The following five players are the quintet who I believe to be the brightest prospects at the club, out of those who have yet to make a senior appearance, but who are at an age where a breakthrough in the next year is not impossible.
Each is very much on Rafa’s radar, although that doesn’t mean they will definitely succeed, or that others not listed here weren’t also singled out for praise by the manager.
Some will overtake those who have already played for the first-team, but getting above some good 20-year-olds in the pecking order is easier than getting past world-class midfielders and strikers. Liverpool’s 4th-choice central midfielder is currently a Brazilian international who won his league’s Footballer of the Year award aged just 20. That’s how big the leap is from reserve to first-team football.
While the youth system has been hugely problematic in recent years, with Steve Heighway and Rick Parry having their ideas (some of which clearly seem outdated, both in terms of scouting and training, and therefore contrary to what the manager wanted), it’s looking like the time is finally right for some scouted talents to break through; at the very least, they look capable of making up the numbers in the squad, and forcing out some fringe figures.
It might take longer for the local lads, particularly as players like Jack Rodwell (believed to be from a family of Reds) slipped through the net of a scouting system that was fragmented and lacking professionalism.
Appointing Kenny Dalglish as an Academy figurehead is all part of making the club more attractive to youngsters, and it was encouraging that Steven Gerrard was told by Dalglish that there is some real talent at Kirkby.
But the ones at Melwood are those who interest me for this piece.
From Benítez’s point of view, only now, in 2009, does he have his staff in place, with the previous incumbents appointed by Parry. I had assumed that the manager had control of the appointments following Heighway’s departure in 2007, but this was not the case.
In other words, it’s hard to blame the manager for what’s come through the system in terms of home-grown talent, and also, bar Stephen Warnock, not one local lad has been sold or let go and gone on to look even remotely good enough to return. That’s why the best prospects were mostly scouted from further afield.
What’s most encouraging is that all, bar one, of the five I have chosen are physically strong, powerful players. While there are some exciting diminutive technicians (Pacheco, Bruna, Kacanaklic), you need to be outstanding as a team to play in the Premiership without power and strength.
What Liverpool need right now is a little extra height, particularly when defending set-pieces, and most of these players certainly possess that. (While Chelsea, for example, have Joe Cole and Deco, on the whole they are perfectly suited to Premiership football in terms of size and pace.)
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