Ki-Jana Hoever detailed his happiness at signing a long-term contract with Liverpool, but explained why he's well aware this is just the first step on a long road to achieving his ambitions with the club.
The 17-year-old put pen to paper at the Reds’ training base in Evian on Wednesday morning – a deal that represents the first professional one of his fledgling career.
Hoever already has one first-team appearance to his name after he became the third-youngest debutant in the club’s history at the age of 16 years and 354 days when he appeared as a substitute in an FA Cup tie at Wolverhampton Wanderers in January.
The Netherlands youth international is aware, however, the new contract represents nothing more than another milestone on a journey that has plenty more hard work ahead if he is to fulfil his potential and establish himself as a first-team regular at Anfield.
Moments after signing the contract, Hoever sat down with Liverpoolfc.com in Evian to discuss the new deal, his progress so far and aims for the future.
Read on for a transcript of the interview, or watch it in full on LFCTV GO...
Ki-Jana, firstly, congratulations. Tell us how it feels to sign this new contract…
I’m really happy to stay longer at Liverpool. I am really happy to have signed.
How have you found life at Liverpool so far? You’re still a very young boy, living in a foreign country and playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. What has that experience been like?
The first two months it was not easy for me, but now I have just gotten used to it and everything started to get easier with the English and everything, and the boys. It’s good.
The contract you’ve signed is reward for the hard work you’ve put in so far. How do you feel, football-wise, you have improved in the last few months?
Of course, the football style of Liverpool is different than a lot of teams, including the team I played for before, so in the beginning that was also new for me – to play the Liverpool style. I think now I have already improved in that – and I can still become better in that. It’s gone well, to be fair.
That first six months, very few players of your age could talk about the experience you have. Can you take us back to your debut? How soon before the game did you know you were going to be involved in the squad?
In that period, I was training at Melwood because Trent and Joe Gomez had injuries. I was training there and there was the FA Cup game, we had a few injuries, but I didn’t know if I would be in the squad. I was a little bit hoping for a space on the bench – and that’s what happened. I think I knew just one day before the game that I’d be on the bench, but I was really calm, really happy that I was on the bench. When I came to Liverpool, I never expected it to be so quick, so I was just really happy.
Going from that to an injury early on to Dejan Lovren in that game, what was going through your mind? Did you think you’d get the call to come on, or not?
No, first of all the coach said to Trent to warm up. He has all the experience to play in the backline of Liverpool, so [I thought] he would probably figure something out with Trent with [almost] the whole game to play. I also needed to warm up; I didn’t have time to think about it, so I just [began] warming up and then he said to me, ‘Ki, come on.’ I also didn’t have time to think, so I just went on and played.
You were part of the U18s squad, had played for the U23s, so to then become somebody to break a record to make an appearance for Liverpool must have been unbelievable for you?
Everything went really quickly, but if there is a chance then I knew for myself that I needed to take it. This was one – and also on the training pitch [at Melwood] was a chance. I just tried to do that.
Did that help integrate you into the first-team squad, making your debut as soon as you did and being around all of these senior players?
I think in that game I showed that I did alright against a good team like Wolves. I can still learn a lot of things and I still need to do a lot of things before I can be a starter or anything, but I showed it was possible, it’s not like I am too weak or anything for it. It was also a little bit of a test for me, like ‘let’s see if he can handle the pressure’.
A few months on from that, you were part of the squad that won the Champions League, you were on the bus when they celebrated with close to one million people in the city centre. You couldn’t in your wildest dreams have imagined being part of an experience like this?
It was amazing. I never saw that happening when I came to Liverpool, for everything to be so quick, but I think that’s also [a sign] of the trust of the club in me. That’s why I came here, not just because of this, but the club had spoken a lot of good words to me. That’s one of the reasons.
Being part of this pre-season, you’ve been one of the positives – as have so many of the young players, too. Do you feel that development has really helped you over the last few weeks?
The training was hard in the beginning and everyone found it hard. The results we’ve had haven’t been that good, but for the young boys it is just a good experience to be here, to get that experience, so I hope just to learn a lot of things here and take it with me for my next steps.
You have signed this contract and it’s not just an indication of what the club think you can maybe offer in the future, but also maybe what you can offer in the immediate future as well. What targets have you set yourself in the next season?
I need to be realistic. I hope to make some minutes in the first team this year, of course, but I know that I will probably play more games for the U23s. I will just train hard with the first team, show them what I can do and if there is a chance, I will be ready. That’s what I am hoping for.
Nathaniel Clyne’s injury maybe offers that opportunity, doesn’t it? It is awful to see a teammate go through an awful injury like that, but what you’ve shown is when you’re asked a question about if you’re ready, you have to prove it. Do you feel if asked the question, you could fill in where needed?
Yes, I think so, but I just need to learn a lot of things. I am still 17. For me, age doesn’t matter, it just depends on whether you’re ready or not. On some things I am maybe not 100 per cent ready, but on others I am. It’s a choice the coach has to make, but I just need to keep doing what I am doing to get better at the things that can be better. Then it will be fine.
What do your friends back home say? They are probably still in education back home and here you are training alongside guys who are probably their heroes in Georginio Wijnaldum and the national team captain, Virgil van Dijk…
They are just really proud of me. They are in school, but they know I am living the dream and I am really thankful for it. I am not like a guy who is talking; if I am with my friends, because I was in school with them, I just try to be the old-school boy! It is special to train with all of those big players, but when with them [my friends] I am just the old Ki.
You are around this first-team squad, though. Can you give us an indication of how much excitement there is amongst the team, the squad, for the season ahead?
I think, as I said, the results [in pre-season] haven’t been that good, but we look fresh, we look good, and everyone is happy for the season to start. It will be all good, everyone is fine, everyone is fit apart from Clyney, which isn’t good for him and I hope he will recover strongly and will come back quick. Everything is good.
How much are you looking forward to Manchester City at the weekend?
I don’t know if I will be in the squad, I don’t know how many subs there can be. Today we play Lyon, so I just focus on that and afterwards we will see if I am in the squad against City. If that happens then, of course, I will hope to get some minutes and see what I can do against the Premier League winners.
So, in summary, you’ve signed a brand new contract with Liverpool. How does it feel?
It feels just good. As I said, it’s a lot of trust from the club to let me sign this new contract. They have given me a lot of trust, so I will try to do them proud and show what I can do for this club – and I hope these are not the last few years I play here.