Liverpool are undergoing another reshuffle of their ranks in the academy this summer, and outgoing experience could provide chances for the best talents.
Regardless of the club’s best intentions, it happens every year.
At the end of every campaign, the Reds part ways with a crop of youngsters previously earmarked for big things on Merseyside.
In 2018, Yan Dhanda, Paulo Alves, Toni Gomes, Mich’el Parker, Jordan Williams, Anthony Glennon, Jordan Hunter, Andy Firth and Harvey Whyte were all released.
All nine found new clubs, from Northwich Victoria in the North West Counties League to FC Arouca in the Portuguese second tier, and some made great strides away from Liverpool.
Dhanda joined Swansea City, scoring with his first touch in senior football on the opening day of the Championship season, while Glennon was named on the Burnley bench for the 1-0 loss to Man City in April, at just 19.
The hope is that the six currently confirmed to have left the club—and the five likely to follow them—will all follow suit and enjoy fruitful careers.
Liverpool Academy – Released List
Released: Ben Williams, Connor Randall, Conor Masterson, Juanma, Patrik Raitanen, Glen McAuley
Contract offer, likely to leave: Dan Atherton, George Johnston, Edvard Tagseth, Abdi Sharif, Bobby Adekanye
Connor Randall, Conor Masterson, Corey Whelan, Glen McAuley, Juanma and Ben Williams were named on Liverpool’s released list, while George Johnston, Bobby Adekanye, Edvard Tagseth, Abdi Sharif and Dan Atherton have all been offered new deals.
It is likely that despite those contracts being on the table, the quintet in limbo will join Patrik Raitanen in leaving—with the Finn having signalled his exit on Twitter.
While goalkeepers Atherton and Williams, the injured Tagseth and the seldom-utilised Raitanen rarely featured in 2018/19, these 11 players made a combined 166 appearances for the Liverpool U23s, U19s and U18s last season.
There are many others who could depart, too, depriving the Reds’ academy staff of many of their staple figures.
Rafa Camacho, who scored 12 and assisted 12 in 22 games last term, is expected to leave in a £10 million deal, while Kamil Grabara, Ben Woodburn and Curtis Jones are attracting loan interest.
Furthermore, there is no chance of Pedro Chirivella, Ovie Ejaria, Herbie Kane, Harry Wilson or Ryan Kent returning to take up academy roles, while there could be question marks over Shamal George, Tony Gallacher, Nat Phillips and Liam Millar.
Adam Lewis is a candidate to step up and take over as Andy Robertson‘s deputy at left-back, while Ki-Jana Hoever can be considered a long-term option for the first team too.
It very much seems a case of the old guard leaving—with Randall and Whelan at the club since the age of six and 10 respectively—as Liverpool make way for a brighter, more streamlined future.
As with last summer, when Isaac Christie-Davies was brought in from Chelsea to make 24 appearances for the U23s, the club could well flesh out the ranks with low-profile signings.
But the more positive angle here comes with increased opportunities for those with the best chance of progressing under Jurgen Klopp.
Possible Liverpool U23s Squad, 2019/20
Goalkeepers: Jaros, McKenzie-Lyle, Winterbottom
Defenders: Phillips, R.Williams, Hoever, Clayton, Lewis, N.Williams, Larouci, Gallacher
Midfielders: Christie-Davies, Coyle, Dixon-Bonner, Clarkson, Cain
Forwards: Glatzel, Duncan, Longstaff
Without Whelan, Masterson, Juanma, Johnston and possibly Phillips, the young Reds would be without all of their ‘senior’ academy centre-backs.
This could allow the imperious Rhys Williams to break through and establish himself as first choice for the U23s, while providing Hoever with the opportunity to cement his future in his favoured role.
In goal, if Grabara heads out on another loan, George leaves and Caoimhin Kelleher remains with the senior squad, Vitezslav Jaros should be next in line as Neil Critchley‘s No. 1.
If Lewis is promoted to Klopp’s first team, Yasser Larouci is the next viable candidate for U23s left-back, having undergone an impressive transformation under Barry Lewtas last season.
The likes of Jake Cain, Leighton Clarkson and Elijah Dixon-Bonner all shone in midfield for the U18s in 2018/19, and though they are still young, places in the next age group up could be in the offing.
Most prominently, the departures of Adekanye and Camacho should prompt a tactical reshuffle to allow the exceptional Bobby Duncan and Paul Glatzel to reprise their partnership for the U23s next season.
In turn, their spots can be filled by youngsters such as Oscar Kelly, Remi Savage, Matteo Ritaccio, Fidel O’Rourke and Jack Bearne.
There is still one year to go until Liverpool’s redevelopment of Kirkby is complete and both first team and academy training facilities will be combined.
And therefore, Klopp will still rely on his relationship with the likes of Critchley and Lewtas, and the liaison between senior and youth camps, to identify the next generation.
The majority of those that could move up to the U23s this summer were part of the side that lifted the FA Youth Cup in April.
This came 10 years after the Reds last reached the final, and 12 on from their last time as winners, and serves as a genuine marker of the upturn in quality in the academy in recent years.
Keeping that squad together, and giving them every opportunity to succeed and catch Klopp’s eye, is of paramount importance.
Interestingly, Liverpool are now set to enter a side in the EFL Trophy for the first time in the competition’s existence—after the U23s played just 31 games in 2018/19.
Though a low-key tournament, this provides another stage for the young Reds to further development.
Speaking to The Coaches’ Voice back in March, academy director Alex Inglethorpe explained his shift towards quality over quantity since taking the job in 2014.
“My priority was to focus on quality because I felt that the groups were all too big, which wasn’t fair on any level,” he argued.
“It wasn’t fair to the boys who shouldn’t have been here, because they could have been playing regularly at other academies.
“It wasn’t fair on the club, because we needed to be dealing with groups that were more representative of what we were about.
“And it wasn’t fair on the coaches, who were managing large groups rather than actually coaching players.”
While it represents a harsh reality as those once projected as future first-teamers—and, in the case of Randall, an eight-time first-teamer—are cut, this summer allows Liverpool to move closer to Inglethorpe’s vision.
Step forward Jaros, Williams, Larouci, Clarkson, Glatzel, Duncan and Co., as 2019/20 could be a big campaign.