The return of God & in-house solutions – 5 potential options for next Liverpool U23s boss

With Neil Critchley leaving his role as Liverpool under-23s manager to take over at Blackpool, the Reds have some interesting options as his potential replacement.

Critchley was propelled into the first-team picture as he took charge of two cup fixtures this season, first in a losing effort at Aston Villa in the League Cup, and then a dramatic 1-0 win over Shrewsbury in the FA Cup.

Leading the club’s youngest-ever side into a fourth-round victory over their League One opposition clearly convinced Blackpool he was the right to succeed Simon Grayson.

But his surprise move to Bloomfield Road has come as a blow to Liverpool, despite Jurgen Klopp describing it as “exactly how it should be” for the club’s aspiring young coaches, and now they face a quandary over their next U23s figurehead.

Alex Inglethorpe, academy manager, and Tim Jenkins, Critchley’s former assistant and academy analyst, will take charge for the time being, but the search is underway for a long-term appointment.

Here are five possible replacements for Critchley as U23s boss.


Barry Lewtas

BELGRADE, SERBIA - Tuesday, November 6, 2018: Liverpool's manager Barry Lewtas before the UEFA Youth League Group C match between FK Crvena zvezda Under-19's and Liverpool FC Under-19's at ?ukari?ki Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When Michael Beale left Liverpool for Sao Paulo at the end of 2016, Liverpool opted to promote from within as they moved Critchley up from the under-18s to fill his role.

After Steven Gerrard‘s season in charge of the young Reds, Lewtas then stepped up from the under-16s to take charge at U18 level, and the ex-Wigan and Bolton youth coach has impressed.

The U18s finished second in the league on goal difference last season, as well as winning the FA Youth Cup, and have mounted a strong challenge for Man City this term too, while Lewtas has also taken the reins in the UEFA Youth League.

One of the biggest benefits of Lewtas taking over from Critchley is, as with two years ago, he would effectively be moving along with many of his biggest talents.

This consistency can aid the likes of Tom Hill, Layton Stewart, Billy Koumetio, Conor Bradley and Tyler Morton as they continue their progress through the academy ranks.


Xabi Alonso

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 14, 2017: Former Liverpool player Xabi Alonso arrives at Anfield ahead of the FA Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In the immediate aftermath of Critchley’s exit, odds dropped for Gerrard to take over at Kirkby amid uncertainty over his position at Rangers.

This seems farfetched, as though the No. 8 is Liverpool through and through, taking over the club’s U23s would not represent progression from his current job.

Similar could be argued of Alonso, but his role with Real Sociedad at this stage is similar to that of an academy manager, with the 38-year-old in charge of their ‘B’ side in the Spanish third tier.

Alonso’s current squad has an average age of 20.6, with five teenagers playing over 1,000 minutes so far and two of his players gaining first-team experience.

Returning to Merseyside could provide him more exposure for the long term, and pathways seen with the likes of Critchley and Pepijn Lijnders indicate it could lead to further opportunities either at the club or elsewhere.

Whether Alonso would be willing to leave Spain to take up a youth role remains to be seen, but the lure of Liverpool could be tempting.


Dirk Kuyt

Dirk Kuyt of friends, Steven Gerrard of Friendsteam during the Dirk Kuyt Testimonial match at stadium de Kuip on May 27, 2018 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Like Alonso, Kuyt is currently cutting his teeth in a role in his homeland, with the relentlessly energetic striker serving as under-19s manager at Feyenoord.

He finished his first campaign in charge with a second-placed finish—two points behind Ajax—but this time around they will require a late rally to secure a similar placing.

The Dutchman has a clear affinity with Liverpool, turning out for recent Legends games, and England in general, with reports last year suggesting he was part of a consortium interesting in a buying a club in the lower leagues.

Returning to Merseyside, then, could suit Kuyt, and unlike Alonso taking over duties with the young Reds would likely be seen as a clear step up from his current job.

He already has experience of nurturing young players for a first-team berth, with three of his U19s from this season also playing for Feyenoord’s senior side, and joining Liverpool’s new Dutch connection could benefit both Kuyt and his old club.


Sami Hyypia

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 10, 2016: Former Liverpool player Sami Hyypia before the FA Premier League match against Leicester City at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It may be a stretch to suggest Hyypia, who already has 97 games under his belt as manager of Bayer Leverkusen, Brighton and FC Zurich, would be a feasible candidate as new U23s boss.

But with the Finn’s last job in Switzerland ending in 2016, it could be the opportunity he needs to revive a flagging post-playing career.

Furthermore, in 2017 he revealed he would “definitely consider” joining Klopp’s coaching staff, saying “Liverpool still has a big place in my heart [so] if I can help in any way, [I would].”

Leading the U23s may not quite be joining Klopp in the dugout on matchdays, but with the first team and academy sides soon to share a training facility at Kirkby his association would be felt more closely.

Hyypia’s failings at Leverkusen, Brighton and Zurich could serve as red flags on his CV, but individual development is paramount at academy level, not results.

The likes of Sepp van den Berg and Ki-Jana Hoever working under one of the club’s finest modern-day defenders would surely be a boost.


Robbie Fowler

HONG KONG, CHINA - Saturday, June 8, 2019: Liverpool Legends' Steve McManaman (L) and Robbie Fowler after an exhibition match between Liverpool FC Legends and Borussia Dortmund Legends at the Hong Kong Stadium. (Pic by Jayne Russell/Propaganda)

Fowler had been working at the Liverpool academy in an informal capacity for five-and-a-half years when he opted to make the switch to Australia last April, to become head coach of Brisbane Roar.

The A-League is his first real test as a manager, and after finding his feet with a new-look squad he is proving his credentials in Queensland.

Back-to-back Coach of the Month awards for January and February are testament to his progress with the Roar, but Fowler has not hidden his ambition of returning to England in the future.

“I want to manage in the Premier League, I don’t think I can be any broader than that,” he told Sky Sports in February, adding that he would “do everything” to ensure that is possible and joking: “I’d settle for Liverpool first!”

While taking over Liverpool U23s manager could be seen as a step down from the A-League, it is a more likely pathway for high-profile ex-players aiming for top jobs in England.

Gerrard took over at Rangers after a season in charge of the U18s, and is widely expected to move to the Premier League in the future—this could be the route Fowler follows if he returns to Merseyside.