Why Brendan Rodgers needs to keep one eye on the future
It could be argued that Liverpool haven’t produced a world-class talent from their academy since current skipper Steven Gerrard over a decade ago; this subsequently led to a transforming of the academy system under former manager Rafa Benitez that is only starting to bear fruit – with this in mind, should Brendan Rodgers focus on blooding more youth into the first-team next season?
On Twitter last week, somewhat bizarrely, there was a buzz among many Liverpool supporters that Daniel Pacheco had returned to the club after a loan spell in Spain with Rayo Vallecano. Pacheco is 21 years of age now, if he was going to break through, he would have done it by now and the concerns about his slight build are obviously still being ignored.
The myth that he is good enough for the first-team and has been cruelly overlooked by a succession of managers comes merely from the fact that Liverpool purchased him from Barcelona and after all, everyone that Barcelona produces must be a world-class talent in the making. As a club, Liverpool’s conveyor belt of young talent has long since dried up, with Pacheco talked up more simply because of the reputation of his former club rather than anything special about the player himself, but there is a definite Catalan influence on the youth-team set-up now and one that needs to be taken advantage of.
In Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell, both of which have been tipped to have big parts to play as part of Rodgers’ inner council that consults on everything from transfers to style of play, they have two key figures at the club which have helped train the side’s reserves and academy over the past few years. Kenny Dalglish as Aacademy Director under Benitez helped implement a system which was supposed to see every side at all levels play in a similar style much like La Masia academy at Barcelona, with players able to slot seamlessly into the side the further they progressed up the ladder within the club.
While Pacheco has obviously missed the boat and his time has now passed, the club still have a wealth of talent that has up until this point, been confined to reserve-team football at best. Dalglish upon taking charge during his interim spell, when he knew he had nothing to lose, granted first-team opportunities to the likes of Jack Robinson, Jonjo Shelvey and Jon Flanagan, but they were by and large in short supply last term as he attempted to bed in an array of expensively-assembled talent at their expense in the pursuit of a top four finish.
It’s precisely these sorts of targets which restrict the opportunities granted to youngsters and Rodgers is thought to have been brought in with a long-term project and without any specific targets in mind, which should allow him more time to develop his side and integrate youth-team players more.
Perhaps more than at any other club, Liverpool fans like to see a representation of the future out on the pitch, whether they are local born and bred or not. The fanbase when results are not going well are always fixated on the youth and reserve teams, castigating the current manager in the process for not giving this or that player a chance. Nevertheless, there is sufficient talent currently within the ranks to allow Rodgers some time to experiment.
In Raheem Sterling, Connor Coady, Andre Wisdom and Suso to name but four, they have some real potential that could be gradually blooded into the first-team side. Dalglish’s reluctance to use them last season frustrated many, but with a new manager now at the helm and less of an emphasis on top four football (although the longer the club stay out of the Champions League, the more it will hurt them financially), there is a very real chance of progression.
Rodgers is known to have a preference for a 4-3-3 formation and with little in the way of pace at the club at the moment, this could be a breakthrough season for one of Sterling or Suso, who have both demonstrated some frightening ability at the admittedly limited level of reserve-team football.
Former reserve-team coach John McMahon had this to say about Suso: “He needs to know about the discipline and work that’s required in a team, like tracking back, tackling and staying with runners.” While Suso himself admits he struggled initially with the transition: “The game here requires you to run a lot more. For that reason it is more difficult. “I need to improve my intensity and my defending.”
It would be a shame that if the very creativity that he is being lauded for is then drilled out of him in the pursuit of a more rounded and disciplined player – the first-team already has plenty of those, but it requires more craft rather than graft. Rodgers is known to be a fan of possession-based football and someone like Suso could be what he’s after, in the short-term at least, with the club’s transfer budget unlikely to set pulses racing this summer. Sterling remains an interesting option as an impact substitution and both could have a part to play in the coming campaign.
Which young player would you like to see given more first-team opportunities at Liverpool next season?
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