When Ben Woodburn signed for Preston North End this summer, it ended the 22-year-old’s 15-year association with Liverpool, a club where he still holds the record for the youngest ever goalscorer.
But with first-team football being the Welshman’s priority, Woodburn said “his decision was already made” as soon as he heard of interest from Preston boss Ryan Lowe.
A young manager himself, Lowe, 43, has a reputation for providing young players with first-team opportunities and developing their talent, and has never made a secret of his admiration for the Welsh midfielder in the past.
“I’ve known the gaffer for a few years now,” Woodburn told the EFL.
“I think he’s tried to loan me out in the past, so when I became a free agent this summer and the opportunity to come to Preston came up, I was really excited about the prospect.”
After a successful pre-season trial, Woodburn initially signed a one-year deal with North End, with an option to extend for a further season.
“Come and play for someone like him [Lowe], it really gives confidence to players like me and players my age. I knew as soon as I heard he was interested. I like him, I like his plans – they were very similar to mine – so it was just a good game.
“Because of that, I came here with a mentality of coming, working hard, doing my best and if I play well the manager will give me a chance because that’s what he does. If I do all these things i hope to reap the rewards it’s been my intention since i walked in the door and it’s been really natural since i got here it’s what you want when you sign up for a new club.
Woodburn, whose father was a football manager, joined Liverpool Academy aged seven, spending a total of 15 years with Merseyside Club.
“When you’re in an environment like that and training with the best players in the world for that long, you learn so much,” he added.
“I was constantly watching them, learning from them and picking up pieces that I had taken so much from. It’s impossible not to.
Woodburn first burst onto the scene when he made his Premier League debut in November 2016 in a 2-0 win over Sunderland at Anfield. At just 17 years and 42 days old at the time, he became the third youngest player to play for the Reds.
After an impressive display, just three days later, Woodburn was given his League Cup debut by manager Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool faced Leeds United in the quarter-finals. It was a memorable night for the teenager who etched his name in Liverpool history, becoming the club’s youngest goalscorer – a record previously held by Michael Owen.
“It’s probably the best moment of my career so far,” he said previously.
Following his club success, Woodburn made his mark on the international stage soon after, when he became the second-youngest player to score for Wales, striking in a Champions League qualifier. world against Austria in September 2017.
But competition for places meant Woodburn struggled to break into the Liverpool first team on a regular basis.
The midfielder had subsequent loan spells with Sheffield United, Oxford United, Blackpool and Hearts – some more successful than others but each a learning curve for the youngster who was key in his development to get to where it is today.
“Some of them didn’t go as well as I had hoped,” he said. “Each offered something different, but I learned so much from each of them and that’s part of developing as a player.
“You take so much from meeting new people, playing with new players and playing in different divisions. It’s both interesting and important for development and I feel like I’m well placed now and ready to start my career.
After rising through the ranks with Liverpool and graduating from the Academy’s first team, Woodburn described his departure from Merseyside as “difficult” but “part of being a footballer”, identifying first-team football as his priority.
“Of course it was difficult, but I got to a point where I had to move on. It’s very difficult to get into a Liverpool team, they’re one of the best teams in the world. I’m so grateful for everything they did for me and the time i spent there i had some amazing times i will never forget but i wanted and needed first team football That’s really important as a young player, that’s what to look for.
“I had a few options but I wanted to come to Preston and challenge myself at this level.”
Now playing regular Sky Bet Championship football, Woodburn has a new chance with the North West club and relishes the challenge ahead.
North End are yet to concede a league goal this season, keeping a clean sheet in their first five games of a season for the first time in club history.
Despite only scoring one at the other end, they are just three points behind new leaders Sheffield United.
“As players you want to play against the best players who play for the best clubs and that’s what you get in the Championship,” Woodburn said.
“There are huge clubs in this division, but it’s really good to play in these kinds of games, especially when you know how much they matter.
“Anybody can beat anybody in the league, it’s crazy, and as players we’re really aware of that, but I feel like I’ve settled in really well here and concentrate fully on this club and to play as often as possible.”