Kevin Stewart's remarkable rise
9 FEB 2016
BY JAMES PEARCE
Liverpool Academy staff have been thrilled by the 22-year-old's impressive progress from full-back to midfielder
It's been a remarkable transformation for Liverpool midfielder Kevin Stewart.
Some 19 months after being released by Tottenham, the lifelong Reds fan will be back in the capital tonight and is expected to start the FA Cup fourth round replay with West Ham.
The showdown at Upton Park will be Enfield-born Stewart's fourth senior appearance for Liverpool as he continues to impress manager Jurgen Klopp.
The 22-year-old's rise to prominence has thrilled Academy staff, who helped put his career back on track after his four-year spell at Spurs ended without him making the breakthrough.
Stewart arrived at Liverpool on a free transfer in July 2014 as an aspiring full-back.
However, Academy director Alex Inglethorpe, who had previously worked with Stewart at Tottenham, and Reds under-21s coach Michael Beale always felt his future lay as a defensive midfielder.
“Kevin came here as a full-back – a bit like Flanno (Jon Flanagan) as he wanted to be a right-footed left-back,” Beale said.
“He could also play centre-half but that was never really his position.
"He felt he was a bit hard done by at Tottenham. In the first few months he spent a bit of time at Melwood and played for Brendan (Rodgers) in pre-season.
“In his first or second training session with us I had a conversation with Alex and we both felt he had the qualities to play in midfield. Two-footed, very athletic.
“At that time Jordan Williams and Jordan Rossiter were both at Melwood playing as No 6s so our focus was very much on them so Kevin doubled up as a full-back.
“The under-21s played Norwich away just before Christmas last season. Connor Randall, who was going to play in midfield, felt ill in the pre-match.
“I sprung it on Kevin. We hadn't worked on it in training, but I played him in midfield and he was outstanding that night.
“It took us back a bit. We thought: 'wow, we'll persevere with that'. He played four or five more games in midfield before going out on loan.”
Stewart spent a month at Cheltenham before having a spell at Burton later in the campaign as he helped them clinch promotion from League Two.
“The issue when he first went out on loan was that the style of football wasn't the same,” Beale said.
“He was playing in midfield but he was picking up more second balls, not really learning the positional game – how to receive and distribute the ball.”
Last July he was loaned out to Swindon and made seven appearances for the League One outfit before being sidelined by a medial ligament knee injury in September.
He returned to Liverpool for treatment and was out for four months.
Stewart finally returned to action on January 5 in a under-21s friendly against Morecambe – three days later he was making his first-team debut in the televised FA Cup tie at Exeter City after Liverpool had officially terminated his loan.
“On the Tuesday he played 60 minutes in midfield on his comeback at the Academy and then 30 minutes at centre-back to ease him off physically,” Beale recalled.
“On the Friday he was playing in the FA Cup and had millions of people watching him on TV. You just never know when it's going to come.”
Klopp's injury crisis led to Stewart getting his chance but Beale says it was reward for his commitment.
He was retained for the replay against Exeter at Anfield and also started the tie against West Ham 10 days ago.
His mature performance that evening as he provided protection for the back four is set to be rewarded with another opportunity at Upton Park tonight.
“One thing I'd say about Kevin since he's come in is that he's the hardest working player we have got,” Beale said.
“We have to kick him out of the gym! He's the one we have to close the building on.
“He's here all day. He lives away from home and his family are all in London so he's not going home to anyone.
“But he's got a real zest for football and is a top young professional. I'm pleased he's getting his moment now.
“You do worry with young kids whether their pathway is going to get blocked. It comes down to circumstance sometimes.
“He's in a very competitive position but injuries to Rossiter and Williams have enabled him to get a step up and he hasn't let anyone down.
“I thought his performance against West Ham was very strong. Kev showed exactly his level, where in the previous two games I felt like he was still getting used to it.
“It's been a bit of a whirlwind. He's been a genuine Liverpool fan all his life. I know a lot of people sign for the club and say that but he's got the pics as a little kid to prove it.
"John Barnes was a big influence on him growing up.
“It was great he performed that well against West Ham and I know there's much more to come from him."
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