PJ Vaughn looks at previous restructuring of Liverpool’s youth academy and discusses whether the clubs’ latest changes are a new vision for success.
The sackings of Frank McParland (Academy Director) and Rodolfo Borrell (Academy Technical Director) last month were met with anger and disappointment by many Liverpool fans.
Initially I felt the same disappointment and anger. However the more I think about it, the more I can see that this could be an opportunity to improve the academy.
When Rafa Benitez took full control of the Academy in 2009, he set about standardising the quality of coaching at all underage groups.
He entrusted Pep Segura with this job. Pep’s remit was to get all the underage team’s coaches working in a similar manner. He was given approximately 18 months to achieve this.
Rafa also appointed Borrell as the U18 coach. Rafa backed Borrell to work with the 16-18 year old to get them to a certain technical proficiency to help make the step up to the U21’s.
If they were not good enough to make the step up, it was hoped they would have a career elsewhere as a professional.
From all accounts Borrell did an excellent job. Anyone that watched Borrell Under-18’s can testify that they played good technical football.
When Borrell was promoted to U21 manager after spending two years with the U18’s, it seemed to make sense. You could clearly see his imprint on the U18’s and there was a talented U18 team at the time moving up to U21’s and it seemed to make sense that Borell would continue working with them.
Rafa knew how a very high level academy worked and he brought in people that were successful in other academies to carry out his vision.
Brendan Rodgers had worked as part of a very high level youth academy at Chelsea. Since his appointment as Liverpool manager in 2012, he has made some subtle changes to the academy.
Rodgers was smart enough to not make all these changes at once, instead he remodelled the existing structure as he felt it was necessary.
Rodgers’ first major change was promoting Mike Marsh from the U18 to work with the first team. He then promoted Steve Cooper from the U16s to the U18s.
Soon after he appointed the highly regarded Alex Inglethorpe (the former Spurs U18s coach) as the U21s coach. Borrell was subsequently promoted to Pep Segura’s former role as Technical Director.
I wish Borrell had got promoted to work with the first team when Brendan Rodgers first took charge.
In the summer of 2012, Rodgers talked of playing a high pressing passing football game, similar to what Borrell had learned at Barcelona. Liverpool would actively try and promote kids from the academy.
For me, Borrell could have being a very important lieutenant to Rodgers in assisting in this vision.
The Face of the Academy
In recent times Kenny Dalglish, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Rob Jones have returned to Liverpool. While Kenny’s role was announced as an ambassador role, he worked with the academy prior to becoming the boss for the second time.
There is a lot of speculation that Dalglish could assume a role as head of the academy. I think Dalglish, Fowler, McManaman or even John Barnes would make an excellent head of the academy.
I feel naming such a high profile name as the face of the academy could give us an advantage in recruiting the best kids locally and within Britain.
While I’m aware this is not the sole duty of an Academy Director, a star name would certainly help very talented kids and their parents be more confident that they are making the right decisions.
When the likes of Jones, McManaman and Fowler returned to coach at Liverpool, it was always likely that there would be more changes within the academy.
When Brendan Rodgers was an academy coach at Chelsea, he saw the role former players played at their academy. Liverpool has some wonderfully gifted ex-players and it’s only right they should have a role at the club.
While I was disappointed with Borrell’s departure as U21 manager over a year ago, I have become a firm fan of the work Alex Inglethorpe has done.
The U21s play a nice brand of football and Inglethorpe is a very sharp man. It’s hard to argue with what he has achieved at his short time at Liverpool or his previous work at Tottenham Hotspurs academy.
Neil Critchley looks a brilliant appointment too. While the U18’s have looked very open at the back, their attacking play is a joy to watch at time. I feel we are well served with top coaches at our U18 and U21 teams.
While I was disappointed with primarily Borrell departure and to a lesser extent Frank’s. I can see the benefits if we make the right changes.
The Technical Director role was never envisioned as a full time position, so unless Borrell was promoted to the first team or reinstated to the U21’s he’s role basically became redundant.
I also think a club legend as the face of the academy would be a fantastic move. I think it would get the message across that Liverpool is very serious about recruiting the best kids locally, nationally and internationally.