After the departure of Rafa Benitez last summer, I was very concerned about the futures of Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell at the Academy. After all, it hadn’t been long since they were appointed to oversee the transformation of Liverpool’s youth academy when Rafa was sacked. After Rafa had signed his new contract back in March 2009, he took the reins of the academy and set Frank McParland the task of reviewing the practices at Kirkby. It led to the sacking of many staff and the restructuring of the youth system with McParland established as Academy director, Segura as Academy technical manager and Borrell as Under 18s coach. With the departure of Benitez, I felt that these long term plans would be kicked into the long grass.
The arrival of John W Henry and NESV has allayed these fears though. Emphasising a long term strategy for Liverpool’s future success, he highlighted the need to develop young talent, in a similar vein to the Boston Red Sox, to make the team successful on the pitch using local, home grown talent with a spirit of the club values instilled in them from a young age. Such a strategy, NESV rightly believes, will also lead to a sustainable profitable club in the long term. Such a view was in the mind’s eye of previous manager Benitez and was therefore the long term strategy of McParland, Segura and Borrell when they took over the academy in the summer of 2009. Borrell has especially talked in length in interviews about developing local Scouse talent.
Borrell feels a similar approach to Barcelona’s La Masia academy was needed. Although an identical system can’t be replicated due to Premier League and FA rules, the values and training techniques developed at La Masia can be copied. From when they get to La Masia at age of 12 or 13, players are effectively taken away from their families and put into a youth hostel style situation where their guardians are the Barca coaches and staff. This has the consequence of putting them in a controlled environment, where they are not tempted by the trappings that money can provide. An ordered day, where they were educated during the day, train in the evening, and do homework before they go to bed. Effectively, they are educated in the Barca way both on and off the pitch. The instilling of Liverpool values into all aspects of the club is something which is also important to John W Henry. Replying to questions put forward by the Red and White Kop fan site, he said:
“The values that we have to strive for within the club at Liverpool emanate from the supporters. We cannot have anyone at the club who when they walk into the Academy, Melwood or Anfield, aren’t aware of club values and that the club comes first and foremost. We have to have everyone from top to bottom on the same page – exactly the same page. And we will. We will make mistakes and it will be up to us to correct them. With the level of support this club has, if we are all on the same page, we will be incredibly successful.”
Although Henry doesn’t know it yet, this notion of values of the club being important is crucial to Borrell’s and Segura’s philosophy too. Fortunately then, the restructuring of the Academy back in 2009 has not gone to waste as both NESV and the former Barcelona youth coaches are on the same page. For an organisation to work, everyone in the structure must be singing from the same hymn sheet and have the same goals in mind. Henry has stated that Borrell and Segura’s work will be top priority:
“I’ve been to the academy three times and I’ve met with Jose Segura and Rodolfo Borrell. They are key people for the future of Liverpool. They know their work is now a major priority for us. I’ve made a personal commitment to them. We intend to give them the resources to build LFC for the future. We need “top four” young players. They will not produce a quick fix, but our philosophy in football will be based on the long-term.”
Certainly there are financial motivations behind this emphasis on youth, NESV are not an organisation who have hundreds of millions of pounds to spend on players like Sheikh Mansour does, but this development of local young talent, replicated from their time with Boston Red Sox, is designed to give future success on the pitch without the need for large transfer budgets. A successful, winning club in their eyes is one that is most profitable, and to be financially sustainable in the long term, success on the pitch is required and this can be found through the development of youth. Let’s hope the work pays off.