It’s not an easy feat working your way from Liverpool’s Academy to the first-team. Even for the young stand-outs in the under-18 and -23 squads, the path up to the senior side isn’t necessarily a straight line. Often a player is loaned out to gain experience elsewhere if an immediate jump to Melwood doesn’t make sense. Heading up the specialized department at Liverpool in charge of these loans is Julian Ward. He’s officially the Loan Pathways and Football Partnerships Manager.
It’s a title that almost sounds self-explanatory. Here’s the man himself to clarify the rest.
“It’s my job,” said Ward, “to work with our coaching staff and sporting director to make sure we have a network of good options in place for when the younger lads are ready to go out into senior football or when fringe first-team players need competitive game time,” Ward said in a feature for liverpoolfc.com
“We also need to put in place support processes to manage each player’s pathway once that decision is made.
“We need to first identify positive environments for players to go to and then make sure that when they go, they are developing remotely.”
Ward began at Liverpool in the recruitment and scouting department and was offered his current position around 2015 when the club suddenly discovered that it didn’t have a loan pathways and football partnerships department at all.
There are three basic loan situations that Ward deals with. There’s the first-team players who haven’t been in the team for one reason or another and need to go out and get game time (Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge). There’s the young players who aren’t yet eligible for a work permit that have to be placed in a good environment while the legal business is sorted out (Allan). And then there’s the boy’s who’ve been dancing around their Academy-level opposition and need a stronger test but perhaps there are just more than enough players already at Melwood occupying their position (Wilson, Ejaria).
“The bar is really high,” began Ward.
“To nudge out of the way a Mo Salah, a Sadio Mané, a Firmino, our young players have got to be able to show that they can compete with senior international players, not only in games but in training.
“We’ve got to make sure that the competitive experience they get is a positive one, right through the u18s and u23s and then when we feel they’ve reached a level where the next stage is playing for points and pressure, a bit of exposure to the senior aspects of the game, then we have to look at other environments.”
Ward’s job is also to facilitate open communication between Liverpool and other clubs during a player’s loan period. Match replays are sent back to Liverpool for analysis, sports science people start talking to each other, coaching staffs routinely check in to review a young player’s technical and physical progress.
It’s all in an effort to assess, discover and train great players who can make a difference in Liverpool’s first-team.
“Successful loans prepare players to come back to Melwood and make a real positive impression,” said Ward.
“We want to give our young players who are ready experiences of training each day and competing with senior players to improve their physical capabilities.
“We want to give them the opportunity to play in a league where there’s pressure, where there’s media attention, all with the idea of trying to transmit their skills to perform under pressure.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Julian Ward’s work at Liverpool, there’s more to read from his interview. Just click the link in the article.