Written by TTT Subscriber Paul Grech (Twitter).
“I can trust him. If I asked Eddie to play in goal he’d probably do a good job and he’s only 4 ft 2. He’s that type of person, he’s in the James Milner mould, he’s left footed but you could play him right back or right wing.”
“Eddie does exactly what it says on the tin he’s one of those players, I love having him, love coaching him, and he’s got a big future.”
Steven Gerrard on Edvard Tagseth, November 2017
As Edvard Tagseth settled into Merseyside, life was good. The 16 year-old Norwegian joined Liverpool in the summer of 2016 and immediately won a place at the heart of a very good U18 side coached by club legend Steven Gerrard. There is always an elevated level of hype around such young players but expectations sky-rocketed when Gerrard praised the all-action midfielder.
For many, the ‘big future’ Gerrard predicted was that of starring in the engine room of Liverpool’s first team.
That, however, never happened. Tagseth is now back in Norway after a series of injuries prevented him from playing with the regularity that young players need in order to progress. His career is still on track – he is playing with a fair deal of consistency in the Norwegian top-flight for Rosenborg BK, no mean feat for a 19 year old – and there is still plenty of time for him to find his way to one of Europe’s big leagues.
And yet, as far as Liverpool are concerned he will forever be another player brought in at a young age from overseas who did not work out.
One of the headline items of the recently agreed rules for English football post-Brexit is that no foreign players who are younger than eighteen can be signed. What’s more, in each transfer window clubs can only sign a maximum of three players from overseas who are twenty one or younger.
Whilst Premier League clubs lobbied hard against such a restriction, ultimately they had to give in to the FA who saw this as a means to ensure more English talent getting an opportunity at academy level and hopefully, within the first team. Ultimately, they saw it as a way to help the England national teams.
Over the past two decades, Liverpool have brought in dozens of young players from overseas. None of them made it at Anfield and only three have gone on to enjoy a good career in big European leagues: Mikel San Jose, Suso and Peter Gulacsi. That disappointing return is why the new rules should not necessarily be seen as negative. Indeed, it might even be a good thing in the grand scheme of things.
For over twenty years, Premier league sides have used their financial muscle to plunder youth talent from all across Europe, often exploiting contractual loopholes to get the players they wanted. Sometimes this worked out spectacularly – Arsenal getting Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona being the finest example – but the vast majority of those deals turned out to be dead ends.
Even worse, many times they set the players’ development backwards, depriving them of crucial first team experience they were likely to get back home.
Liverpool have never been a club that stockpiles such players (with the exception, for some reason, of goalkeepers) and the priority has always been that of focusing primarily on local talent. That philosophy was strengthened further recently with the decision to reduce squad sizes across all age groups to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. When players where brought in from the outside, it was to strengthen areas where existing players where not developing as expected or the talent of the player being signed is thought to be of an exceptional level.
That approach was working.
French defender Billy Koumetio’s potential was underlined by his first team debut against FC Midtjylland where he became Liverpool’s youngest ever debutant in the Champions League. That same game saw Caoimhin Kelleher impress once more, cementing his position as the back-up goalkeeper after years of being developed at the Academy, something that would not have been possible for the Irishman under these new rules. Yasser Larouci, another French defender who joined the academy at a young age would probably have also made an appearance this season had he not opted against renewing his contract with the club.
These are the kind of players that Liverpool will not be in a position to sign any more going forward, at least until they turn eighteen.
It will be frustrating to be at a disadvantage when compared to other European sides but history shows that it is not an overly punitive setback. After all it is easy to focus on the few possible successes and forget the others who simply faded away.
The reality for Liverpool is that the club has been much more successful in spotting and developing British players; Trent Alexander Arnold, Curtis Jones and Neco Williams have all won their opportunities at Anfield whilst Harvey Elliott, Ryan Kent and Harry Wilson have shown that they are good enough to play at Premier League level. There are others who could yet join them with Ovie Ejaria, Sheyi Ojo and even Cameron Branagan all doing well enough at Football League clubs to suggest as much.
The pressure will now be greater to keep on in that tradition. And, to do that, Liverpool will need to find new ways to get the best talent possible in their academy.
Coming up: the points that will determine who gets in and what Liverpool can do to win within this new system.
Further reading: Premier League transfers: Is this the most difficult transfer window ever? (BBC)