INTERVIEW: Liverpool under-21 coach Michael Beale on benefits of loan system and player debuts


Liverpool under-21s boss Michael Beale speaks to This Is Anfield about youth development, the loan system, and how nervous he was when seven academy players lined up against Exeter City in the FA Cup.

STEVENAGE, ENGLAND - Friday, October 23, 2015: Liverpool's manager Michael Beale during the Under 21 FA Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur at the Lamex Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We meet with Beale, who was appointed to under-21s boss in August 2014, on a cold Saturday morning at the club’s academy base in Kirkby. It’s the first big freeze of the season, meaning pitches are frozen and last minute changes are required for training that will now take place indoors.

With the first-team squad in action the next day, and the FA Cup third round replay against Exeter City to follow days later, many of Liverpool’s under-21s are instead over at Melwood.

After training, Beale shows a board where he moves players across from one category to another, depending on whether they’re available to him – there’s loaned, injured, Melwood and internationals to contend with, meaning Beale rarely, if ever, has the full under-21s squad to work with.

It’s for this reason that little attention is paid to the league table in the Premier League under-21s. A year ago, the Reds’ youngsters were well placed to win the ‘title’ but a host of players went out on loan at the end of the campaign and Liverpool finished second.

This season, the Reds are 11th (second from bottom) having won twice in 11 Premier League under-21 games. But this isn’t what Beale or the club’s academy are judged upon.

“We’re doing a better job this year, than last, as we have more players being used by the first-team – playing and training with the first-team,” says Beale.

“Nearly all of last year’s under 21 group has gone on to make either a Liverpool debut or a league debut on loan. We are extremely proud of this progression and as a group of players and staff we celebrate each of the player’s successes.

“As a group, we are very much a family who are pushing each other to the next challenge. When we have all of our boys together, then we have no doubts that we are as strong as any team in England [at this level].”

Indeed, 10 academy players featured in the 2-2 draw against Exeter City a fortnight ago, with four of them being handed their debut for the club.

“I was extremely nervous for that game,” says Beale – who wasn’t able to attend the match as the under-21s had their own game the next day.

“We could have won there on another day, but the team was put together so late and had little time to work together, Sheyi (Ojo) only returned two days before it, and Tiago (Ilori) the same. Kevin (Stewart) played his first 90 minutes since September just three days before in a friendly against Morecambe.

“I am looking forward to the replay and hopefully one or two boys making a name for themselves.

On the scoresheet in Devon were striker Jerome Sinclair and left-back Brad Smith.

EXETER, ENGLAND - Friday, January 8, 2016: Liverpool's Brad Smith celebrates scoring the second equalising goal against Exeter City during the FA Cup 3rd Round match at St. James Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“It was an outstanding moment to see Smith and Sinclair score for the first team,” says a proud Beale.

“It’s also worth mentioning that Ryan Kent has been with the club since he was 6 years old and to make your debut for the Liverpool first team is a huge personal moment for him. It is a privilege to be guiding these young men on their journeys to become top players.”

In total, seven academy players have been handed their debut at the club this season (Cameron Brannagan, Pedro Chirivella, Connor Randall, Ryan Kent, Kevin Stewart, Joe Maguire and Sheyi Ojo).

But it’s not just in games where the academy squad assist the first-team squad, with under-21s regularly at Melwood. “If the first-team win, and we have academy players training with them that week, we’re part of that success,” explains Beale.

Much has been made of the return of several players from loan, with Jurgen Klopp discussing perhaps the need for less players to be loaned out and instead for them to develop as a team in the under-21s.

But Beale explains how beneficial the loan system can be – allowing young players to get their first taste of professional football.

“There’s a statistic that only three to four percent of current Premier League players made their debut after the age of 19, that’s not making their debut in the Premier League, but making their professional debut somewhere before that age.

“We believe it is crucial that young players are playing games on a regular basis. The current under 21 league doesn’t provide enough games alone, therefore, we plan up to 20 additional games to fill the schedule or use the loans system as a way of providing players with a regular games programme.”

SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND - Wednesday, August 19, 2015: Liverpool's Joao Carlos Teixeira celebrates scoring the third goal against Everton with team-mate during the Under 21 FA Premier League match at Haig Avenue. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Reds’ academy uses the loan system as a solution to bridging the gap between the u21s and the first-team, something that does not exist in England compared to other European countries.

“We know what we can and cannot provide a young player. We cannot guarantee games inside a stadium with passionate support or mixing day to day within a mens dressing room (our average age is 19 years old in the under 21 squad).

“However, if the manager is keen on working with the players and having them around the first team then we would always take this option first. This has been the case this season with Rossiter, Randall, Smith, Fulton and Brannagan. In all cases, this decision is made on an individual basis,” explains Beale.

The loan system, therefore, is used to get young players in a senior team environment, both in terms of playing and socially.

After training, Beale takes the squad to the side to impress upon them tactical details from his previous two days working alongside Klopp at Melwood. The squad know there’s an opportunity there for them if they can take on board what’s being asked of them.

“If we can provide a player to the first-team squad, it can save the club millions, it makes economic sense and here we have a manager and owners who want the academy to succeed.”

Beale, who worked at Chelsea before joining Liverpool in 2012, shows us around the humble surroundings of his office, a small room in a portakabin right next to the changing rooms.

“We’re trying to keep the lads grounded, some clubs have more impressive facilities for the under-21s but we don’t believe in that here, it’s important the academy is seen as a place of work and not a luxurious health club. When a player reaches Melwood full time, then he has graduated from this environment.”


At training that day is Polish goalkeeper Kamil Grabara – a 16-year-old taking part in his second session with the under-21 squad. Not every player knows his name, he arrived that week, in a foreign country, now living with a host family in the city.

The players spend the core of the 90-minute session working on 1 vs. 1 drills, with Beale emphasising the importance of players being able to win their one-v-one battles on the pitch.

“Much of the talk in coaching now is of positional play, but there’s no point being in the correct position if you can’t beat your direct opponent,” says Beale.

Liverpool’s academy are producing players capable of beating their opposition full-back, with Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe previously, and now Sheyi Ojo and Ryan Kent, plus Harry Wilson who is yet to make his debut.

Beale will be at Anfield on Wednesday night, with several academy products expected to line up for Klopp’s side again against Exeter City. The under-21s boss knows that a player playing for the first-team is far more important than a win in the under-21 league.

Liverpool under-21s are in action tonight (Tuesday) against Leeds United, at Tranmere’s Prenton Park (7pm kick-off).

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  1. Michael has done a good job so far, with most of his stars going out on-loan, thus putting U18 players into the U21 team, Neil Critchley too has done a great job (1 defeat in 15 games), playing good football at U18 level, great too see them play at Exeter under big pressure too, they dug in and played well on a terrible pitch………….great talent and attitude.

  2. I wonder if Kloppo will again field a youthful side against Exeter.

    He should. Gives the young ones something to strive towards…

  3. Something is not right with this interview.
    If beale had done a good job, JK wouldnt have you tell us that the system is broken before your eyes with the loans.

    What is/was your view and position on the many loans out of your door, what with being 11th in a poor league of 12 teams

    • Or it could be that Klopp wasn’t aware of the U21 league, the loan system (which he admitted) as he is new to the country (as stated in article, there is a gap in English football between U21s and first-team).

      You are more bothered by the league position in under 21s than how many players are actually being used by the first-team manager, in training and in games? You’ve missed the point of an academy haven’t you.

      Chelsea won the UEFA youth league a few years ago – not 1 player from that side has made their debut for the first-team. You prefer that?

      • At the same time 6 of those are playing on loan in the Eredivisie and they look a lot more ready then the current players we’ve got. 5 at Vitesse (which is kinda co-owned by Chelsea) and 1 at NEC (Which is accross the river of Vitesse) and there’s a limit of 5 loanees from a single club.

        Our loan system does lack something in terms of playing many games. Most of the time our loanees aren’t genuine starters so they won’t reach that 20-30 games, Solanke has 15 games allready and Lewis Baker allready 17 in one season. And the Eredivisie certainly beats League One.

        Setting up something similar should be our first prio when talking about our loan system. They’ll go as a group (which is what Klopp wants) and they’ll get a lot of gametime learning the pressure of being a prof footballer.

        • Just because someone else’s academy failed doesnt mean it is ok for the anfield academy to fail too.

          You can have your view wether it us a success or failure/ until JK arrived, the loan system was broken. The academy is a one hit wonder.

          Apart ffrom RS. Are ibe rossiter kent tex chirivella smith (nearly thrown out of window) brann etc a SUCCESS?

          • Flanno, Wisdom, Sterling are all an Academy success. Ibe seems to be, Rossiter is one to be very likely, same as Kent and Randall.

          • kelly is technically an academy product whose go on to feature for a pl club..regularly for that matter.

          • And I don’t agree that the Chelsea Academy is failing. They changed it a good couple of years ago and now they’re getting about 5-6 players who’se close to EPL ready.

            A change of the youth system takes a long time before one can see how that turns out.

          • It’s a joke mate…Chelsea and youth just don’t go hand in hand…you look at the youth they currently have even that’s not from academies…Zouma bought for over 10mil Kennedy for 6mil.

        • I’m pretty certain the youth you’re talking about aren’t exactly from the academies as 12-13 year old boys…rather they’re taken over to Chelsea because of the wages they get and even their transfer fees tend to be 1mil and over. Anyway, it’s of little to no use to Chelsea because they never use their youth players.

          • Check out Baker at NEC, Solanke and Jones (I think) at Vitesse. Proper youth lads, playing at Chelsea since their 8th or something.

          • Fair enough..I always maintained though, Chelsea don’t have a bad youth system/academy’s just that they’re terrible at utilizing it…not for nothing they’re known as “rent boys” you know. :-)

            The irony of it all for me though is that they let De Bruyne and Lukaku leave, 2 players you’d have to say are among the top players in the Premier League in their respective positions. Chelsea really are a joke.

      • Thank you for the honour of your kind reply, points taken. Tho i dont think JK took the job blindfolded.

        I still asked a valid question: what was MB’s view when he or he agreed to the loans.

        The reason why the academy boys had a shout or a look in the first team is only due to JK after his arrival.

        Before his arrival, maybe only RS is an unqualified success. No one else had a foot in.

        • Loans are decided by either the academy director, Alex Inglethorpe, or the first-team manager, Jurgen Klopp.

          No one else had a foot in? Rossiter, Ibe, Flanagan all featured regularly under Rodgers. Chirivella and Brannagan had their debuts this season under Rodgers.

          Not to mention that you are entirely missing the point that, without the loans for likes of Kent and Ojo this season, they wouldn’t be as ready for making their LFC debuts.

          Did you fail to read or understand the part about loans being the bridge between u21 football and first team football?

      • To be fair, Chelsea shouldn’t even have a youth team to begin with. They’re probably the worst club in terms of promoting youth from their academies. Even the exceptional high quality youth signings they seem to make like Lukaku and De Bruyne, they’re only too happy to sell off.

  4. Good article this really enjoyed it, good stats that nearly all the u21s made a debut of some form, I think our lads did well against Exeter but I think they’ll do even better Wednesday now they have had time to train together, you don’t really think that it’s probably really tough for these kids mentally and physically just that piece where it mentions the 16 year old polish goal keeper just arriving last week living with a host family in the city , gets you thinking how mentally tough you have to be and I bet not many talented kids can hack it, shame we won’t get to see Danny Ward in action, but good luck to all our guys

    • Also, for many it’ll be there 1st Anfield appearance. Hope that works to their advantage, not adding pressure but them wanting to make it a night to remember.

  5. Well I have some mixed feelings about our club. There’s no doubt that we have really good talent here. But I doubt the way they are manged and develop for the next level.

    I feel proud to see that we promote academy players to the first team compared to other teams chasing for top 4. But how many of them would be preferred to be given chance in first team due to there shear talent rather than lack of world class players.

    Would ibe be starting if markovic was still around or if we had Konoplyanka. He is there more because of we don’t have any other winger especially proven winger. Would he be still playing for us regular if we had money to spend everywhere. Yeah young players needs chances to prove and they don’t come as a finished article straight outta academy. Same stands for rossi, Brad Smith and to some extent flano.

    We have created one really good player in recent times for xity though.

    I have never like our talented players been wasted at 2-3rd tier clubs. There comes the talent management at which we are terrible.

    Look at barca. Samper a midfielder whose price is around 5+ millions who plays for barca B. Would anybody pay that kind of money for Texeira and rossi? . Sergi Roberto is already better than Milner.

    If anything that should be targeted is than it should be to emulate Barcelona’s academy model.

  6. I hope Chirivella starts this one, I’d better not be the only one who remembers how boss he was against Bordeaux

  7. We used to have a top ex LFC player in Stevie Heighway knocking out future legends season after season. Has Michael Beale even played football? Smacks of another Brendan Rodgers who thinks badges are greater than actual experience. Which we know to our cost is not.

    • Just off to look up the playing careers of Mourinho, Benitez, Wenger and co.

      Ps. The LFC academy didn’t produce anything for a decade after the class of Owen/Fowler/McManaman.

      Pps. The LFC academy has just handed seven debuts to U21 players this season. That’s explained in the article you’re replying to.

      • Explain why we have handed 7 debuts out ,i will tell you why because the players we have bought have not been good enough
        look at flanno the other year he got his chance because cissokho was poor
        Do you really think sterling was penciled in to play such a big role in his break through season he was not the signings we made were not up to it and sterling took his chance
        PS Mcmanaman made his debut in 1990 owen signed on as a schoolboy in 1991 and did not make is debut till 1997 i hardly think they were in the same class;-)

      • Mourinho’s father was a player and coach and Mourinho was involved in coaching as a small boy. Rafa played for Real Madrid youth teams. Wenger played professional football. Michael Beale & Rodgers have got nowhere near this level of experience.

        Stephen Warnock? He was a top pro that came through the Academy after Owen. Ayala Guthrie Hobbs Whitbread Derby are all doing well enough.

        And whilst you’re there look at the playing careers of Dalglish Ferguson Guardiola Simeone Ancellotti Pochettino Koeman De Boer Klinsmann Enrique Low Zidane and so on who dId play football.

        The under 21s have had debuts but they don’t look ready to establish themselves at all. Ibe Shelvey Sterling were discovered by other clubs, other than that there has been nothing top drawer been discovered since Heighway left. That experience of playing at the highest level and learning from the best managers is priceless. We have enough ex-reds about who should be involved.

  8. This season, the Reds are 11th (second from bottom) having won twice in 11 Premier League under-21 games. But this isn’t what Beale or the club’s academy are judged upon.

    “We’re doing a better job this year, than last, as we have more players being used by the first-team

    Sorry this just sums everything that is wrong with the club excuses excuses excuses

    • Great job on not reading, or understanding the article there.

      Chelsea won the UEFA Youth League a couple of years ago. CELEBRATE. — NOT ONE PLAYER HAS MADE HIS DEBUT FOR THE CLUB SINCE THEN. Prefer that??

      The job of the academy is to produce players for the first-team, not to win a U21 league with 18 year olds.

      • I read it and understood it do you not think all the other teams in the league do the same thing
        and the 16 year olds will be playing for the under 18,s the 15 year olds for the under 16s It happens at every club its called development still does not alter the fact the teams results have been poor

        tell you what why do you not do a real article about how little net fsg have spent since taking over or about how we will not see a penny of the extra gate receipts for the next 5 years because we are paying them every penny back
        Or heres one what about season ticket holders not caring about going to the matches untill it was man ure last 3 league home games plenty where letting them out

          • Find it shocking that tickets have been freely available against swansea leicester and even arsenal yet when united turn up the tickets dry up
            Also the atmosphere against united was not as good

          • Were tickets freely available?
            How are FSG going to sell 8500 more tickets, at around £125 each to pay back their ‘generous’ loan next season if that’s the case?

          • Firstly i need to correct you fsg are selling 4000 of the tickets at the grounds higest price the other 4500 will be anywhere from 2 to 3 hundred a game all hospitality
            yes tickets where freely available 4 for the leicester game my lad got 4 for the arsenal game at £40 on the kop right behind the goal cheaer than the club are selling them for
            exeter tonight the clubs slashed the price yet they will still be empty seats despite exeter bringing more fans than man ure at the wekend

          • Have the prices been confirmed?

            My guess is the view will be so poor that high up in the new stand that their aim will be to increase the prices of the lower levels to the pitch and anybody not happy with the increase will be offered seats in the new stand at the current prices.

          • the stand as the dearest noral match day tickets so the new 40 seats will be higher than the kop
            hospitality thats the going rate as of a few seasons back in the annie road end these are dearer i got offered a season hospitality ticket of the club last season for the new stand it was astronomical well over 5 grand that was off the club
            Its a complete money making racket nothing for the real fans as for the poor seats where do you think they are going to accomadate the riff raff season ticket holders that are taking up valuable real estate

          • Exactly, I’d bet anything season ticket prices lower down will be increased, those that can’t afford it will be offered seats in the clouds at the same price. Those season tickets lower down will then be sold individually with a £3 carvery and excellent view for £150 – £200 per game. Is it the only way the maths works to repay their so generous loan in 5 years?

          • Its supposed to genarate 25 million a year in ticket sales some seats are going to be a grand a match

    • How is that excuses? What’s more important for an academy? Grabbing the top spot of a pointless league or to actually have players that can be utilized in the first team eventually even if it is limited?

  9. Stoke U18 (1) – (3) Liverpool U18……………this afternoon, Liverpool 1 defeat in 16 games……….U21 live tonight on LFCTV.

  10. Wow, I didnt realize that you dont have a second team playing normal league games in lower leagues.
    Here in Germany the second teams (what are like U23 Teams) can play up until 3rd league. There they play a normal league with 20 teams (not all of them a second teams from 1. or 2. Bundesliga teams).
    For me it made sense when Jürgen said he likes to get the loans back.
    The youngster can train according to the clubs philosophy and are closer to the first team.
    But on the other hand if the youth are not able to play a normal league then loan makes sense to me as well.

      • It would make sense. In Germany the 3rd league is the 3rd highest professional league.
        In the Moment there are only Mainz II, Stuttgart II and Bremen II in that league.
        All other lubs play with their first teams. Beside some quality lags (according to league level) it is highly competive (though 2nd teams must not upgrade to 2.Bundesliga)

          • We used to have a second team it was southampton sadely the owners decided to fund them more than us

        • How would it make sense? With 72 professional clubs in the football league all with designs on reaching the premier league (Bournemouth and Swansea doing so from the lower reaches of League 2) and another half a dozen or more in the
          most ‘professional’ National League in years, where do you seriously think U23 teams for just say ten top premier league clubs could fit in the greatest football pyramid structure in world football bar none, without breaking it?

          • How it makes sense? They play for the same club and in an ideal way they train in the club, learn the philosophy of the club and can practise it in playing against 1st teams of other clubs.
            The jump into the 1st team is still a high jump but better than getting loaned to a team where they just sit on the bench and dont get practise.
            Emre Can played in the second team of Bayern Munich before he changed to the 1st team and then he got loaned to Leverkusen as a 1st team player.

            The 2nd team has to fight like every other team to move up in the league rankings.
            If a team like you mentioned moves up from lower leagues into PL they will still do it because they strong enough. Hoffenheim did it and Leipzig will do it. No matter the 2nd teams.
            Most of the 2nd teams play in the semiprofessional 4th league.
            The 3rd league is the highest league for 2nd teams and its not easy to get there.
            Only 1st Teams of a Club can move up to 2nd and 1st Bundesliga. Even if a 2nd team wins the 3rd league.
            If a 1st Team gets down to lower league and if there is already the 2nd team of the club playing in there the 2nd has to go down and gets replaced by one team from the lower league that got a wildcard then to move up.

            Why should there be a break in the structure? I dont see it neither in Spain nor in Bundesliga.

          • Thats germany what you going to do with all the english clubs you cannot just throw them out
            Liverpool could do it but the team would have to start about ten leagues below the bottom league
            the players would be sunday morning larkers and learn nothing
            it would take years and a lot of money to get in the league it would not be worth the effort

        • JK has found a way around it… His m8 David Wagner is manager at Huddersfield in the Championship (2nd league), so expect a couple to go there on loan next season.

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