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Liverpool history-maker broke transfer record but proved to be a costly mistake

It was a transfer that had the sort of allure that instantly gets supporters excited.

When Liverpool signed Mark Kennedy back in March 1995, the young Irishman’s arrival ticked all the boxes.

A record-breaking, history-making signature, Kennedy moved to Anfield as the most expensive teenager in British football when he arrived from Millwall for £2million 25 years ago this week.

Few other combinations draw fans in and raise expectations like a young signing and a big price tag, and while today Manchester United’s Anthony Martial remains the costliest teenager on these shores, it was Kennedy who held that mantle a quarter of a century ago.

Roy Evans swooped to bring the Irish winger to Anfield on March 22 1995 with many believing the 18-year-old to be the next big thing in Premier League football. Quick, tricky and the owner of a fantastic left foot, Kennedy had all the hallmarks of a classic wideman.

“Basically we’re buying potential even though the fee is quite high,” Evans said at the time.

“Mark can play wide left or up front. He’s comfortable receiving the ball, he can go past people and he’s a good passer.

“How soon Mark makes it to the first team is up to him. He has to settle in but as soon as he starts doing his stuff I won’t be afraid to play him.”

Kennedy had come to national prominence just a few months earlier with a rocket of a strike that knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup. The Ireland boss of the time, Jack Charlton, described the Dubliner as one of the biggest potential assets for the national team in decades, such was the excitement around the left-winger.

“It’s the proudest moment of my life,” Kennedy said on his first day as a Liverpool player.

“The first I heard of Liverpool’s interest was when the gaffer, Mick McCarthy, rang me last night and told me to come round to his house because he had some good news for me.

“I’ve been a Liverpool supporter all my life.”

Millwall boss McCarthy added: “It breaks my heart to see him go but I wasn’t prepared to stand in his way – even if I could. Offers like the one he had this week, come, perhaps, once in a lifetime – I wish him well in the challenge of handling the pressures of his new career at Anfield.”

But while players like Wayne Rooney, Kylian Mbappe and, most recently, Erling Haaland thrived as record-breaking teens, Kennedy’s was a story of disappointment, frustration and unfilled potential.

Not that anyone would have guessed from the instant he rattled the woodwork from long range with virtually his first touch as a Liverpool player against Leeds United.

Despite starting brightly, however, the writing quickly started to be written on the wall for the youngster at Anfield. Evans’ insistence that he wouldn’t be scared to throw the winger into the deep end wouldn’t come to fruition.

Instead, Kennedy made just five starts in total across four seasons, costing the Reds a cool £400,000 for each one. Relatively small change in 2020, but it would no doubt have left the Anfield accountants scratching their heads back then.

Liverpool’s Stan Collymore celebrates with Fowler, Jones and McManaman after scoring in January 1996

With the likes of Stan Collymore, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman starring for Evans’ Reds, Kennedy found opportunities difficult to come by during an era that saw less rotation than the modern game.

His tender years perhaps shield him from having the always dreaded ‘flop’ tag levelled at him but there can be no denying this was a big-money gamble that yielded little.

At a time when Liverpool were fighting to stay afloat at the top of the English football pyramid, reckless transfers like Kennedy’s often permeated through the club and laid bare the lack of clarity and joined-up thinking behind the scenes.

Almost three years to the day since joining Liverpool, Kennedy left the club, aged just 21, with the Reds commanding a £1.75m fee for his services from Wimbledon. On the face of it, it appeared to be a decent fee for a player who hadn’t made the grade but the football landscape of transfer fees had changed dramatically during the Irishman’s stay on Merseyside.

The likes of Ronaldo (£19.5m), Alan Shearer (£15m) and Rivaldo (£16m) had all moved for massive, record-breaking money during Kennedy’s time at Anfield. A £2m fee no longer resonated the way it had when Liverpool took the chance on a fleet-footed Dubliner with nothing but potential in March 1995.

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After another frustrating spell at Wimbledon, Kennedy dropped to the First Division with Manchester City and enjoyed arguably the best spell of his career at Wolves for four years. A brief year at Crystal Palace then led him to Cardiff City.

His last appearance came for Ipswich Town in 2011 before the joined the Tractor Boys’ coaching staff. He took charge of Macclesfield Town in January this year and is working his up the management ladder.

Must-read Liverpool FC news

Liverpool had their fingers burned when they took the plunge on Kennedy. His signing remains a cautionary tale for football’s decision-makers that spending big on teenage talent can pose a myriad of problems.

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