PJ Vaughn brings you part two of his assessment of Liverpool’s youth academy, this time focusing on the current set up and any problems that are arising from it.
In part one of Groundhog Day, I decided to play Devil’s Advocate and critically review the workings of the academy.
In this part, I will look at the current players and see how they compare to our recent graduates. I will also discuss coaching and what are the key elements preventing development.
How good is our current crop?
Our U21s currently have a very strong squad. It’s encouraging to see 16 and 17 year olds in the team. Previously there were players that were 19 or 20 that had virtually no chance of making the step up to the first team. They were effectively blocking the route for younger kids with better long term prospects.
The U18s have very exciting talents too. There are some very exciting attacking talent, especially.
The U18s consists of local lads and kids we have brought from Britain and Ireland and a small number of foreign players.
In recent years we have recruited a lot of 15 and 16 year olds from other academies to supplement the kids moving up from the U16’s.
It’s easy to say some 16 or 17 year old is the next Steven Gerrard or the next Daniel Sturridge, but there is no guarantee that kids will continue developing.
The odds are stacked against them. Injuries can stop progress. There are so many more off the field distractions now. A player needs luck, as well as talent. Even if they have the talent they might lack the ambition to make that talent blossom.
There are so many variables preventing development, you need to be ticking a lot of boxes in order for Brendan Rodgers to take a risk.
Every top flight manager is one run of poor form away from the sack. It’s easier to back an experienced international than a young kid.
It’s being encouraging to see Suso, Raheem Sterling, Jon Flanagan and Andre Wisdom have all got a run in our first team. Adam Morgan, Jordon Ibe, Conor Coady, Jerome Sinclair, Samed Yesil and Jack Robinson have all got a fleeting opportunity in low key cup games and/or one off league games.
At the weekend both Flanagan and Sterling made a statement for Liverpool academy, lets hope in a few years we have lots of academy players as first team regulars.
How do they compare with previous talented crops?
In the last 5 years we have had lots of promising talent that have not made it.
Paul Anderson, Jay Spearing, Adam Hammill and Jack Hobbs all looked exceptional for Liverpool in the 2006 FA Youth Cup. Damien Plessis, Mikel San Jose, Emiliano Insua and Kristian Nemeth again looked like future star when they won the reserve league in 2008.
The like of David Amoo, Alexander Kacanklis, Nathan Ecclestone, Lauri Della Valle, Thomas Ince and Toni Silva showed signs of brilliance at difference stages mainly for the U18s but none of them got a chance with Liverpool’s first team.
I watched Dani Pacheco playing for the reserves as a 16 year old he was playing against Xavi Alonso’s brother Mikel — a seasoned pro who was on loan at Bolton at the time.
Dani Pacheco was man of the match and looked head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch. However, he stopped progressing at the same rate as the years went on. He probably deserved a run of games at some stage but he never got it.
Is our coaching system strong enough?
I think Liverpool has an excellent U18 and U21 coaches now. However there are many factors preventing youth development and the hours of contact for young kids is one of the biggest factors. In order to excel in any chosen field you need to spend 10,000 hours honing the skills. Kids in England get nowhere near this number.
A kid can be technically excellent but in order to make it in the Premier League you also need to be strong and fast. The league is full of teams that focus on power, pace and strength. Set pieces are more important than possession. Unless this focus changes it is very difficult for 18-21 year olds to compete with 25-35 year olds that are much bigger and stronger.
Barcelona and Spain have shown that technical football wins. It’s encouraging to see the likes of Liverpool, Swansea and lately Everton play passing football.
However there are still too many clubs that are still focused on less expansive football. There doesn’t seem to be any encouragement from either the FA or the Premier League in encouraging the “beautiful game”.
What’s preventing development?
If a coach is to pick an academy player on the bench he will most likely have to tell an international that he is not in the match day squad. If a young player is to get that opportunity he needs to be exceptional. There is no time to develop in the Premier League it’s either sink or swim.
I think there should be a certain portion of the bench allocated to players that have played in the academy set up for at least two years. We could trial 11 subs like they do in Serie A, but 5 of these subs must be U21s that have played in the academy set up.
It would give kids an opportunity especially if the Reds were 3-0 up with 15-20 minutes to go. I believe not getting a chance is preventing development the most. In time the subs could be reduced back to 7 with 3 academy graduates.
In the concluding Part of Groundhog Day, I will look at the U21 league and the loan system.
I will also look at what the club can do to help development. I will ask the question should the first team manager have involvement in the academy and whether we are on the right track or do we need a new blueprint.