For any young, local lad coming through Liverpool’s academy the comparisons are bound to be expected. Even more so when you play in the same position.
The same year that his idol Steven Gerrard lifted the Champions League trophy after the miracle of Istanbul, Conor Coady joined the club’s youth ranks.
Coady was born in nearby St Helens and grew up a Liverpool supporter. He went on to captain the Under 23s, and there were high hopes that the player who started out as a box-to-box midfielder could become a first-team fixture.
Conor Coady smiles for the cameras after leading Wolves to victory at Leeds on Monday night
Coady has excelled as the beating heart of Wolves’ rise under Nuno Espirito Santo (right)
Coady had to laugh off suggestions from Jamie Carragher that Jurgen Klopp is interested
Being the next Gerrard, though? That was always going to be a tall order, though his commitment to the cause when never in doubt when he was left with a bloody nose during a fiery FA Youth Cup clash with Manchester United in 2011.
Coady spent years on the fringes of the senior squad after first making the bench for a Europa League last-32 game against Slavia Prague in February 2011, under Kenny Dalglish.
Gerrard was approaching the end of his career but he remained Liverpool’s talismanic leader and impossible to shift.
Opportunity arrived under Brendan Rodgers, and Coady was handed his debut in another Europa League game – this time a group-stage defeat in Russia, away to Guus Hiddink’s Anzhi Makhachkala in November 2012.
Later that season he made his Premier League debut, a late cameo in a 3-1 victory at Fulham, when Daniel Sturridge bagged a hat-trick.
But that was to be the extent of Coady’s first-team experience at Liverpool. He moved on loan to League One Sheffield United in 2013-14 and decided, with his chances of breaking into Rodgers’ Champions League side remote, to move on.
Coady came through the ranks at Liverpool after joining the club’s academy in 2005
Coady celebrates during an FA Youth Cup game against Manchester United in March 2011
Coady was sent off in a fiery game where Paul Pogba (not pictured) also saw red
Speaking with his former team-mate Jamie Carragher earlier this year, he said his move to Championship side Huddersfield was ‘the best decision I ever made’.
‘Brendan Rodgers was good for me when I was younger. I had a season at Melwood, I was training with the first team and learning off them,’ he recalled.
‘That was big for me, but I always knew that it was going to be tough. I was always realistic in terms of my chances at Liverpool.
‘I was training with the first team which was great, I was learning a lot off the different players, how to play and how to do things, but I was always realistic in terms of how hard it was going to be for myself.
‘I always knew at some point I’d have to come away from Liverpool to really experience being a first-team player.
‘Liverpool were always getting better, they were always improving, and the players who were in the same position as me were just ridiculous.’
Coady made his first-team debut in a Europa League game away at Anzhi Makhachkala
Coady shares a joke with Jamie Carragher as manager Brendan Rodgers watches on in 2012
But it was the move to Wolves in 2015, and the arrival of Nuno Espirito Santo in 2017, that saw Coady really push on.
Nuno shifted Coady from his favoured central midfield spot into the heart of a three-man defence and handed him the captaincy at Molineux.
He has barely looked backed. Wolves were promoted to the Premier League as champions in 2018 and Coady has played every single game since, and was also an ever-present in last season’s unlikely run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
His excellent form finally saw him earn England recognition, with Gareth Southgate calling him up for Nations League action last month. This month he scored his first goal for his country, in the 3-0 friendly victory over Wales at Wembley.
It has been a meteoric rise for Coady in the six years since he left Liverpool, and one that Carragher has admitted has caught him by surprise.
‘A lot of people ask me about yourself, and to be honest, I thought you’d be a top Championship player really,’ Carragher told Coady, during his appearance on Sky Sports’ Off Script podcast in April.
Coady challenges his idol Steven Gerrard (right) during a training session at Melwood in 2013
Coady has excelled since joining Wolves in 2015 and earned a first England call-up this year
‘So what you’ve done, even though I knew you so well as a youngster coming through…
‘I wouldn’t say it’s surprised me, but I’ve got so much respect and admiration for you, for how you’ve basically got yourself to being a Premier League captain for a team in Europe.
‘I wouldn’t have thought you’d have got to that level.’
Carragher and Coady were reunited on Monday Night Football this week after Wolves’ hard-fought win over Leeds, and the Sky Sports pundit couldn’t help but tease the boyhood Liverpool fan over a possible return to Anfield.
Carragher jokingly claimed that Jurgen Klopp had namechecked him as a potential replacement for the stricken Virgil van Dijk, and Coady replied: ‘I can’t believe you’ve just put this on me here, no!
‘I can’t believe it. Not at all, I love playing for this football club every single day.
‘We’ve just beat Leeds in an amazing, amazing game.’
Coady challenges Mohamed Salah for the ball during an FA Cup clash in January 2017
Coady has been a regular for Wolves after being moved to the centre of a back three by Nuno
Carragher added: ‘You must be honoured though, with Klopp saying that?’
Coady: ‘Listen, you know what I’m like mate!’
Carragher was only goading his former team-mate, and though Coady was quick to laugh off the suggestions, it is clear that the club is still very close to his heart.
You could forgive him for getting carried away at the suggestion of a return to his boyhood team, where there must also be a sense of unfinished business. Liverpool’s need to dip into the transfer market for a centre-back has only intensified after Van Dijk’s season-ending knee injury in the Merseyside derby.
It reflects well on Coady and the upward trajectory of his development that he has even entered the conversation, and it would be a fairytale story for him to return as the solution to the absence of the world’s best centre-back.
But Coady has excelled in a back three, and it is only a change in formation from Southgate that has brought him international recognition. It would be some gamble for Klopp to go for Coady, who would not come cheaply having just signed a new five-year deal at Wolves, and slot him into the current back four.
Jurgen Klopp is facing a defensive headache after the knee injury suffered by Virgil van Dijk
There has been talk of Liverpool needing to adapt their system in the absence of Van Dijk, with the use of a back three thrown up as a possibility, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson as rampaging wing-backs.
Klopp has used three centre-backs before, but only ever to close games out while holding onto a slender lead. It would be a huge departure from his favoured 4-3-3 system, but he and his assistant Pep Lijnders have been keen to keep the champions ‘unpredictable’ in the bid to defend their title.
Coady has emerged as a ball-playing centre-back with an almost unique skillset in the Premier League. He possesses a range of passing, particularly in his ability to ping cross-field balls up the pitch, that no one else matches.
His passing range is a key weapon for Wolves, and a huge part of their identity. It certainly wouldn’t look out of place at Liverpool, where using the pace of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane on the break is as important as playing out from the back.
There is no doubt Coady would add a new dimension to Liverpool if he were to come full circle and return. That is testament to the incredible job he has done in reinventing himself as one of the most consistent and reliable performers in the Premier League. At 27, it’s a step up that could take his career to the next level.