We seriously need to talk about youth… like we need to have a serious sit-down and you need to listen to me, because I am genuinely beginning to wonder about the psychological state of Liverpool fans.
Why, I hear you ask? This is why…
LFC: ‘Liverpool can confirm that Harry Wilson has extended his contract with the club’
LFC Fan #1: ‘Will probably end up in Brighton in two years. Academy has been broken for a while now’.
LFC Fan #2: ‘Can’t wait for him to go on loan for 3 seasons straight then get sold to Bournemouth’
LFC Fan #3: ‘Gr8 news? Why? He ll get loaned out 4 sure and no way he ll get in 2 top team with signings we ve made methinks Just got rid of Brad Smith and now linked 2 19 year-old playing in France who has nt played 4 the 1st team there… The King-maker who develops kids into world class players is emptying our club of youngsters 4 meagre sums and importing others 4 multi-millions Losing any trust in Klopps judgements by the minute’
I know that last one took some translation, so feel free to stop reading, make yourself a brew, take an aspirin, do what you need to do to get past the trauma of it; then prepare to delve in to why these fans (who seem to represent the online majority), are maybe, possibly, probably wrong.
Are you rested? Good, we’ll begin then.
So, we seem to have a problem with the quantity of young players coming through to the first team. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s frustrating, but who are we kidding? Do we really think that we should be producing a Steven Gerrard or a Jamie Carragher every five years or so? Is that a realistic goal? Probably not.
The first thing we need to look at is players that we’ve released or sold, who have come through Melwood and whether the club made the right decision. For the sake of not making you want to jump off a bridge, we’re going to stick with players who either played senior games for LFC, or were seen as huge prospects.
Conor Coady was born and raised in Merseyside, and joined the Liverpool academy at 12-years-old. He made his Premier League debut during the 12/13 season, before being shipped off on-loan and later sold to Huddersfield in 2014 for £500k. Coady was never seen as good enough to make the jump to the England U21s, and at the age of 23, is currently playing for a mid-table Championship team after making the switch to Wolves last season.
Verdict: Good Sale, not PL quality.
Looked to be Liverpool’s long term solution at right-back when he broke in to the first team, breaking in to the first-team proper in the 10/11 season. Kelly was used sparingly in the league over the next couple of years, even earning an international call-up; Kelly’s two-minute cameo against Norway awards him the dubious honour of being the capped player with the shortest England career ever. Injuries decimated Kelly before he was sold to Crystal Palace, where he only played thirteen times during the club’s relegation battle last-year.
Verdict: Good Sale, injury prone.
Made six appearances for the Reds over three seasons after becoming our youngest every player (before being beaten by the recently departed Jerome Sinclair). Sold to QPR after being deemed surplus to requirements in the emergence of Jon Flanagan and the purchase of Alberto Moreno (I know, I know) in 2014. Robinson spent the 14/15 season on loan at Huddersfield where he suffered a severe knee injury that kept him out for thirteen months, only making his QPR debut in April of this year. Only 22-years-old, time is on his side.
Verdict: Time will tell.
Suso looked to be the prodigal son didn’t he? A typical, attacking Spaniard. Suso left the club in January 2015, after AC Milan paid off the remaining six months on his contract, and there was uproar among a large portion of Liverpool fans, despite never really showing any stand-out quality when he played. There have been murmurs about an attitude problem and a laziness in training, and in the twelve months following his transfer, only featured six times in Serie A, before being shipped off to Genoa on loan. Suso scored once in his first dozen games for Genoa before bagging a hat-trick against Frosinone in April; I would venture that this means his promise still isn’t being fulfilled.
Verdict: 25 Serie A games in 18 months? If he’s barely Serie A quality, he’s not PL quality.
The thing about the four players that we just looked at in detail? We let them go in just one season (14/15) and in the two years since, none of them have come back to haunt us. Here’s a few more of the best players we’ve released in the last five years from our youth system:
-Jay Spearing – Bounced between Bolton and Blackburn over the last three seasons
-Dani Pacheco – Scored eight goals in three seasons, mostly in the Spanish second-tier
-Adam Morgan – Bounced around League One and League Two for a couple of seasons, now plying his trade in non-league with Colwyn Bay where he’s scored twice in five games
-David Amoo – Finished 9th in the SPL with Partick Thistle last season
-Stephen Darby – Bradford City’s first-choice right-back, reached the League Cup final in 2013
-Toni Silva – Scored three goals for União da Madeira as they were relegated from the Portuguese top-flight last season
-Nathan Eccleston – Scored once in five games for Békéscsaba 1912 Előre as they were relegated from the Hungarian top-flight
-Honourable mentions for Tom Ince who plays for Derby County and Daniel Ayala who was promoted to the PL last season with Middlesborough, both released/sold five years ago
Now… would any Liverpool fan in their right mind be able to argue that any of these players should have been kept around? All players around the same age as the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Nathaniel Clyne, Emre Can et al, and all plying their trades for teams in poorer quality leagues than the PL.
The only recent success stories out of our academy are Jon Flanagan and Raheem Sterling – a player who we bought from QPR at the age of fifteen anyway. The issue with LFC as a club, is that we were blessed in the mid-to-late-nineties, when we were given Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher, and now we seem to think that we are owed God-tier players.
Manchester United had the Class of ’92, and since 1992, who exactly have they produced? Yes, Marcus Rashford, but he’s been around for around five months, and it took them twenty-four years to dig him up, he wasn’t even alive when the Class of ’92 came in to being. If he turns out to be world class, the most successful team of the Premier League era has taken twenty-four years to produce him since their last real youth success. Otherwise, they’ve been producing Phil Bardsley, Tom Cleverley and Ryan Shawcross… Oh, and Pogba, and we all know how well that’s gone for them.
West Ham in the ‘90s and early ‘00s gave us some of the Premier League’s best players: Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermaine Defoe, Glen Johnson (in his prime, leave him alone). The Hammers basically fuelled half of the ‘golden generation’ for England, and what exactly are they firing out in the last five years? Ryan Hall, Dominic Vose, Elliot Lee.
Southampton’s youth system has been the pinnacle in recent years, firing out players like Adam Lallana (bought from Bournemouth at fifteen-years-old), Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale, and more recently James Ward-Prowse. If you look at the dark times that have befallen the likes of LFC and Manchester United, then it’s safe to assume that it isn’t going to last for Southampton either.
Once upon a time, Barcelona produced Gerard Pique (who left for Manchester United at 17 and returned not long after), Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, and Lionel Messi; players produced from their academy in the ‘90s and early ‘00s or bought from other teams at around 16-18-years-old. Nowadays, they’re in a buying state because they’re not producing world-class talent at the moment, they’re buying the likes of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Neymar, and all for big money too.
There will come a time when LFC will produce genuine world-class players again, and we hold a massive advantage in the development of those players right now, because we have Jurgen Klopp, a manager who thrives when working with young, talented players. As fans of the club, we need to be less critical of how our youth system is managed.
The lower tiers of English football are littered with players who weren’t deemed good enough to make it at Premier League clubs, and it’s very rare that the clubs are wrong; for every Jamie Vardy or Rickie Lambert, there’s a hundred players who go on to player non-league football, or start up a small business back in their home-town.
Most players aren’t good enough to play for Liverpool, that’s just how it is.
So, what do we all think? Do we agree with everything above, or do we have an axe to grind with with this poor defenceless blogger? Leave your thoughts for us.
Or find me on Twitter @AlexThomasLFC