The primary purpose of the restructuring of the Liverpool Academy at Kirkby in the summer was to initiate a process which could bring about a new golden age of young scouse talent who could live up to the names of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen. The cornerstone of Rafa Benitez’s new contract was that he would have full control of the Academy so as to guide the youngsters through to first team football without the lack of communication and power he had before. Frank McParland was assigned a role last March by Rafa Benitez to make a review of the entire academy system and find out why there had been a lack of players progressing to first team football.
The biggest discovery from the review, and from Benitez’s own experience of the Academy over the last few years, was the massive gap between the academy at Kirkby and Liverpool first team training at Melwood. Benitez’s lack of power and knowledge of Academy players had undermined the progression of youth players from the Academy to Melwood and Benitez was aware it was essential that if in the coming years there is a lack of transfer funds, he must rely on youth as the solution. Benitez stated a few weeks ago:
In my first few years at Liverpool I was waiting and waiting for players to come through from the Academy and I was unable to have an influence because the youth system was not part of my job. That’s why, when I was negotiating my new five-year contract, it was not about money or more power. It was about influencing the academy. Maybe in the future we will not have the money the other top teams have, so we have to produce our own players. If that is going to be the case then I wanted to have an influence on player development because I need to have that talent coming through.
McParland’s job in the review last season after Benitez signed his new deal was to find the best way of doing this. In the summer, a clear out of academy backroom staff was the result. As head of the review, McParland was given the job of academy director, tasked with carrying out the restructuring and forming the future direction of youth development. The first thing was to fuse the Academy and Melwood together so as to ensure a direct line of communication from youth and first team coaches. For this to be made possible, Jose Segura was appointed as Academy technical manager, Rodolfo Borrell as U-18 coach and Kenny Dalglish as the Academy’s ambassador. All three had crucial roles to play in the new structure.
I know one of my fellow colleagues Mark Greenwood has already talked about the importance of Jose Segura, a man critical in developing the likes of Andres Iniesta, Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Bojan Krkic, Cesc Fabregas at Barcelona during his time with he youth setup and the B team. His experience will be vital in bringing through the right players to Melwood. Another fellow Spaniard will also be vital in the guise of U-18s coach Rodolfo Borrell. A great friend of Segura, Borrell spent 13 years in Barcelona’s youth ranks helping their teams to title after title and the relationship between Borrell and Segura was crucial to both of them signing up to assist the Academy. The last piece of the jigsaw in the new setup was Kenny Dalglish. Effectively Rafa’s eyes and ears at the academy, the Liverpool legend will be there to bring young players to the attention of the Spanish manager so as to progress them through the ranks more quickly.
Dalglish’s appointment is effectively the fundamental principle behind the youth revamp: to spot talented, young and most importantly local players. It is something that Benitez emphasizes more than anything else:
If you bring your own players through they have more passion and commitment to the club, like Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. We must start to develop local players and that’s why Kenny Dalglish can be so important to our future. With his experience and contacts he can bring in a lot of people. He is a legend here. Now we are in a good position.
So how has the revolution progressed over the first six months? Probably not as well as people would have hoped, but it is still early days. Borrell’s U-18 team find themselves second from bottom of the Academy Premier League after five wins, one draw and eight defeats. They have however progressed through in the FA Youth Cup as they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 a few weeks ago. Another appearance in the Youth Cup final will no doubt be the biggest ambition for Borrell’s side this season. The emphasis on young local players has already begun to bear fruit though as the crux of the U-18 this season has a very English flavour about it. Talents that emerged in the run to the FA Youth Cup final last season as well as some new English players are heavily involved this season as players such as Thomas Ince (Paul’s son), Michael Ngoo, Adam Pepper and Andre Wisdom are all talents with a great future in the game.
It will certainly take more than six months for this new academy structure to begin to discover and develop the young local players that Rafa Benitez’s feels he needs but with McParland, Segura, Borrell and Dalglish at the helm, you could not ask for anything more. It may take quite a few years before their work shows good results as Segura knows all too well:
I know we will work hard and do the best for the youngsters. In football, people often associate improvement and success with winning. I think this is important but for me, the most important thing is to progress. If we look five years down the line we want these players to be in the first-team of Liverpool Football Club. It’s not about short-term success. We want to ensure Liverpool have a bright future. You have to decide whether winning the under-18 championship is more important than providing one player for the first-team. We would like to do both, but we know that the first-team is the priority.
So no matter what results the U-18s get, the priority will be on getting that one player through to the first team, I think it is a policy that should serve the academy well and could through bring the new Robbie Fowler’s and Steven Gerrard’s that all Liverpool fans have been waiting for.