Liverpool played in the Champions League on Wednesday night.
That’s the NextGen series junior Champions league, with the academies from Liverpool, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Celtic all in action.
The youngsters will be pitting their wits against the likes of Barcelona, Internazionale, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce and Marseille. The technical bar of the British teams is bound to be raised following on from these contests over the coming months, thus helping the players in their ultimate goal of making the transition to the first team.
Liverpool’s first game in the competition ended in a comprehensive 3-0 defeat to Sporting Lisbon. Rodolfo Borrell’s youngsters, which boasted first team squad members Jack Robinson and Jonjo Shelvey, started brightly. In particular 16 year old left sided winger Raheem Sterling was causing the visitors problems. However, the Reds could not find a route to goal and faced with one of the best youth sides in Europe, the Portuguese showed their class to claim a comfortable win.
Among those who have successfully come through the Liverpool Academy include Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Robbie Fowler, Steve Mc’Manaman, Dominic Matteo and Michael Owen. All six made their full debuts in the 1990s and it seemed as if the Academy would just keep on rolling out talented young player after player.
This, however, was not the case. Throughout the noughties, all appeared quiet on the Academy front. The most high profile player to come through to the first-team was current Aston Villa left-back Stephen Warnock. Not quite the heavy heights of the 90’s.
Last season saw youngsters such as Martin Kelly, Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey get their first consistent runs of appearances for the senior team thanks to manager Kenny Dalglish’s faith in Liverpool’s youngsters.
John Flanagan is also among the fortunate ones who have enjoyed a recent dream rise through the ranks with the Reds.
The 18 year old Academy graduate’s form for the reserves was rewarded with a first-team debut against the might of Manchester City at Anfield back in April, thanks in part to England International Glen Johnson’s, and regular first choice Liverpool right back, injury problems.
The full-back took his opportunity to impress manager Kenny Dalglish and earned himself a new four-year contract.
Flanagan started in the right-back berth on the opening day of this season against Sunderland last weekend. He had a tough game, with many supporters putting the blame on him for Sunderland’s equalising goal. His composure and awareness wavered as he got caught ball watching.
Young players who make the breakthrough from academy to first-team football need to be managed effectively, and not given too much too soon. Every mistake is scrutinised in the Premier League. There is nowhere to hide if you concede a penalty, get sent off, or miss a sitter from six yards in front of the Kop or the Stretford End.
The Dalglish policy of recruiting young, hungry mostly British players has been met with mostly universal approval of the fans. Coupled with the fact that the club are giving youth a chance, and boast top international players such as Captain fantastic Stevie Gerrard, Luis suarez, Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Raul Meireles, and Dirk Kuyt, to name a few, there is now genuine competition for places in the Liverpool camp.
Other Academy names to look out for over the coming seasons:
Jack Robinson: seen by many as the eventual long term left back, made his debut with the first team against Hull back in the 2009-10 season. Will most probably be a bit-part player this term after the recent signing of Enrique from Newcastle.
Nathan Eccleston: made his first team debut in both the League, and the Europe League last season during Roy Hogdson’s management. Primarily a striker, he can also play out in the wide areas. During the 2010-11 season he spent 21 games at Charlton Athletic, scoring three goals.
Conor Coady: could essentially be the next homegrown Steven Gerrard. He is one of the clubs brightest central midfield prospects and is known also for his ability to lead on the field. He captained the reserve squad to a second place finish in the reserve league. could start seeing some first team action in the FA Cup and League Cup fixtures this year.
Adam Morgan: young striker tipped to be a future Anfield great. The 17-year old led the Liverpool U18’s with 21 goals last season. He made the move to the reserve squad in the second half of last season, and he concluded his summer with a trip to the U17 World Cup with England.