“I don’t think it’s the worst thing that could have happened to me in my career.”
Conor Masterson has no regrets about his time with Liverpool. The Irish central defender left Liverpool at the end of the season after his contract expired.
Masterson is maintaining a positive attitude and is an example to all young Irish footballers who experience setbacks. After being released by the Premier League club, he is looking forward rather than back.
Masterson joined the club as a teenager from Lucan United in a deal worth a reported €1m. Liverpool rated the 20-year-old highly, and he appeared on the bench three times for Jurgen Klopp’s side. However, injuries halted his progress at Anfield.
“I was a little surprised (to be released), to be honest. But I don’t think it’s the worst thing that could have happened to me in my career,” Masterson said following Ireland under-21 training at Johnstown House Hotel in Enfield on Tuesday.
“I think I needed it, to be honest. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter in my career.”
The Celbridge-native spent a large part of his life with Liverpool in what appears to have been a thoroughly positive experience.
“I went over when I was 13, and I’m 20 going on 21 now, so seven years,” Masterson said.
“I had some great experiences, I can’t complain. I supported them all my life. To be playing for the club I support has been an honour and a great achievement. I really enjoyed it.”
Masterson also revealed that he spoke with Klopp before leaving Anfield, and spoke about how he learned from senior players such as Virgil van Dijk.
“I spoke to Klopp briefly, but not much. He just said ‘best of luck’ and stuff like that. I spoke more to the academy manager.
“Just by training with Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk, you’re just learning,” he continued.
“You see little touches, little moves, how Van Dijk defends against a long ball. You learn little things that you wouldn’t think about before because these are just top-class players.”
“It’s been an honour to play for Ireland and I’m delighted that Stephen has picked me.”
Masterson, who is part of Stephen Kenny’s under-21 squad as they prepare for the Toulon Tournament, said that there are a “few” clubs interested in signing him. He didn’t rule out a move away from British football or a return to Ireland. However, his immediate focus is on the upcoming international tournament.
Ireland have been drawn in a group alongside Mexico, China and Bahrain for the prestigious competition held in France. Kenny’s side get their campaign underway on June 3 against China. Masterson has enjoyed playing under the new Ireland under-21 coach and will be a key part of the team during the tournament.
“It’s been brilliant. It’s been an honour to play for Ireland and I’m delighted that Stephen has picked me,” he said.
“The attacking style of play is really good and I think we’re going to do really well in Toulon. We’ve got a strong team. There’s probably eight new players now, but they’re going to add to the squad and we’re going to do really well.”
“He always wants me to drive in with the ball, play nice passes, keep it constructive,” Masterson continued.
“The way we play is out from the back. Traditionally, people think Ireland teams just play long ball, but Stephen Kenny is changing that. It’s a new sort of era. We’re trying to play the whole time and show individually what we can do on the ball.”
The central defender is also relishing the chance to kickstart his career at club level, after playing for Liverpool’s under-23 side for two years.
“In senior football, you’re fighting for three points,” he said.
“It means something. Whereas in 23s football, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just like a challenge match. I wanted to move on, fight for my career, fight for points, lives are on the line basically in senior football. So, that’s what I wanted to move on to.”
There is no longer a clearly defined career path for Irish footballers and setbacks are inevitable. Masterson recognises this and doesn’t see his release from Liverpool as a mark of failure, but an opportunity to move on and build his career.
“I wouldn’t look back and say I failed because I don’t think I failed,” he said.
“I just think I needed a different pathway, the next chapter, because there’s no point sitting in the 23s and waiting for your chance, because it’s unlikely it’s going to come playing 23s football. So, I think I need to prove myself by going out and playing men’s football, and showing people what I can do.”