By Arnar Steinsson.
“We are one club compared to what it was then”.
The words of Frank McParland on the day that Brendan Rodgers and a group of first team players visited the Academy at Kirkby at the end of February. A long road has been travelled and countless hours of hard work put in by the staff that has been assembled for the last four years in order for him to speak these words. And it’s clear to see from watching the way the U12s play all the way up to the U21 team who aspire to break into the first team, everyone of those players is playing the same system and style of football that Rodgers is implementing at Liverpool Football Club.
There is a straight line throughout the ranks at the Academy now, developing a special type of player with the set of skills and understanding of the system that he will hope to one day use playing week in and week out as a Liverpool first team player. And if and when that young player steps on to the pitch in front of tens of thousands of football fans, with the TV cameras fixed upon him and millions watching his first steps as a professional, he will know what to do. He will have many things to learn and adjust to, but the way of playing and that style of football is imprinted into his DNA so to speak. It’s natural for him.
We are already seeing how much easier it is for some of the younger players to move up an age group or two with the likes of Jordan Rossiter, Ryan Kent, Harry Wilson and Seyi Ojo just to name a few. I have taken notice, as probably many others, the great work Steve Cooper and his staff has done with the U18 side lately in order to keep training from being interrupted and keeping his key players fit for the Youth Cup. Much credit as well has to go to Michael Beale, Head of Coaching for the U15 to U16 and his staff, and Gary Lewis, Head of Coaching for the U12 to U14 and his staff, for successfully moving young players into rotation to the U18 squad – notably in a 4-1 victory against Sunderland and an inspired comeback against West Brom.
After conceding two goals, Cooper’s side managed to turn that game around and win it with goals from Kris Peterson, Robles and Ojo. One of the most remarkable things in that game was the young age of the squad, with only one 18 year old, six 16 year olds, four aged 15 and one aged 14. At the same time Cooper’s side has gone on a fantastic Youth Cup run with one 18 year old in the side.
Along with this a large number of young players have been training at Melwood and with the U21 side this season. It has become a club that is one. It makes such a difference for a young player to play alongside people like Steven Gerrard, Carragher, Suarez and Lucas. That injection of inspiration goes a long way for a young player aspiring to be a Liverpool player in a few years’ time. It gives him a taste of what it’s like to be one of them, gives him experience of how these players approach their game on a daily basis and an idea how hard they have to work to get to that level, as well as picking up traits of high level professionals and certain skills which are hard to learn anywhere else.
Brendan Rodgers had a meeting with the Academy players that day. One of the main things he spoke to them about was the importance of their determination to succeed and dedication towards football. As a former youth manager and youth coach himself, Rodgers takes a lot of interest in the Academy. The way Alex Inglethorpe speaks of him shows the tremendous respect he has for him and his abilities. And Inglethorpe himself is a very experienced and respected youth development coach, getting great results with Tottenham before he got the opportunity to come to Liverpool and work with Rodgers on a project that was hard to say no to. Brendan Rodgers, though experienced in developing players at all ages, is still learning, as everyone else, and that never stops with an evolving game. I think going down to the Academy is a very important thing for a manager to do and can be of real benefit to the young players. There are plenty of sacrifices to make and pretty much nothing but hard work and an obsession with football before you can become a regular player at Liverpool. I want to quote a former Academy and Liverpool player on this subject, Neil Mellor – and the youngsters should take this to heart:
“I sometimes think that there is an impression that a footballer’s path is easy. It really isn’t. It becomes easier if you maintain focus and give absolute dedication towards a greater goal. If you take things easy after a decent start it’s very easy instead to go backwards. Players like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have all the talent in the world but are only still in the game because they are obsessed by it. They have given their life to the sport. “
I don’t think it’s easy for a young man to accept the fact that you are dedicating your life to a sport. When you have already dedicated a big part of your life to it from an early age, it’s extremely hard to not to take your foot of the gas and relax. It’s a temptation every day for them, but it’s not an option if you are going to achieve big things. You constantly have to assess where you are in your development. It’s a gruelling test of your mental and physical capacities to look constantly at your flaws and correct them. To wake up every day to the same routine and push forwards and give it your all in training and in matches, when some days all you want to do is stay in bed and relax every aching muscle in your body.
You will see your friends doing things that you have to deny yourself, some of them for the rest of your career. Following pretty much the same routine year after year can become very dull at times and there can be a strong temptation to break free from it no matter how much you love the game, it will always pop up at some point.
The emotional side of it is hard to deal with, nobody likes to lose whether it’s in training or in matches. And without the mental strength and a certain developed attitude to deal with losses they will weigh heavily on you. Getting used to winning can also provide problems, hitting the reset button so to speak can be hard. Constantly reminding yourself that you are only as good as your last game.
The rest of this article is for Subscribers only.