Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2012: Liverpool's Martin Kelly can aid England's cause

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

The man in the squad, if not in the spotlight, is Liverpool's Martin Kelly. He is the fame-free youngster caught between the giant public figures of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, whose profiles dwarf his. Of the current 23-man squad, only Jack Butland, the 19-year-old goalkeeper, is less well known.

But it is Kelly's inexperience, rather than inability, which explains this. The 22-year-old has only started 22 Premier League games for Liverpool, despite making his debut in 2008. He has never been a regular for his club, with injuries and established team-mates preventing him from making the deep impression into the first team that many had expected.

Given Kelly's strength, aerial ability and natural reading of play, this has been a surprise. Most of his games for Liverpool have been at right-back but close observers say he would be best suited moving inside. He is not and will never be quick enough to be an elite full-back, and for this reason he has struggled to displace Glen Johnson.

Kelly does play with a serenity, though, rare in young English defenders, and one which would be best used at centre-back. The former England international defender Lee Dixon pointed to this when he wrote about Kelly in The Independent last summer.

"He is 21 but plays with an assurance way beyond his years and experience, he looks like he has seasons under his belt," Dixon observed. "I remember making my debut for Burnley in the Second Division and feeling petrified. Kelly runs out at Anfield to play in front of 40,000 people and looks completely at ease. He has so much confidence and looks set for a long career."

Despite his eventual inclusion in the European Championship squad, a meaningful achievement for any 22-year-old regardless of circumstance, Kelly is probably less far along the road of his career than many would have hoped. Kelly is a local but not a Liverpudlian; he is from Newton-le-Willows, a town in between Warrington and Wigan. After he had progressed through the Liverpool academy, his debut was in a Champions League game at PSV Eindhoven in December 2008, back when Liverpool FC was a different place: Rafael Benitez was manager and they were top of the Premier League. Kelly's first start was not until October 2009, when he performed impressively in a 2-1 home defeat by Lyons.

It was the following season that Kelly played more; the early-starting Europa League campaign, under Roy Hodgson, gave him games, and led to an England Under-21 call-up. Kelly was sporadically good, and very calm on Kenny Dalglish's first game back last year in the FA Cup at Old Trafford.

His 11 league starts, plus 12 in the cups, were enough to win Kelly the club young player of the year award, and a similar record last season – one fewer in the league, four fewer in the cups – won him the same trophy again. As a body of work it might not feel like enough, but this is no normal England squad.

Belfast Telegraph