Will Pep’s absence be felt at Liverpool?
One of the major talking points involving Liverpool this week was not the terrible result away to West Brom on the opening day of the season, when they lost 3-0, nor was it the desperately poor decisions of referee Phil Dowd, rather the fact that the academy’s technical director, the highly thought of Pep Segura quit his post last week – so where exactly does this leave the club?
The 51 year-old cited the fact that he wanted to be closer to his family in Spain as the reason why had decided to bring an end to his three-year association with Merseyside, but the timing of the decision told its own story.
Former U-18 coach and old Liverpool player Mike Marsh recently signed a deal that saw him become Brendan Rodgers first-team coach at the club, and it took just 11 days after he signed his new deal for Segura to leave, so there is clearly a connection there between the two.
Rodgers said about Marsh’s promotion at the time: “For me, it is very important to have people with the sort of root of Liverpool in their heart, the soul of the club. I’ve come in and I’ve got an understanding of what it is like. I feel I’m from the same bottle of the people of Liverpool and the city, with similar backgrounds. There are no worries about that, and I’ve also got players from Liverpool in the first-team group.”
It was widely believed that Segura was set for the very same promotion at the end of last season under the club’s former manager Kenny Dalglish, but that the appointment of Rodgers in the summer led to the 39 year-old boss wanting total control over certain parts of the club, namely the technical aspect, which led to a clash of personalities with Segura.
Having arrived back in 2009 with an impressive CV which included a managerial spell in Greece with Olympiacos, Segura was instrumental in the coaching of a whole host of Barcelona’s current crop of stars such as Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas during his role with the Barcelona B-team.
He stepped up to the position of reserve team manager last season as he continued to rise through the ranks at the club, before reverting back to his original role in the summer. Alongside Rodolfo Borrell, another former Barcelona youth-team coach, they were brought in by former manager Rafael Benitez and told to overhaul the club’s youth-team system and academy.
The result is that slowly but surely, under the ethos of Segura’s 4-2-3-1 that he’s got every single youth-team playing across the board, and under Borrell’s and Segura’s guidance, more and more youth-team players are beginning to break into the fringes of the first-team squad – Suso, Raheem Sterling, Adam Morgan, Jon Flanagan, Jack Robinson and Connor Coady to name the best examples. The club arguably would have felt the departure of Borrell more, seeing as he has coached this latest exciting crop of player for two years as U-18 coach, before taking over the reserve-team job in the summer.
In 63 competitive games as coach with them, the team have emerged victorious on 36 occasions and scored 143 goals, while they also went on to finish 2nd in last season’s Premier Academy League, losing out to Champions Everton by a single point- despite seeing his youngsters net 18 more goals than their cross-city rivals. While they also finished third in the inaugural NextGen series, which is sort of like the Champions League for youngsters, beating Marseille in the play-off after a heavy defeat to Ajax in the semi-final and the difference being made across the board is clear for all to see.
There appears to be a disconnect between the way that the academy and reserve-team is set up at the moment and the first-team, though. Rodgers has been keen to implement his own 4-3-3 system at the club, moving away from the 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 of the Dalglish and Benitez eras. Dalglish was keen to keep the course with the way Benitez had set things up, having been involved with the academy under the Spanish manager.
It remains to be seen how this will change things around the club but the departure was certainly a surprising one and make no bones about it, Liverpool have lost a world-class youth-team coach.
While the Academy may continue to follow the plans put in place by him for the foreseeable future, particularly with Director of Academy and Player Development Frank McParland still at the club, the long-term vision could alter now that he’s no longer there to help see it through, which is a worry.
Having been promised a promotion that never came and seeing his role at the higher echelons at the club in terms of debate over the future of the side and the way it should be run be reduced, his marginalisation led to his inevitable exit.
It must have come as something of a slap in the face for him, but Rodgers is yet again proving that when it comes to his vision, he is very much his own man and he’s staked a lot of the club’s progress to date so far on his own footballing philosophy, so the pressure is on, not just with the more visible first-team, but behind the scenes at Anfield too.
You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1