Liverpool’s ‘throwback’ young ‘diamond’ Luke Chambers became a fan favourite at Kilmarnock after turning down a spot in the England U20 World Cup squad to help them escape the drop – and he’s now ready to star at Anfield following an impressive loan spell
- The 19-year-old defender impressed while on-loan at Kilmarnock last season
- Luke Chambers was handed his full Liverpool debut in the Europa League win
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
Kilmarnock staff and fans were sent into a state of panic one morning with two games to go of last season when the club were notified that England had called up Luke Chambers to their squad for the Under 20 World Cup in Argentina.
An opportunity of a lifetime to travel to South America and play in one of the most prestigious youth tournaments beckoned. Killie were deep in a relegation battle and the departure of key man Chambers would potentially derail their fight for safety.
But then came the response that boss Derek McInnes perhaps did not expect. It set Chambers, then 18, into modern folklore at the Scottish club. ‘Nah, I’m not going,’ the left-back told the management team. ‘I want to finish what I started here.’
And so he did. Chambers started both of Kilmarnock’s last games and they won both, 3-0 at Dundee United and 3-1 at home to Ross County, to achieve safety. No one could have blamed Chambers for going to the tournament, but he stayed and fought for survival in Scotland.
‘You shouldn’t expect that commitment,’ McInnes tells Mail Sport. ‘He was good as gold from the moment he came in the door. He was in a different class. There was nervousness from us when he got called up. It’s a significant tournament and being part of it would have been great.
Luke Chambers was handed his full Liverpool debut in the Europa League win at Anfield
Kilmarnock boss Derek McInnes hailed the youngster’s incredible impact at the Scottish club
The starlet has featured on 14 occasions for the England U19 side and would have made his first appearance for the older age group at the World Cup in Argentina
‘He told me, “I’m not going, my job is here at Killie”. We needed him more than England did at the moment! That tells you a lot about him to be honest. He’s a boy I enjoyed working with, I’ve worked with a lot of players but he’s right up there in terms of likeability and potential.
‘I’ve worked with a lot of loan players and none have made a bigger impact than Luke. What a diamond of a boy he is, Liverpool are lucky to have him. The more important the game, the better he became and more maturity he showed. He handled all the pressure brilliantly.
‘In the modern game now players have far too many distractions and influences – social media, agents, girlfriends – but Luke is a throwback. He did everything 100 per cent right, worked his socks off. But moreover he is a great lad, our boys loved him and he’s still in the group chat.
‘He immersed himself in the cause for us. We get a lot of players coming from England on loan and some of them have an ego, they come in like they’re doing us a favour. It was never that with Luke, he was so appreciative of the opportunity. Him and his family loved it here.
‘Luke was a huge hit with the fans. I’m delighted to have helped him, he will have a good career at Liverpool or anywhere. He is the first defender ever to ask for an assist clause in his contract! That shows what sort of player he is, he loves getting forward like Liverpool’s full-backs do.
‘He grew up as a man, too. The boys host Come Dine With Me events where they take it in turns to cook for each other and he was going to all of them, hosting some nights too. The senior players all took to him. Luke was a wee bit shy at the start but got better at his cooking!’
Those at Liverpool have known about that potential for some years, having joined the academy aged six. Still, some have been surprised at the strides Chambers has made in the last year after being sent on loan to the tough-tackling Scottish Premiership.
Liverpool ran out 5-1 winners against Ligue side Toulouse with Chambers starting at left-back
Jurgen Klopp opted to draft in the youngster over Kostas Tsimikas, with Andy Robertson out until the new year with a shoulder injury
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He made 16 appearances having joined in January, and was helped by fellow Scouser and experienced defender Ash Taylor. Kilmarnock owns flats across the road from the stadium and house-mate Taylor helped Chambers learn how to cook and live on his own.
‘Killie were deep in the midst of a relegation battle and Chambers epitomised everything you need to get out of one – despite having never made a senior appearance before joining,’ says Lochlin Highet, sports editor of the Kilmarnock Standard local newspaper.
‘He turned down a World Cup with England’s Under-20s so he could help Killie avoid the drop and the fans were ever so grateful. What’s funny about when he joined was he told me Jurgen Klopp tuned in to watch him play, I can’t imagine Mr. Klopp booting up Kilmarnock TV!’
Scotland skipper and fellow Liverpool full-back Andy Robertson also took time to speak to Chambers ahead of his loan move, offering him advice on the league and how to flourish as a teenager. And many Killie fans have compared his style of play to Robertson.
Chambers is tough for his small stature, very quick and those at Kilmarnock say he never got bullied by an experienced winger. He was tenacious and the fans loved him. The Scottish club wanted him back but Liverpool refused to let him leave this summer.
Klopp thought he would benefit more from training every day around the first-team squad, learning from the best in playing against Mo Salah and Co during training sessions. A few injuries have stalled him slightly but he is now thriving.
The 19-year-old made his debut off the bench against Leicester in the Carabao Cup and got his first start on Thursday night’s Europa League win over Toulouse. ‘It was a bit of a blur,’ said Chambers on his debut against Leicester.
Reds legend Xabi Alonso and his team Bayer Leverkusen were very interested in Chambers in the summer
‘I didn’t hear the gaffer at first (telling me I was about to play) and Curt (Jones) next to me tapped me and said, “Lad, you’re coming on, you’re coming on”. And then I looked up and he was like, “Get your shirt on”.’
Former Reds legend Xabi Alonso and his team Bayer Leverkusen were very interested in Chambers in the summer but they wanted to take him on a permanent deal and Liverpool were not open to selling. Swansea were also keen, alongside a few other Championship sides.
But it is clear that the loan to Kilmarnock was formative. Chambers was also heavily linked with Bristol Rovers last January, then managed by Joey Barton, but he did not follow fellow youngster Jarell Quansah to the Gas as his team saw McInnes as perfect for his development.
Klopp said on Chambers on Thursday night: ‘I wouldn’t say Luke is in top, top shape because of the injury but we 100 per cent believe in him and trust him. There are a lot of good boys coming up. It is not enough I tell them, sometimes I have to show them (by playing them).’
With Robertson facing a battle to play again in 2023 – he had shoulder surgery on Wednesday and cannot do contact training for some weeks – there will be chances for Chambers. Kostas Tsimikas is likely to play on Sunday but Chambers could feature in the Carabao Cup next week.
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