On the back of the first team squad's day of 'integration', discussed recently by Elizabeth L of this very parish, it is heartening to hear from one of the academy's brightest prospects, Ryan McLaughlin, as he espouses the values of humility and respect taught to him by the staff at Kirkby.
McLaughlin made his senior debut for Liverpool in the pre-season friendly against Roma in Fenway Park last July, at the age of only 17. The youngster acquitted himself well on the occasion despite the fact that, for much of the match, his direct opponent was an emerging Italian prospect called Francesco Totti.
That first team bow led to a call-up to the Northern Ireland senior squad to play Finland a month later. McLaughlin had to subsequently retire from the group due to injury, but his initial selection speaks to the esteem in which his developing talent is held. Despite this expeditious rise through the ranks, the former Glenavon man seems a grounded sort, who speaks appreciatively of the "brilliant opportunity" afforded him at Liverpool Football Club and that, as yet, he and his peers "haven't done anything at all."
If Brendan Rodgers is to build the club in the fashion he advocates, it will be vital that the staff and players of the academy buy into his vision and respect the man. To hear Ryan McLaughlin speak, is to hear that process beginning. He emphasized that it was the manager who had stressed to the academy members that for the new breed of Liverpool player, success should not be about commercial gain but rather about "going out in front of 40,000 people and winning games and trophies."
Academy Director Frank McParland has been very positive about the direction the club has taken under Rodgers, speaking about the "clear lines of communication" between those nurturing the youngsters at Kirkby and the manager. Most importantly, McParland stresses that this relationship "offers the players a pathway" along which progress can be made to the first team.
Should Ryan McLaughlin travel that "pathway" to its ultimate destination, he will be following an established tradition of full backs making the transition from youth teams to senior level. Lately, Andre Wisdom, Martin Kelly, Jack Robinson and John Flanagan have emerged, but before them were the likes of Stephens Warnock, Wright and Darby.
Continuing the full back theme, one of McLaughlin's idols, a certain Jamie Carragher, has been known to do a stint on either flank in defence and the most iconic of all academy graduates, Steven Gerrard, made his first senior appearances as a right back for Gerrard Houllier. The promising Northern Irishman says that all of his young colleagues "take encouragement from the knowledge that Gerrard and Carragher went through the same process" as them. Ryan McLoughlin seems well-placed to make the same step as Liverpool's two finest academy graduates.