Over the past month Liverpool’s academy system has borne some promising fruit. Ben Woodburn made his debut for the senior squad in the final minutes of Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Sunderland in late November and then followed it up with a huge splash in the League Cup against Leeds a few days later. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria have also made appearances for the first team recently and earned due praise for their performances.
In advance of Liverpool’s home match against West Ham, Jürgen Klopp spoke to reporters about the club’s youth development program and recent squad call-ups in particular. The Liverpool manager turned some heads when he suggested that the widely-accepted practice of sending youth players out on loan to lower-league or otherwise weaker teams may not always be effective.
“The players were already there and I had nothing to do with the development of Ben, Trent or Ovie. I don’t think 40 or 50 minutes of football or whatever are enough to get the credit for what the players have done. Ovie is maybe a bit different because we saw him and liked him and decided to push him a little bit more. But there was no chance to oversee Trent and Ben for example. If they are very young then clubs in the past have sent them on loan and I don’t think it is the perfect situation. It’s much better that we can work with them together on football at the highest level. We want to create an under-23 team that is really strong. The centre-backs (Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori) are experienced which is unusual, but all the rest are very young, really skilled, they enjoy playing together and they are getting better results. If you are the best player in your team at 15 everyone takes you to the under-17s and the next day you feel like the small guy in a forest with only big trees. That is one way of education and you need to use situations like this, but being in a very good team and scoring 25 to 30 goals a season should still be possible so that’s why we changed it a little bit. There is not one solution for all of our situations.”
Klopp mentioned that he was surprised to see 17 youth players out on loan when he was hired as the new Liverpool boss in October, 2015. He said Bundesliga clubs prefer to develop their talent in-house through U23 reserve squads competing in lower-league regional competitions. Klopp also said that changes in the loan system— including the end of emergency loans— and ongoing injury issues with squad members led him to rethink how to both manage the senior squad and guide the development of youth players. As a result, fewer players were sent out on loan this season, with others retained at Melwood with the promise of first team minutes for those who work hard enough to justify the opportunity.
“We still sent players out on loan by the way. It’s not that we stopped doing this completely, but yes there are fewer. It’s England so we have a lot of players in the squad. Nobody forces you to make a decision on them now so you can send them on loan and see what happens. You send them out, pay the bill and see if they come back better than before and more experienced or whatever. I was not used to this because in Germany we don’t have the money for so many players. You have to make decisions – good enough, stay; not good enough, leave, sorry. Of course there are a few players on loan in Germany but not as many. You have to make decisions on what you think will work and if they are good enough here, keep them. Sending players on loan too early makes no sense and other times you have to make decisions and say if it’s not for us, try your luck somewhere else.”