Conor Masterson eager for next step as Liverpool chapter ends
Ireland under-21 defender hopes to catch eye of visiting scouts at Toulon tournament
Republic of Ireland defender Conor Masterson during under-21 training at Johnstown House Hotel, Enfield, Co Meath. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
A year after being part of Liverpool’s extended official party for the Champions League final in Kiev, Conor Masterson will watch Saturday’s game against Spurs in Toulon where he is hoping some positive displays for the Ireland under-21s over the next two weeks help him to carve out some new career opportunities.
The 20-year-old defender was told a few weeks back that he would be released when his contract expired in the summer and though he has already had interest, he says, from a number of Championship and League One clubs, there will be plenty of scouts at the games in the south of France eager to see someone with his credentials put through their paces in a fairly competitive setting.
Masterson was regarded as something of a hot prospect through most of his time on Merseyside. He had first caught Liverpool’s eye at the age of 12 and appeared to be making an almost perfect progression towards the first team when he made the bench in April 2018 for a Champions League encounter with Manchester City and a Merseyside league derby.
Injury derailed him, though, and as is always the case at the big academies there was someone else about the place only too willing to seize the opportunity. Still, he suggests, he might have stuck around to play with the Under-23s but his determination to push forward made a backward step seem preferable.
“I wanted to go out and play,” he says. “I had told the club that I didn’t want to keep carrying on in the 23s, hoping to break into the first team; that I wanted to go out and prove myself at another team and so that’s what’s going on at the moment.”
'Whether I go to another Premier League club or drop down to the Championship or whatever, I just want to play and show what I can do'
Last season, a loan move would have been the obvious next step but a knee injury intervened at precisely the wrong time and after a frustrating season, it came as no great surprise when the club informed him that there would be no new deal.
“They spoke to me and obviously it’s tough at the time,” he says. “I was down . . . yeah; I would say I was down but to be honest, I think it’s the best thing for me, going forward in football, taking on a new challenge and showing what I can do.
“I’m really looking forward to it now. It was disappointing at the time but exciting now. It’s a new chapter in my career and I’m looking forward to it.”
Under-21 manager Stephen Kenny and former senior international Keith Andrews, who works as coach with the team, have both spoken this week of how impressed they have been with the maturity Masterson has displayed.
There is certainly no trace of bitterness as he talks about the club or its coaching staff, all of whom he recalls warmly. A smile breaks out as he mentions all the good times he had sharing digs with Caoimhin Kelleher, the Cork-born goalkeeper who is in Madrid right now. Masterson moved out shortly after hearing the news about his future but, he says, he will be rooting for the team on Saturday evening.
“I can’t say anything bad about Liverpool. I’ve enjoyed my time there. It was an unbelievable experience being on the bench last year in the Champions League, against Everton in the derby . . . yeah, it’s been an unbelievable experience so just ‘thank you’ really.
“Hopefully they do it,” he says. “Hopefully the team does well, gets it over the line in the Champions League. Caoimhin is obviously with them and good luck to him. He is a great fella. You can’t get better than Caoimhin . . . chilled, relaxed, a good player and a good person. We lived in the city centre. Rodney Street. For four years. We had some great times so I can’t complain really.”
Ultimately, he says, “I don’t feel there’s any disgrace leaving Liverpool. You look at Virgil van Dijk and you see Joel Matip now and Joe Gomez, unbelievable players, unbelievable. You are trying to break into the team, of course, but I don’t think I had a real chance really. That’s why I want to go out and prove myself.”
He believes he has received just about the best education in the game imaginable and even if he is unsure about where that takes him next, he is, he maintains, confident things will work out well in the end.
“Whether I go to another Premier League club or drop down to the Championship or whatever, I just want to play and show what I can do and then you never know what can happen in the future. You can come back up.
“I don’t know exactly [what level he is capable of playing first-team football at now] but I think I could go into a Championship team or a League One team and fight for my place. I’d be confident of that, yeah. Hopefully, though, a few more teams will be looking at me over in Toulon. It’s a big opportunity for me and for all of the team really.”