Talent development is a complex and controversial subject in all sports, and indeed in life. Should athletes specialise early or remain jacks-of-all-trades until they are older? At what age is competition appropriate to introduce? Is it important to spend resources on progressing the gifted few or retaining as many as possible for as long as possible? The intention is always to develop peak quality athletes, and the roads to doing so are myriad. Football is no different, and every club dreams of developing its own players, both for financial reasons, and to maintain a connection to its local community.
Jürgen Klopp has his own opinions on youth development, and where his predecessor was intent on gathering up as many gifted youngsters as possible, sending them out on loan and monitoring their development, either for future inclusion in the first team or the monetary gain of a resale, Klopp has shown a preference for keeping the number of young players out on loan down. This necessarily translates to fewer young players at the club overall, and in addition to fringe first teamers like Jordon Ibe, João Teixeira and Brad Smith, the German sold or released ten U23 players in his first season.
That's not to say that Klopp doesn't give young players a chance. In fact, the former Dortmund man has made a habit of handing debuts to young players, first out of necessity during the injury-ridden 63-game slog that was the 2015/16 season, and continuing this year, as Ben Woodburn, Ovie Ejaria, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Harry Wilson have all seen first team action. They’ve mostly been needed during the bloated January run, but Klopp sees no need to send them away from Melwood even though game time won't be as readily available going forward.
"Actually, [a healthy squad] means nothing for them because they are settled in the training group, [which] I think is the most important step," said the Reds manager during his pre-match press conference on Thursday.
"Being used sometimes because you are a talent or something like this is one thing, being always involved because you don’t disturb the process and you can keep the level, that's the most important thing.
"They are really involved and that’s the level they can train [at] already. They have [no] experience but they have a lot of talent and a lot of skills so, for them, it’s all good.
"Young players with big skills, [which] they obviously have, and are patient enough to do what they have to do - the world is bright and everything is fine for them. Nothing changes for them. "
Given Klopp's propensity for sticking to his preferred XI, and the sharp drop-off in performance when more than a few changes are needed, it’d be surprising to see the youngsters have much of an impact the rest of the year. But hanging around the first team, building relations and learning from the best the Reds have to offer can only be a good thing for the next Liverpool generation.