It has been almost a year since the restructuring at the Liverpool Academy. With the appointments of Jose Segura as Academy Technical Manager and Rodolfo Borrell as Academy Under-18 Coach, the club made its intentions clear as both were employed by Barcelona and oversaw the progress of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, and Bojan Krkic. The aim is simple: to nurture young talents directly from the academy into the senior Liverpool team.
After the successes of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler the academy has since sustained a period bereft of any emerging young English players. And the emphasis, from Rafa Benitez himself, has been on his hopes for nurturing English talent:
“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.”
The role of Dalglish is to bring any promising performers from the youth ranks to the attention of Benitez directly in the hope that an opportunity with the senior squad may be forthcoming. The decision to bridge the gap between manager and youth team appears to be solely in Benitez’s imaginings. He negotiated the stipulation that more intimate knowledge of the youth academy and its members be included in his new contract:
“In my first few years I was 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 about influencing the academy…I wanted to have an influence on player development because I need to have that talent coming through.”
With this in mind Benitez overhauled sixteen members of the academy backroom staff, brought in Frank McParland as academy director last March and further secured the services of Segura and Borrell. The move showed an instinct for self sufficiency even with severely restricted funding and a foresight to instil an identity to the youngsters: the passion and desire exhibited by the likes of Gerrard and Carragher endear them to fans and help propagate the brand of Liverpool as a club aware of its own history. Whether the pressure to sign English talent is right or wrong – I am of the belief that ability should be sought after, regardless of nationality, in the attempt to progress a team – Benitez has expressed, logically, that local youngsters are already immersed in the hysteria of the city.
Liverpool definitely has staying power for those who wear the shirt; Pepe Reina unflinchingly pledged his best years to the club recently and is a consistently top performer for the club. Fernando Torres has revelled in the support (albeit somewhat easier to do when one has been as prolific as him) and in the bouts against Manchester United there is an added intensity in his demeanour; more than simply taking to the fans he understands the magnitude of the rivalry and this translates onto the pitch. The two mentioned, ironically, are not English yet harbour a special place for the club in their hearts. The emphasis on English talent thus seems moot because, as with Fabregas at Arsenal and Rooney at United, a young player can very easily intertwine their identity with the club’s (success plays a vital role however).
The fruits of this labour will not be felt next season or probably the season after. It is a long term investment and perhaps after Benitez’s tenure at the club is over we may see the rewards of his decision to revamp the youth academy. Time and opportunity will gauge the progress of the current youth team but surely even if only one Raheem Sterling or Lauri Dalla Valle turns into first team mainstays in the future, this would not have been a wasted venture by Benitez.