The Liverpool academy set up – overhauled under Rafael Benitez – is finally starting to produce some great results. Under the skilled hands of Rodolfo Borrell and Pep Segura, Liverpool have turned things around and we have started to see more and more promising youngsters burst onto the scene. With so many hot prospects at the club, it is interesting to look at how Liverpool can nurse these talents, so that they have the best opportunity to make the transition to the senior side. Liverpool could stick them in reserves, ship them out on loan, or alternatively and perhaps controversially, they could set up a nursery club system.
Nursery clubs are common in other European countries, but not in England, and the FA seem unwilling to sanction any plans for these type of systems. Barcelona and Real Madrid both have nursery sides, who play in the lower Spanish leagues, it is a great level for young stars to learn their trade and develop. Clearly it is a policy that works for these sides, when you see the successful transitions many players have made from their nursery sides.
For Liverpool’s wealth of talented youngsters there would be clear benefits in a nursery club system. At a nursery club the young players would be exposed to a higher level of football from an earlier age, whilst still under the guidance and tutelage of Liverpool. It is a good way to keep the young players challenged and ticking over, instead of the reserve league, which does not offer youngsters a high enough quality to test themselves against. The reserve leagues infrequent games are not enough to be of benefit to a young player. A nursery side in one of the lower divisions would give Liverpool’s youngsters a much higher level to learn their trade, thus aiding their development. It would also be more beneficial than a loan period, as Liverpool could guarantee players were going to see first team action and not sit on the bench as back up for their time there. Players like Martin Kelly – who spent time on loan at Huddersfield 18 months ago – were lucky that they got the chance to showcase their talents on loan, but others are not so fortunate and return from a loan period having gained little to nothing from it.
There are stumbling blocks to the nursery club system, though. Firstly a nursery and mother club would need to be vertically integrated at all levels. We are not talking about the loan of a few young players here and there – Liverpool already have grass root link ups with a few other sides – but a consistent stream of players into the nursery side. The nursery side would also need to play in a similar style to Liverpool to ensure the player develops in a way that they can fit into the Liverpool first team. It would have to be a long term and nationally recognised link up, something which the FA – who are allergic to change – would probably not sanction, and something which could raises issues over the identity of clubs in the lower leagues.
With the question marks over the future of reserve team football, something the FA is likely to do away with anyway, could nursery clubs be the answer for youth development? As well as benefiting the clubs involved, the system could also benefit the national side in the long run, by providing game time and more competitive football to players from the big clubs at an earlier age, aiding their development and making it easier to see who could make the step up.
The likes of Raheem Sterling and Suso at Liverpool are showing incredible promise and talent, and could really benefit from a nursery club scheme. Playing football at a higher level would serve to aid their development rather than the weak reserve league, or the youth league which isn’t a good stage for young players to develop – pitting inexperience against inexperience is not going to improve quality. With big signings coming in all the time, it is hard to make the breakthrough to the Liverpool first team, especially if there are a line of players ahead of you. Kelly and Flanagan broke through because they are talented, but also because Liverpool were struggling for players in their positions. How would a central midfielder break through and be given a chance when there is about ten others in front of him? A nursery club would solve this, allowing the player to work his way up through the ranks, and gain vital first team experience week-in-week-out.
Liverpool have a wealth of riches in terms of youngsters at their disposal, but it is what they now do with these prospects that is important. They wouldn’t want to let a talented youngster slip through the net, or not live up to their potential, and the best way to develop the amount of quality they have coming through is via a nursery club. Although the FA are opposed to it, it does seem like the best way to bring through young players. It certainly hasn’t done Barcelona any harm, and they have arguably the best academy and youth set-up in the world. With Liverpool’s academy progressing quickly, is it time to reassess the strategy and the best way to bring these talented youngsters through?