Jurgen Klopp’s “special” one-percenters underpinning rise of Liverpool’s youth

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Sepp van den Beg has credited both Jurgen Klopp’s personal touch and show of faith as key factors in his, and fellow youth players’, ability to shine.

The 18-year-old made the move to Merseyside over the summer from PEC Zwolle, for whom he played 22 games for in the Netherlands.

He holds the record as the youngest-ever player to appear in at least 10 top-flight games in the Eredivisie at just 16 years of age, a show of maturity and confidence beyond his years which was backed up following his arrival.

He did not shy away from placing high expectations on himself, saying: “Long-term, I really want to be a legend here.”

In the short-term, however, Van den Berg has predominantly slotted into Neil Critchley’s under-23s side so far this season, making a total of 19 appearances across all competitions for the academy.

A first team debut came with less than a minute left on the clock in the League Cup win over MK Dons, where two starting appearances followed in the same competition against Arsenal and Aston Villa before acting as a key pillar in the club’s youngest-ever FA Cup team in the tie against Shrewsbury at Anfield.

And it’s that show of faith and the “special little things” from Klopp which he feels provides an invaluable awareness to the club’s youngsters that they are valued and a route to the first team is open should they seize the opportunity.

“The warmth you feel, as a young player at Liverpool, is so special,” he explained.

“I will tell you the best example of this. At other clubs, you arrive in the morning and people will say ‘Good morning’ or shake hands.

“But, here at Liverpool, you get a hug from the manager!

Jurgen Klopp gives you a hug – and it’s those special little things that made all the young players feel appreciated and valued.

“That kind of warmth from the manager gives us the hope that we are all on the path to the Liverpool first team.”

Despite being only 18-years-old, Van den Berg was one of the more experienced players on the field as a Liverpool lineup with an average age of 19 took to the field and showcased the talent waiting in the wings.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 4, 2020: Liverpool's young players line-up before the FA Cup 4th Round Replay match between Liverpool FC and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But the centre-back and his teammates still know there is “a mountain to climb” to reach their goals.

He continued: “There is a massive amount of talent in this age group.

“I don’t want to say we’ve now arrived on the big scene because every one of us knows that we still have a mountain to climb.

“But the average age of the team against Shrewsbury was 19.

“We are massively proud of what we achieved on the night and we all talked about it afterwards.

“The topic of our conversations was that we all want to get into the first team together one day.”

The pathway to senior action under Klopp will always remain as an open door and while the boss is always cautious to carefully manage each player’s external exposure, internally he provides the chance to train and battle against the world’s leading talents.

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, USA - Thursday, July 18, 2019: Liverpool players during a training session ahead of the friendly match against Borussia Dortmund at the Notre Dame Stadium on day three of the club's pre-season tour of America. Andy Robertson, Sepp van den Berg, Adam Lallana, Ki-Jana Hoever, Bobby Duncan, captain Jordan Henderson. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For Van den Berg specifically, centre-backs typically rise to the fore in their early to mid-20s, and testing himself against the likes of the Reds’ lethal front three is not only a dream but a learning environment which presents itself to few players at his age.

“It is such a big club, but, at the same time, it feels like a family club,” he added.

“Thanks to Klopp’s approach and vision, I am up against the best attackers in the world several times a week.

“He lets me train and play against Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

“That is ­something I could only have dreamt of in the past. These guys really belong to the very best attackers on this globe.

“Of course, it is hard. But when you are up against them every week and you learn some valuable lessons, then you only get better and stronger.”

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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