When Ben Woodburn signed for Preston North End in the summer, it ended the 22-year-old’s 15-year association with Liverpool, a Club where he still holds the record for being the youngest-ever goalscorer.
But with first-team football the priority for the Welshman, Woodburn said that his “mind was already made up” as soon as he heard of the interest from Preston boss Ryan Lowe.
A young manager himself, 43-year-old Lowe has a reputation for giving young players first-team opportunities and developing their talent, and has made no secret in the past of his admiration for the Wales midfielder.
“I’ve known the gaffer for a few years now,” Woodburn told the EFL.
“I think he’s tried to sign me on loan in the past so when I became a free agent in the summer and the opportunity to come to Preston came about, I was really excited by the prospect of that.”
After a successful trial in pre-season, Woodburn initially signed a one-year deal with North End, with an option to extend by a further season.
“Coming to play for someone like him [Lowe], it really gives players like me and players my age confidence. 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 just felt like a good match.
“Because of that I’ve very much come in here with a mentality of come in, work hard, try my absolute best and if I play well, the manager will give me a chance because that’s what he does. If I do all of those things, hopefully I’ll reap the rewards. That’s been my intention since I step foot through the door and it’s all felt really natural since coming here, which is what you want when you sign for a new Club.”
Woodburn, whose dad was a football coach, joined Liverpool Academy as a seven-year-old, spending 15 years in total with the 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 bits and pieces that I took 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 as he etched his name in more Liverpool history, becoming the club’s youngest-ever 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 World Cup qualifier 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 one a learning curve for the youngster that have played a key part in his development to get to where he is today.
“Some didn’t go as well as I had hoped,” he said. “Each one offered something different but I learnt so much from all of them and that’s all 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 in a good place now and ready to kick on with my career.”
Having risen through the ranks with Liverpool and graduated to the first team from the Academy, Woodburn described his departure from Merseyside as “difficult” but “part of being a footballer”, identifying first-team football as as his priority.
“Of course it was difficult but I came to a point where I needed to move on. It’s very tough to get into a Liverpool side, they’re on 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 moments that I’ll never forget but I wanted and needed first-team football. That’s really important as a young player, it’s what you have 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 fresh chance with the north west Club and is relishing the challenge ahead.
North End are yet to concede a goal in the league this term, keeping a clean sheet in their opening five matches of a season for the first time in the Club's history.
Despite only scoring one at the other end, they are just three points behind new leaders Sheffield United.
“As players you want to be playing against top players who play for the top Clubs and that’s what you get in the Championship,” Woodburn said.
“There are some massive Clubs in this division but it’s really good to play in those sorts of games, especially when you know how much they matter.
“Anyone can beat anyone in the Championship, it’s mad, and as players we’re really aware of that but I feel like I’ve settled in really well here and fully focused on this club and playing as often as I possibly can.”