One of the most promising parts of Liverpool’s pre-season for many fans have been the performances of a few previously unheralded youth players. Players like Trent Alexander-Arnold, who at the moment appears to have played his way into the backup right back role, or Ovie Ejaria, who has rather suddenly become everyone’s pick for next big thing in midfield.
According to manager Jürgen Klopp, that’s all down to the work of the academy team, most of whom were at the club before he arrived last autumn and who the German chose to keep around. It’s all part of Klopp’s desire not to change for the sake of it; to give everyone, be it players or support staff, the chance to impress rather than just bringing in his own guys.
“I only change things where I know about a situation,” said Klopp when asked his plans for Liverpool’s academy. “I’d never change just for change. I’ve had a lot of good talks with the guys at the academy. Alex Inglethorpe does a brilliant job there. Pep Lijnders is our academy guy if you like on the first-team staff. There’s a perfect relationship with the academy.”
The goal now is to see an academy player really stake his claim with the first team. Certainly Liverpool have had success developing players in recent seasons—just this summer they made £21M selling academy products Jordon Ibe and Brad Smith to Bournemouth, £4M from Jerome Sinclair moving to Watford, and £2.5M from Sergi Canos heading to Norwich.
Still, Liverpool fans continue to ask when the club will develop another club-trained star. The next Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher. Klopp, though, isn’t focused on any one player. He wants to continue to raise the level of the entire academy; to have an entire youth team good enough to push for first team minutes. The rest will take care of itself.
“Last season we had Ojo, Brannagan, Randall, Smith, Stewart, and Chirivella who played in real games,” Klopp added. “We’ve had Ben Woodburn, Ovie Ejaria, and Trent playing for us in the friendly games. That’s eight or nine. What do we want? We want 20 of this quality. It’s a big number of players. We have to create better situations to make them better.
“If there’s a player who is a Scouser and can play football then we should go for him 100%. But it’s not the first thing we should think about. That’s how it should be. They need to know about the possibility. These guys know now that if they improve and make the next steps then they will have a real future here.”