"Self-sacrifice is the real miracle out of which all the reported miracles grow."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
It can't be easy. Perpetually changing personnel under your command, the constant pressure to mould one of those emergent talents into the next superstar from the Academy assembly-line, the knowledge that your final standing and results will never be an accurate reflection of your work -- all of these are amongst the less-than-rewarding aspects of Alex Inglethorpe's job as manager of Liverpool's Under 21s.
It's a role which requires a degree of phlegmatic acceptance and dispassionate pragmatism. There must be an acceptance that one is a cog in the machine -- vital, essential, but a cog nonetheless. As the leader of the team which is theoretically the gateway to the senior side, Inglethorpe is blessed with the finest young talent at the club but he must also accommodate those first team squad members who have slipped back in standing as well as those who may, like fatted calves, be on the way towards sacrifice to Mammon, as Liverpool Football Club Incorporated look to claw back some of the money invested in their development process.
Such a role then, cannot be the preserve of temperamental prima donnas or egomaniacal careerists. In order to carry out the task with efficiency, Inglethorpe must rid himself of any notions of aspiring to the traditional yardsticks of success. His charges might lose the majority of their fixtures, yet were he to inculcate in them a sense of how the game is played at first team level, then he would have been comparatively successful. They might have a massive game in the offing but, if requested, he must happily relinquish his finest players to the first team.
As it happens, Inglethorpe's young blades finished third in their division and now play Manchester United in a semi-final play-off on Tuesday, thereby retaining a real opportunity to finish the season successfully, in all respects. It is a testament not only to the quality of young players at the club but also to the excellent work done by Inglethorpe since he succeeded Rodolfo Borrell, now Academy Technical Director.
It is revealing to read what Inglethorpe himself has seen as the successes and failures of the time since he's been involved. In his column for Liverpoolfctv, the 41 year old insisted his greatest disappointment was the long term injuries suffered by the highly promising Marc Pelosi, Brad Smith, Jakob Sokolik and Samed Yesil. He is clearly saddened for the youngsters themselves and regretful he has missed the opportunity to coach them.
When delineating his successes Inglethorpe is unequivocal. He is most pleased by the signs that his work with individuals on their games is starting to bear fruit. True to form, he claims that it is off the pitch that his greatest victories have come.
"I think that some of my proudest moments here at Liverpool have come on the training ground at our Kirkby complex, where I have seen a player do something which I know they have been working on," he wrote. "It's so fulfilling to see them suddenly work in a different way, or have a shift in mentality. I take real pride when I watch a player do something good that we've worked hard on and something that he has been keen to master."
Even during the biggest match of the season thus far, the recent 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, Inglethorpe was less impressed with the creditable draw, despite being reduced to ten men, than he was with the impressive adaptation and application of certain players on the pitch.
"Kristoffer Peterson, who is a terrific lad to work with, recognises generally that defending is something he would like to work on," says Inglethorpe. "The fact that we went down to ten men gave him a chance to work on something that isn't a particular strength of his - and you can't really replicate the intensity of that experience in training. So the sending off was bad for the game, but some of our players, like Kristoffer, certainly gained something from it."
There is a complete understanding in Inglethorpe's words that he is there to help players to progress and learn, above all other considerations. His function, he comprehends, is to facilitate the development of the young players that revolve in and out of his care. Thus far, his efforts have been commendable and Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool Football Club can count themselves lucky to have such a dedicated and unselfish professional where he is needed most.