KIRKBY, ENGLAND - Wednesday, November 27, 2019: Liverpool's captain Curtis Jones leads his side out before2 the UEFA Youth League Group E match between Liverpool FC Under-19's and SSC Napoli Under-19's at the Liverpool Academy. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Laying foundations & understanding setbacks key for Liverpool’s new U18s manager

A mentality built for setbacks and life in the first team is a priority for Liverpool’s new under-18s boss, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson.

The surprise departure of Neil Critchley mid-way through the season forced a shuffle in Liverpool’s academy ranks, which led to Barry Lewtas earning promotion to the under-23s.

The knock-on effect was that it left a role to fill in the under-18s, but they followed up with a second promotion from within having handed Bridge-Wilkinson the top job after serving as under-16s manager.

The former Derby County attacker arrived at Liverpool’s academy in 2015 and will now continue a natural progression alongside his young players.

Bridge-Wilkinson has overseen the rise of the likes of Layton Stewart, James Norris and Tom Hill into the older age groups and is now looking forward to laying the foundations for another crop of players to make the initial step to the U23s, and into then, hopefully, the first team.

“Hopefully, these boys, lots of them will go on and have careers that will far outweigh what I achieved in football,” Bridge-Wilkinson told the club’s official website.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 5, 2019: Liverpool's substitute Tyler Morton (R) celebrates scoring the sixth goal with team-mates Layton Stewart (L) and Niall Brookwell (C) during the Under-18 FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC at Finch Farm. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“That’s the aim, to give them the understanding of the game tactically but to give them as well the understanding of the difficult side of football as well when things don’t go your way.

“When things are tough but you’ve got to knuckle down and stick with it, kind of use that grit and determination to achieve something. So I think around all the technical parts and the physical element, it’s as much about mentality as anything else.

“Each and every one of us as a member of staff is in it for the right reasons, I believe, which is to help these young boys develop into really good people, really good young men and hopefully obviously have an outstanding football career on top of that. So that’s the aim.

“Ultimately we are going to be judged on players getting into our first team. Obviously, last season when I was with the U16s to see the likes of Layton Stewart, James Norris and Tom Hill getting the opportunity to go with the older boys and play competitive fixtures is fantastic, James Balagizi playing for the U18s as well.

“I’ve been quite fortunate that the group of players I’m going to take over, I’ve worked with for over two or three years, so I know the individuals really well. It’s great to see them on that journey, it’s great to see them making positive strides on it but the work is never finished.

“The work just continues and ultimately my job is to keep helping them progress to the next level and hopefully pass them on to Barry, who gets to pass them onto the first-team staff.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 29, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp applauds Curtis Jones during the FA Premier League match between West Ham United FC and Liverpool FC at the London Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The nod to developing resistance in the face of setbacks is an important one to note, with Jurgen Klopp having fostered and then readily praised his “mentality monsters” in recent years.

And the boss is the ideal man in charge for Bridge-Wilkinson, with the pathway from academy to first-team wide open for players and staff alike to see, following in the footsteps of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones and Neco Williams.

“It’s fantastic and it’s a brilliant place to be,” he added. “As a development coach, we see our role in helping these youngsters and continually improving and when you have a sort of figurehead at the club like our manager is, who believes in youth as well, there is a clear pathway for the boys and they can see it and for us as staff below as well.

“It gives us an awful lot of belief that our work is not wasted. It gives us great belief in the work that we do and hopefully, the boys will get there and manage to push through.”