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Growing Up With The U18s

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The sudden rise this season of Liverpool's revitalised academy has been a major talking point around these parts, and with good reason. On the foundation set by Rafa Benitez towards the end of the 2008-2009 season, Academy Director Frank McParland and former Barcelona youth coaches Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell have overseen a stunning revival, and though it may still be too early to fully judge their successes, there seems a very real possibility that a golden generation of Liverpool talent is currently working its way up through the age groups, into the reserves, and perhaps from there on into the first team.

Along with Fenway Sports Group's long stated belief in developing youth as a core component of any long term success, Director of Football Damien Comolli has in the past talked of a need to shape the club's transfer strategy in such a way as to avoid it preventing the most promising prospects from reaching their full potential. Just how that will work out over the longer term will likely require at least a couple of transfer windows to figure out, but for now they've made a handful of changes at the youth level that only go to reinforce the weight Liverpool's new owners are placing on youth development—as well as confirming that the people running the club are, just like the fans, also looking at the current generation of kids moving through the ranks with no little eagerness.

In short, Academy Director Frank McParland today officially added Director of Player Development to his duties, meaning that in addition to overseeing the underage teams he will now also be overseeing the reserves just as many of the u18 players are making the step up to the next level full time.

Similarly, Pep Segura, formerly the academy Technical Director, has added matching duties with the reserves to his responsibilities. And perhaps most importantly, former u18 Coach Rodolfo Borrell, who took over coaching the reserves on a temporary basis a few months ago, will now be moving to manage the reserves full time. Keeping up with the shifting responsibilities, former u16 Coach Mike Marsh will be stepping up to the u18s next season.

The important names are, however, McParland, Segura, and Borrell, as this series of shifts and additions to their responsibilities show just how seriously Liverpool's top brass is taking the development of a potential gold mine of youth talent, moving quickly to insure continuity in their development and keeping the people largely responsible for bringing them so far already in charge of the next stage of growth. And for those who still doubt just how much promise this potential golden generation may have, one need only look to England's current u19 side as they prepare for the Elite Round of the u19 European Championships this summer.

The u19 Euros final will take place this July in Romania, but before then England faces a round-robin stage where they will face Montenegro, Switzerland, and Spain on (respectively) May 31, June 2, and June 5. The winner of this and seven other round-robin groups will then move on to the finals stage along with the host country. Now, regular readers will know that our interest in the English national team is minimal at best, and it seems unlikely that with Andy Carroll sitting out we will give any notice to the u21 European Championship also taking place this summer. With the English u19 side, however, the connections to Liverpool will be on a scale similar to Barcelona's connections to Spain's World Cup winning side.

Namely, of the 18-man squad set to take part in the forthcoming matches against Montenegro, Switzerland, and Spain, seven of the players will be Liverpool's: center back Andre Wisdom, fullbacks John Flanagan and Jack Robinson, midfielders Jonjo Shelvey and Conor Coady, and forwards Michael Ngoo and Thomas Ince. Moreover, of those seven all but Ince and Coady seem solid bets to start, meaning that there is a very good chance that five of England's ten outfield players at the u19 level will be Liverpool prospects.

Nobody can know for certain just how good they might turn out to be, but Liverpool moving the academy and reserves coaching structure up a level to continue nurturing their development while the kids prepare to make up the core of England's national side for their age group speaks to just how much promise there truly is working up through the club's ranks.