Liverpool’s academy graduates XI: The best to come from youth in the Premier League era

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Liverpool have produced a number of exceptional talents from their academy in the Premier League era, including three of the club’s top 10 all-time goalscorers.

The Reds’ current youth setup at Kirkby was established in 1998, and will soon be the club’s first-team base too, as a £50 million redevelopment nears completion.

Therefore, many of the players to make the step up from Liverpool’s youth ranks to the senior squad since the Premier League began in 1992 were schooled at the facility.

Now it is rare to see two graduates establish themselves on the first-team stage at the same time, but how would an XI built entirely of players to emerge from the academy look?

Here we’ve put together a side from Liverpool’s youth alumni since 1992, based on the following criteria.

  • Only Liverpool players from the Premier League era can be considered
  • Players signed from other clubs, but who spent a significant time in the academy, are eligible
  • It should fit into a defined formation; in this case, a 4-4-2 diamond

 

Goalkeeper: Peter Gulacsi

BOSTON, MA - Wednesday, July 25, 2012: Liverpool's goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi in action against AS Roma during a pre-season friendly match at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, the second match of the Reds' North American tour. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 0

Clubs: MTK Budapest, Liverpool, Hereford (loan), Tranmere (loan), Hull (loan), Salzburg, RB Leipzig


Due to his time at the club exclusively coinciding with Pepe Reina’s run as No. 1, Gulacsi never actually made a competitive appearance for Liverpool; instead, he warmed the bench a total of 51 times.

But the Hungarian, signed as part of a recruitment drive from MTK Budapest in the late-2000s, has gone on to forge a successful career since graduating from the academy and seeking pastures new.

With his previous experience of senior football amounting to 50 appearances across loan spells with Hereford, Tranmere and Hull, Gulacsi made the decision to join Salzburg, and by association Red Bull, on a free transfer in 2013.

A century of appearances for Salzburg later and Gulacsi made the switch to RB Leipzig, where he is now established as first choice and arguably the standout goalkeeper in the Bundesliga this season.

 

Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 26, 2019: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring the fourth goal during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. Liverpool won 4-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 125

Clubs: Liverpool


Right-back is often seen as a ‘safe’ position to bring youngsters through into the first team, and it is where both Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard began their senior careers.

The likes of Martin Kelly, Jon Flanagan, Andre Wisdom, Stephen Wright, Lee Peltier, Connor Randall, David Raven, Stephen Darby and Rafa Camacho have all been utilised in the role after stepping up.

None have settled and made the starting spot their own like Alexander-Arnold, however, who can already be considered one of Liverpool’s best right-backs in the Premier League era, if not the best.

A record-breaking creative outlet, a swiftly developing defensive mind and a two-time European Cup finalist with seemingly unlimited potential, Alexander-Arnold is a no-brainer for this XI.

Hopefully, in time, he will have stiff competition in this respect from another from the current crop in Neco Williams.

 

Centre-back: Conor Coady

ST HELENS, ENGLAND - Tuesday, November 13, 2012: Liverpool's captain Conor Coady before the NextGen Series Group 5 match against Rosenborg BK at Langtree Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 2

Clubs: Liverpool, Sheffield United (loan), Huddersfield, Wolves


Another, like Gulacsi, who barely registered in the first-team picture at Liverpool that has gone on to cement himself as a staple at a top-flight club competing in Europe, Coady is a role model to every youngster in the academy.

A natural leader, Coady was a standout at youth level over the years and led the under-18s and under-21s as captain, and was even nominated for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2010.

He trained regularly with the senior squad at Melwood, and played twice for the first team: starting once in a 1-0 losing effort to Anzhi Makhachkala in 2012, and coming off the bench in a 3-1 win over Fulham in 2013.

But Coady was “always realistic” about his chances at Liverpool, and after a loan spell at Sheffield United and a season with Huddersfield, he found home at Wolves, where he is now captain and first-choice centre-back for a top-six Premier League side.

 

Centre-back: Jamie Carragher

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 23, 2008: Liverpool's Jamie Carragher celebrates scoring the equaliser against Middlesbrough with team-mate Nabil El Zhar during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 737

Clubs: Liverpool


One of a handful of selections that needs little explanation, Carragher is one of the best players to emerge from Liverpool’s academy.

A fierce fighter who knew how to work around his limitations and maximise his strengths, he was immovable as first-choice centre-back in his prime, and shone alongside a host of often lesser defenders.

He would be vying with Coady as the vocal presence at the back in this XI, and at least one other for the captain’s armband.

 

Left-back: Dominic Matteo

COVENTRY, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 6, 1996: Liverpool's Dominic Matteo in action against Coventry City during the Premiership match at Highfield Road. Coventry won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 155

Clubs: Birkdale United, Liverpool, Sunderland (loan), Leeds, Blackburn, Stoke


Unlike right-back, there is a relative dearth of options when it comes to selecting a left-back for this XI.

Flanagan had his best games in the position in 2013/14, while there were high hopes for both Jack Robinson and Brad Smith at one stage, but none have reached the heights Matteo did over the turn of the century.

Born in Scotland, with Italian heritage, Matteo was discovered playing for Birkdale United by Kenny Dalglish and joined Liverpool in 1984, making his debut under Graeme Souness as a left midfielder, filling in for an injured John Barnes in 1993.

Though his versatility aided him, his best form was arguably produced at left-back under Gerard Houllier, which made his move to Leeds United in 2000 something of a disappointment.

Matteo was a staple of Leeds’ impressive side of the early 2000s, including in their runs in the Champions League and UEFA Cup, and is perhaps underrated having made 155 appearances for Liverpool over seven seasons.

 

Central midfield: Steven Gerrard

CARDIFF, WALES - SATURDAY, MAY 13th, 2006: Liverpool's Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring the third goal against West Ham United during the FA Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium. (Pic by Jason Roberts/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 710

Clubs: Liverpool, LA Galaxy


There is no need to justify Gerrard’s place in this side; a record of 710 appearances, 186 goals, nine trophies and countless unbelievable performances over 17 years speaks for itself.

One of Liverpool’s greatest-ever players, and a legendary captain for the Premier League era.

The only point of contention here is that the No. 8 would be taking up duties as the deep-lying midfielder in this side, as the likes of Jay Spearing, Danny Guthrie and Mikel San Jose are kept out by more refined talents elsewhere.

 

Central midfield: Curtis Jones

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, March 3, 2020: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Cup 5th Round match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 9

Clubs: Liverpool


Perhaps the most controversial inclusion in this XI, Jones takes his place among more accomplished and esteemed academy graduates as the next most likely to make the grade.

Along with his obvious talent as a roving midfielder capable of operating in a diligent midfield role, further forward as the No. 8 or even on the wing, there is an intangible quality that makes Jones stand out.

There is a reason he is so regularly touted as the current jewel of Kirkby, and why so much faith and responsibility has been placed on his shoulders at such a young age.

He is Liverpool’s youngest-ever captain, and seems poised to break through into the first team on a regular basis to join Alexander-Arnold as one of two Scousers in Jurgen Klopp‘s team.

 

Central midfield: Steve McManaman

London, England - Monday, December 2, 1996: Liverpool's Steve McManaman in action during the 2-0 Premier League victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 364

Clubs: Liverpool, Real Madrid, Man City


For many, McManaman’s achievements at Liverpool are soured by the manner of his exit in 1999, when he joined Real Madrid on a free transfer.

Overlooking that—and the clear flaws in such an argument, given the Reds turned down offers for him the previous summer—and McManaman should simply be remembered as one of the most supremely gifted players to graduate from the academy.

A mesmeric presence in midfield, the shaggy-haired Merseyside native could run games from his advanced role, dazzling defenders with his skill and crafting chances from the slightest of angles.

He went on to shine alongside the likes of Ronaldo, Raul, Roberto Carlos, Claude Makalele, Fernando Hierro, Fernando Redondo and Zinedine Zidane at Real, which is testament to an ability that should be more widely heralded.

 

No. 10: Raheem Sterling

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 13, 2014: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the first goal against Manchester City during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool appearances: 129

Clubs: QPR, Liverpool, Man City


The next in a trio of players scorned by the Kop due to his career path beyond Liverpool, Sterling is one of the most prodigious talents to come through Kirkby in recent years.

As the fourth-youngest player to debut for Liverpool in the Premier League, that he went on to make 129 appearances for the club, scoring 23 goals and laying on 25 assists, is indicative of his sheer quality.

Next to Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez he was the driving force of the title challenge in 2013/14, and though it is commonly regarded as Suarez’s season, it can be neglected that Sterling was the best-performing player throughout the run-in.

He has settled as a winger in his impressive career with City since forcing through a move in 2015, but Sterling’s best days at Liverpool were as a No. 10, and at the tip of the diamond in this XI his pace and power could be key.

 

Striker: Robbie Fowler

Robbie Fowler celebrates after scoring for Liverpool against Derby County, during their FA Premiership football match at Pride Park, Derby. 1999. Rui Vieira/PA Archive/PA Images)

Liverpool appearances: 369

Clubs: Liverpool, Leeds, Man City, Liverpool, Cardiff, Blackburn, North Queensland Fury, Perth Glory, Muangthong United


If it was Fowler’s decision, he would have joined Carragher as a one-club man; or, at least, joined Gerrard as a Liverpool stalwart into his late-30s, before satisfying his desire to test himself abroad.

Events beyond his control saw him undergo something of a journeyman career as he took in spells with the likes of Leeds, Man City, Cardiff and Blackburn, but the reception he was given on his return to Liverpool from City in 2006 is a marker of his reputation at Anfield.

Fowler is one of the best finishers to ever play for the club, and is the best striker to break through the academy in the Premier League era, with 183 goals landing him sixth in the Reds’ all-time scoring charts.

Of those, 116 goals came in 140 appearances in his first four seasons in the first team, before a cruel ACL injury in 1998 stalled his momentum; he only played over 40 times in two more campaigns in his entire career.

Despite his fading fortunes, Fowler still played a key role in Liverpool’s treble-winning season under Houllier in 2000/01, and is cherished among the Kop today.

 

Striker: Michael Owen

Liverpool's Michael Owen (left) celebrates his second goal during today's FA Cup Final against Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Picture by: Tom Hevezi / PA Archive/Press Association Images

Liverpool appearances: 297

Clubs: Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle, Man United, Stoke


Along with McManaman and Sterling, Owen is another player unpopular in some sections of Anfield, but one whose feats for Liverpool demand a place in this XI.

When Owen broke through he was the most exciting teenager in world football, with pace to burn, quick feet, sparkling skill and an unstoppable finish.

His runs off the shoulder of defenders made him a devastating outlet for Houllier’s side, and with 158 goals in his 297 games for the club he stands as Liverpool’s eighth-highest all-time goalscorer.

A Ballon d’Or winner—still the last English player to do so—Owen’s career was unfortunately derailed by injury and questionable decisions, but he was desperate to rejoin Liverpool ever since leaving for Real in 2004.

In this XI, joining Fowler and Sterling in attack, supported by Gerrard, McManaman and Jones in midfield and with the service of Alexander-Arnold, Owen would be a phenomenal threat.


Liverpool academy graduates XI: Gulacsi; Alexander-Arnold, Coady, Carragher, Matteo; Gerrard, Jones, McManaman, Sterling; Fowler, Owen

Subs: Warner, Kelly, Robinson, Warnock, San Jose, Wilson, Mellor

Manager: Roy Evans

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