Liverpool need to heed the warnings from the failed Arsenal experiment
There’s a certain sense of excitement around Liverpool at the moment this season, despite their slow start to their league campaign, they’ve managed to successfully integrate a whole host of exciting youngsters into their first-team squad, but there’s definitely a degree of deja-vu about this well-intentioned policy, with Arsenal giving up on their experiment in favour of bringing in more experienced players the past two summers as they bid to end their own seven-year trophy drought.
The likes of Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey, Suso and Andre Wisdom all appear to have forced their way into the starting eleven this season due to a combination of fantastic form, injuries to other players and squad rotation with more senior players in Europe. Indeed, a front three of Suarez, Sterling and Suso looks as if it’s Rodgers first-choice trio at the moment, with Fabio Borini forced to kick his heels on the bench for the time being of late.
Rodgers has shown a willingness to trust the squad’s younger members, a situation in part foisted upon him by the coffers running dry to bring in new players this summer and during the victory over Norwich at Carrow Road last weekend, Liverpool fielded their youngest side for 9 years with an average age of 24 years and 347 days, with only the inclusion of Steven Gerrard over the age of 30 in the starting eleven. Against West Brom in the League Cup a couple of weeks ago, Jerome Sinclair made his debut becoming the club’s youngest ever first-team player in the process at 16 years and 6 days old.
The future is clearly bright and the talent on show and coming through the ranks is hugely exciting for the club’s fans, but any talk of what this current crop might be able to achieve in the future should be tempered by what happened over at Arsenal, where manager Arsene Wenger tried a similar route to success only to see his bright young things often come up short when the going got tough.
Names like Philippe Senderos, Johan Djourou, Nicklas Bendtner, Fran Merida, Armand Traore, Kerrea Gilbert, Denilson and Nacer Barazite were given numerous cup run-outs before slowly but surely moving into league involvement in the side and in their own ways, they all proved to be not quite up to the task of playing for a club the size of Arsenal, a club with title ambitions and top four aspirations as a bare minimum.
Wenger’s faith in them, sometimes bordering on the blind, has certainly cost the club dearly and his stubborn refusal to reach the dawning realisation that most of the club’s fans came to a hell of a lot earlier held the side back. The result has seen Arsenal gradually fall away from challenging for honours and the experiment on relying on youth has since been corrected.
After Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas departed last season, Wenger has since stepped up his efforts to bring in more experience to his side, with seasoned international such as Per Mertesacker, Gervinho, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla all coming into the side and making an impact and there’s been a noticeable shift in the club’s transfer policy in the pursuit of silverware. Wenger has finally come to realise that while blooding in youngsters is all well and good, it has to be done in increments rather than as part of a radical overhaul and you have to find that right blend and balance, which is what they look as if they have at the moment.
Liverpool have experience in key areas right down the spine of their side from Suarez, Gerrard, Skrtel, Agger and Reina and after the campaign’s first six league games, the average age of the Liverpool team selections is 23.38 – pipping Arsenal’s figure of 23.73 into second place.
It’s not as if Rodgers is recklessly throwing in youth into games where they can’t handle the pressure and if anything, they might have benefited from playing league football from the off against competitive opposition rather than pointless cup games against inferior sides, but there’s a worry that we might expect too much, too soon from them in terms of delivering week-in, week-out and Rodgers shouldn’t abandon looking to recruit older players altogether in the future.
There are certainly plenty of reasons to be cheerful at the moment on Merseyside, but we shouldn’t mark this current crop as world-beaters before they’re truly ready, though, for if Arsenal have taught us one thing in recent years, it’s that placing all of your eggs in one basket is an extremely risky policy and approach to take and hailing the next generation before they’ve fully arrived can only lead to crushing disappointment.
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