GUYANA’S Senior National Men’s football team custodian, Kai McKenzie-Lyle, got off to a perfect start in his English Premier League campaign with Liverpool FC, starting between the uprights for the ‘Reds’ 3 – 0 win over Swansea City U23 side.
Liverpool’s goals came from former Chelsea forward Dominic Solanke-Mitchell, Belgium’s youngest World Cup goalscorer Divock Okoth Origi and defender Nathaniel Phillips.
Not many footballers can say they managed to make the jump from non-league to Premier League with one substitute appearance – but Liverpool’s newest recruit can certainly make that claim.
Jurgen Klopp’s team have added the 20-year-old to their side after he impressed on trial over the summer, despite the fact that McKenzie-Lyle has only made a single senior sub appearance.
That came for National League side Barnet back in December 2015, when they were a football league outfit in a 3-1 defeat to Portsmouth, with McKenzie-Lyle making his debut after Jamie Stephens was sent off.
Add in an international career with Guyana, which was started by Football Manager Researchers and where he scored on his debut before saving a penalty in his next game, and Liverpool have themselves an interesting project.
Jack Thorpe was the man who alerted the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) to his eligibility, after helping the popular game out with research before its launch for the 2017 version, and McKenzie-Lyle’s story bears similarity to the international career of one of the Premier League’s newest goalkeeper – Neil Etheridge of Cardiff City.
“I was helping out the Football Manager people at this time,” Thorpe said, “I went on Kai’s Twitter profile, if you still have a look at it now he’s gotten written on it that he’s Jamaican and Guyanese. I just thought that at the time he wasn’t playing first team football at Barnet, he was in a never zone where he was too old for U18s but too young to risk starting him in League Two.”
“Neil Etheridge was the one who came to mind, because I thought he was in a similar position at Fulham, and he started playing for the Philippines at a really young age and he got some really good experience and it’s worked out for him long term, so I thought that might have the same benefit for Kai,” Thorpe said.
It didn’t take long for McKenzie-Lyle to get the call-up for the Guyana side. Thorpe spoke to Faizal Khan, alerting him to Lyle’s eligibility to play, and Khan did the rest.
“The guy who is the captain of Guyana now is a guy called Sam Cox, who played for Spurs as a first year pro but got released, and I knew him and knew he had just got called up for Guyana. I sent him a message and asked to put me in touch with the FA, and he put me in touch with the guy called Faizal. I said this guy is pretty confident, he’s massive and can stop the ball most of the time, are you interested? They (Guyana) called him up pretty much straight after that – he had to get the passport which took a few months but other than that they were down for it,” Thorpe reasoned.
Those call-ups have seen McKenzie-Lyle gain more first team exposure at an international level than he has at club level, something that has played an instrumental part in showing Liverpool he has the potential to make it at the Premier League giants.
Not playing regularly at club level is bound to have its stresses – Barnet were relegated to the National League last season, and despite their troubles Martin Allen sent Lyle on loan to Hayes & Yeading United, who play in the Isthmian League South Central Division.
However, new manager John Still brought in keepers Richards Matrevics and Mark Cousins, meaning McKenzie-Lyle’s route to first team football was blocked once more, leading to the 20-year-old heading on trial to the Reds in July.
But how did a young player who has been deemed good-enough for Liverpool, not get a chance at Barnet?
Thorpe explains, “Kai is in this grey zone where people didn’t want to take a risk starting him because of his age, but actually he’s quite a good goalkeeper. In a way he’s in a false position, I worked for Barnet for a few years and we had a number of kids that went to never play first team football, but went to Premier League clubs at U21 age.”
“We had a few kids at Barnet who got moves elsewhere and I think [that] is Liverpool thinking outside the box a bit, in that he is a relatively inexpensive gamble. Physically, he ticks every single box you want from a goalkeeper – he’s six foot five, he’s strong and commanding on crosses, and the other aspects of being a goalkeeper you could argue are more coachable. If you put him in that environment where he’s receiving a better quality of coaching, maybe he can suddenly kick on,” Thorpe reasoned.
It may be some time before Liverpool fans see Lyle turn out for the first team at Anfield – he’s behind Allisson, Simon Mignolet, Kamil Grabara and Caoimhin Kelly in the pecking order at the moment.
But do fans need to know about their six-foot five-inch shot-stopper? “In some areas he’s already a top keeper,” Thorpe explained, adding “You look at your four corners and for the physical corner he’s outstanding already. It all depends, he’s got huge potential but he also isn’t the finished product by any means, so I wouldn’t expect him to be playing any first team games straight away. But it would be nice if he gets a platform to play regularly in the U21s, which he wasn’t even getting at Barnet, because his loan spells have been at a low level.”
“He’s had very few minutes in his career so far and that’s why the Guyana thing was nice, because although he hasn’t played many times he’s been exposed to that senior environment, because until you’ve had those minutes outside of youth football, a lot of people and managers consider your CV blank, even though you’ve got a lot of outings. He’s got very few games, and I think if he had more he’d be the first choice keeper at Barnet right now but as it turns out, this maybe a better route for him.