The youth of today, some could be the leaders of tomorrow. We’ve heard more than is normal of late about the Liverpool youngsters, those with the spongy, football brains who toil silently for improvement so far away from our attention. Manager Jürgen Klopp has spoken highly of the Academy and the prospect of bringing some of these talented players into his squad. We’ve seen several of these prospects pop up on the pitch from time to time already, rotating in and out due to player availability and tactics. We’ve seen a few perform very well. And after a time, their names and faces begin to stick in the memory. Kevin Stewart, Cameron Brannagan, Ovie Ejaria. These boys receive big cheers from the Liverpool supporters, cheers that say, ‘we support you, we’re proud of you, please be amazing for the next decade,’ and that’s okay. There’s an energy there and those players really do want to be amazing for the next decade. Those cheers and songs reach way down into the heart of these young players. It’s all new to them, the roar of the crowd. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. But it’s not just the roar, it’s the roar specifically for them. Mind-blowing. For somebody like Jordan Williams to now have the experience of scoring in front of a roaring Kop in a penalty shoot-out, that’s something special. That’s a dream fulfilled, right there.
Stewart, Brannagan, Sheyi Ojo, these guys are a part of the first-team set-up when fit. These guys are the guys that the guys on the cusp of the Melwood threshold look to for inspiration and drive. Young players like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Pedro Chirivella have had a small sampling of the roar and gain confidence from seeing their Academy peers rewarded for consistent hard work.
Which brings me to the u23 match against FC Porto today in something called the International Cup. There is no roar for an u23 match. There was no roar for Madger Gomes coming on in the second half for Ben Woodburn. The stands are sprinkled with supporters but the noise level of a boot striking the ball is far louder than any chants and whistles. It can be a dreary scene for those of us accustomed to the glitz and glamour of a big league broadcast but the stakes are high and the talent is raw and wild. These matches are where the boys work for the chance to be invited to travel with the first team or to be called up to Melwood or to walk out at Anfield. In short, it’s a big deal.
The match ended in a draw with Brooks Lennon equalizing for the Reds in the fiftieth minute. I missed that goal and Porto’s before it along with all but the last twenty minutes of the game. But, I did see a youthful team in the process of turning into a Jürgen Klopp B team. The pressing was there, the high defensive line from Tiago Ilori and Mamadou Sakho was there, the one-twos, the three-fours. The five, six, seven, eights. It was all there. It wasn’t always crisp but that’s not really the reason to watch these matches. It’s not going to be crisp. You watch them precisely because its not crisp, because maybe something will rise up from the not-crispiness and surprise you. Because that something could be a somebody who may just go on to surprise us all.
It’s fantastic that the club takes such pride in the Academy and that Klopp is enthusiastic about working young players into the first team mix. The murmurings about linking up Melwood and the Academy some day are encouraging and speak to how seriously Klopp weighs the club’s youth training as a key asset to Liverpool’s future success.
Also, there’s a kid named Matty Virtue and we need that name echoing around Anfield someday.