
That admiration is reciprocated in full by the Millwall manager. "I think he has every chance of making it for he's a well-balanced lad who never gets too uptight about games,'' says McCarthy. "People here blamed me for withdrawing him from the attack to play him wide on the left but how could you ask a player of his years to mix it up front with big, mature men. "I think, he's profited from the switch but, in time, he can made the grade up front as well. And I reckon Big Jack will not be too displeased about that. It breaks my heart to seem him go but I wasn't prepared to stand in his way - even if I could. Offers like the one he had this week, come, perhaps, once in a lifetime - I wish him well in the challenge of handling the pressures of his new career at Anfield.''