LFC academy director Frank McParland recently said the club’s target is to have 50% of the first-team squad having coming through the academy. We take a look at the current crop of youngsters in the Reds under 18’s squad.
AFTER the Great Academy Reform of 2009, Liverpool Football Club has rebuilt it’s reputation as a centre of footballing excellence – providing the first team with several fresh new faces who have benefitted from the improved coaching, nutrition and facilities.
The likes of Martin Kelly, Jack Robinson, Jon Flanagan and Raheem Sterling have established themselves as well known names while their counterparts Suso, Andre Wisdom and Jerome Sinclair have also impressed fans in their varying amounts of brief displays. Wisdom in particular has emerged (out of position) as a genuine first team option.
However, as the majority of fans are embracing the influx of talented teenagers to the first team, the coaching staff at the Kirby Academy have already switched their sights to the next group of prospects. This article will briefly explore the current U18 set up; analysing players, management and tactics as well as trying (in a non-pressuring way!) to assess the first team prospects of those young Reds. The clichéd line is that “The stars of tomorrow” are in the youth squads… I won’t sink so low, but it’s safe to assume that with Liverpool’s current set up and ideology that they will get chances if they are good enough.
It’s fair to say Steve Cooper has had a difficult start as Liverpool U18s manager. Given a side packed with first year scholars – mostly his U16 team from last season – he was always facing an uphill challenge to form a competitive team. Liverpool have been shipping goals at U18 level but this was always expected with a back four whose average age is far younger than 17 and have never played U18 football before.
Cooper has started with some interesting ideas; the core 4231 formation remains unchanged – a feature of the entire Academy – but his commitment to a tiki-taka style is perhaps not as clear cut as that of Borrell or even Marsh and certainly not Rodgers. However, that is not to say the style won’t emerge overtime and it is early into his tenure as manager so perhaps it is too difficult to judge yet.
What Cooper is excellent at is player development. Already this season we have seen several players switch positions or be asked to do jobs they are not usually comfortable with. For example; Connor Randall, usually thought of as a defensive player, has been used up front and Yalany Baio has been given more of a license to push forwards. While this may well mean that results at U18 level suffer, and they have, it is much better for the young players all round development to leave their comfort zone.
All in all it’s a promising start for Cooper with room for improvement. Last week’s convincing 3-1 away win against previously unbeaten Fulham was much more encouraging and leaves room for optimism.
Tyrell Belford: Perceived as the first choice Academy goalkeeper, Belford plays for both U21s and U18s. Talented goalkeeper but prone to the odd handling error, he is loud and commanding though.
Andy Firth: Yet to feature much at U18s level so it’s difficult to judge him fairly.
Ryan Fulton: Similar to Firth in that he has featured little at this level but was hugely impressive in his last outing against Chelsea. Has great reflexes but time will tell what level he is at consistently.
Yusuf Mersin: Turkish youth international goalkeeper but has struggled since joining Liverpool. 18 years old now and has surely not done enough for a new contract with such little game time.
Cameron Brannagan: Born a Manc, Brannagan has impressed in his showings for the U18s. His versatility means he can play anywhere across the back four or midfield and works hard for the team.
Daniel Cleary: Predominantly a central defender, he can also play at right back and has featured on the bench for the U21s. Big blonde defender looking to establish himself in a group of very talented sixteen year old centre backs.
Niall Heaton: Capped up to England U16s level, Heaton has the natural talent to develop a career at Anfield but first off needs to re-establish himself at the 2nd choice centre back having recently come under threat by Williams and Cleary.
Lloyd Jones: The star of the bunch as far defenders go; commanding centre back with excellent close control and a great temperament. Capped by Wales at U17s and has also played for Liverpool reserves and NextGen squads. He has holes in his game – particularly his heading – but with the right input could become a massive prospect.
Joe Maguire: Sixteen year old left back who appeared with Lloyd Jones in the youthful Liverpool side that beat Chester in pre-season. Prone to diving into challenges but otherwise a very tidy looking full back who is keeping the highly rated Alex O’Hanlon to a rotation role.
Alex O’Hanlon: Signed by Liverpool from under the noses of Real Madrid, O’Hanlon has yet to find his feet at this level of football. Most often seen as a left full back he can also be deployed on the left hand side of midfield and made a name for himself at U16 level for his regular goal scoring exploits.
Connor Randall: Difficult to know which position to put Randall in. A stockily built centre back by trade he has played pretty much every position out there so far this season and made a few appearances just off the striker. It may help his development in the long run, but could do with finding a primary position to master.
Jordan Williams: Can play either defence or midfield and has recently started to challenge the pairing of Jones-Heaton. Williams has been capped at U19 level for Wales despite being just 16 and is considered a bright prospect.
Yalany Baio: Combative defensive midfielder Yalany Baio is a Portugese youth player currently in his second year with the U18s; although he has also performed well in several outings at right-back for the U21s. Talented 17 year old who is really the only defensive midfielder in the Academy set up.
Nathan Burke: Burke can play at centre midfield or right back. He appeared several times at the back end of last season as an underage player but has so far struggled to make an impact this season due to injury.
Jack Dunn: Difficult to know what to classify Dunn as thesedays; naturally a central midfield player he has appeared regularly at left back and recently up front. A couple of injuries have ruled him out so far this season but Dunn has endless natural talent.
Sam Gainford: Second year winger Sam Gainford is a tricky winger who has started to add consistent goals to his game. Having struggled for regular action last season Gainford has a lot to prove this term.
Jordan Lussey: Central midfielder Lussey really grew in stature last season and as such has gained the captaincy this season. Efficient user of the ball with an eye for goal, if he continues to develop at a good rate then Lussey could really develop into a top prospect.
Henoc Mukendi: Left winger Henoc Mukendi is an enormous figure of a man currently on loan to Northampton Town. Although not the most technically proficient he is usually a danger due to his sheer size and physicality.
Seyi Ojo: 15 year old midfielder Seyi Ojo was brought in last season from MK Dons’ youth academy. Possessing electric pace and superb technical ability he already plays three years above his age group at both Liverpool and England.
Kristoffer Peterson: Winger Kristoffer Peterson is a Swedish U19 international. This is his second year at U18 level and it will be expected of him to become the shining light of the team. He possesses good technical ability and likes to run at full backs but can go missing for periods in a match which is something he needs to work on this year and as he moves into the U21s.
Jordan Rossiter: U16 captain Jordan Rossiter is an aggressive midfield player who is expected to feature later on in the season for the U18s. He has a good passing range, likes to get forward and is a good leader – evidenced by also being England U16 captain.
Dan Trickett-Smith: Signed in the summer from Crewe, Dan Trickett-Smith has made a huge impact at youth level and given Liverpool a different dimension to their attack. He is excellent at running with the ball and can play those ‘cute’ passes from the withdrawn striker position. A top talent.
Jerome Sinclair: Sinclair became Liverpool’s youngest ever player when he came off the bench less than a week after his 16th birthday away to West Bromwich Albion. Pacey, with good movement – he causes endless problems for defenders.
Armin Hodzic: He has reportedly failed to gain a work permit again (a problem we seem to face yet a certain club down the M62 don’t…), but Hodzic showed in pre-season that he is a natural goalscorer; in particular he executed a delightful chip against the USA – a taster of his undeniable talent.