Many teams don't properly utilize their academy and reserve sides, using their younger players as training fodder when needed rather than seeing them as a proper part of the club's future. Not so at Liverpool, where young players have regularly made appearances under Brendan Rodgers, the most notable of course being young Raheem Sterling.
No one seems to agree with that philosophy more than Michael Beale, the manager of Liverpool's U-21 side. The coach spoke to the Liverpool Echo recently, praising how Rodgers and his first team staff handle and utilize youngsters from the U-21 and U-18 sides.
"Some clubs have players train with their first-teams but to make up the numbers," he told the Echo. "But since I’ve been at Liverpool, it has never been to make up the numbers. When the lads go to Melwood, the manager speaks to them, he pulls them aside, so if we send one or two up he always talks to them. They come back and you ask how it was and they’re like ‘yeah, it was good and Brendan said to me...’ and that is unbelievable for them."
Beale went on to praise Rodgers' methods is handling the younger players, including having Jack Dunn with the squad in training at the Bernabeu ahead of Liverpool's match with Read Madrid last week. He also noted that two of Rodgers' first-team coaches, Mike Marsh and John Achterberg, used to be part of the academy staff at Kirkby, helping with the full-club knowledge and familiarity between players and staff. Beale himself is in his first season as the U-21 manager, but has been with Liverpool since 2012 and knows Rodgers from when both were in Chelsea's academy staff a number of years ago.
Beale also noted how consistency at the top of the club's coaching pyramid is of paramount important for the academy to keep producing results:
"If we changed our manager and brought a different manager in who was under pressure to get results – but wasn’t from a youth background and about the development of young players – then our whole world would change.
"That’s the key.
"If that stops then it is really hard because from 17-21 it is what you’ve been looking forward to all your life. It can be really unfulfilling at some clubs and I’ve been on that journey as a player."
The coach has a fine point, as a number of clubs have learned the hard way over the years. Dramatic changes in coaching and the priorities of those coaches can have an extremely deleterious effect on the results of the academy. As the Echo noted, that's something Beale knows first hand; his career as a player at Charlton Athletic was derailed when they reached the Premier League in the late 90's, and the coaching staff decided to focus on experiences veterans rather than youth players.
As long as Rodgers stays in charge and keeps his mentality when it comes to how he handles his youth players, there's no reason not to think that the academy can't keep getting results. Between Beale and U-18 boss Alex Inglethorpe, there's a good staff in place help get them to where they need to be, and Rodgers and his first-team coaches can do a lot of good from there. Of course, having the raw talent available for these coaches to work with is also vitally important, but Liverpool has rarely struggled in that area. Knowing what to do with that talent is at least half the battle, and at least for now it looks like Liverpool have that struggle figured out.