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Liverpool Choose Quality Over Quantity in Academy Shake Up

Things are improving on the pitch for the senior squad, but that doesn't mean the club is ignoring what's going on in the lower ranks of the club.

Matt King/Getty Images

Those tasked with answering big questions like "How can England actually win an international tournament?" inevitably turn their focus to the perceived lack of homegrown talent making it from club academies into the first team of England's best and brightest clubs. The conclusions arrived at are usually wrapped around an argument about foreigners ruining everything, rather how youth are trained in the first place at academies around the country.

Liverpool have also come into some criticism for not having enough youth talent graduate into quality, mature senior squad members. Fans frequently scour the youth ranks for the next great Scouse hope, but while the next Steven Gerrard is a once in a generation talent, Liverpool hope to increase their odds of finding that player by decreasing the overall side of their youth setup and only accepting the best of the best.

"The definition of Academy is that it should be a place of elite," said Academy director Alex Inglethorpe in an interview with the Liverpool Echo. "It should be the case that when you look a player or their parents in the eye, you think there’s a genuine chance of them ending up playing for Liverpool.

"Often it does the parents and the players a disservice if you are taking boys just to fill up numbers. That doesn’t seem right to me. Often those boys will go to other clubs, be happy and stand a far better opportunity themselves by playing regularly."

This increased focus on quality over quantity goes hand in hand with statements made by first team coach Pep Lijnders last week about identifying highly talented academy players to train at Melwood under the watchful eye of Jürgen Klopp. Though the so-called "talent group" includes players as young as fourteen, the trimming of squad numbers to separate the boys from… the other boys will go all the way down to the U9 squad.

"The changes started last season," Inglethorpe continued. "We had around 235/240 before, it’s just under 200 boys now and that figure will head south still. The focus here now isn’t on having a specific number in each age group, it’s around wanting a specific level of quality in each age group.

"There is no perfect number to have in an age group. If there are 25 boys, all unbelievable talents, all gifted, all got a real chance, then great we’ll have 25. But there’s no point having 25 boys in an age group if you think only 10 have the long-term potential to stay on and become scholars or under-21s players. It’s not fair to the remainder of the group."

There's no guarantee that this approach will be the miracle cure that increases the number of academy graduates finding success in the first team, but it certainly can't hurt. Unless you're one of the U9s that gets cut from the team, in which case you're probably within your rights to have a good cry about it.

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