By Justin Fitzgerald-Rhodes
Globalization has dramatically altered the demographic landscape of European football in recent decades. More specifically, the composition of the Premiere League’s top-flight clubs has changed, reflecting an influx of African and South American players.
In comparison with other Premier League teams, Liverpool actually boasted a rather large contingent of foreigners in its title winning 1989-90 squad under Kenny Dalglish. The team included John Barnes (Jamaica), Bruce Grobbelaar (South Africa), Glenn Hysen (Sweden), Jan Molby (Denmark) and Steve Staunton (Republic of Ireland) to name a few.
Recent Premiere League 2010-11 Rules mandate that “Clubs register a squad of up to 25 players, which must include at least eight ‘home-grown’ players, at the end of each transfer window.” Some will argue that this has led clubs such as Liverpool to “overpay for average English talent,” however it was Warren Buffet who once said, “Cash combined with courage in a time of crisis is priceless.” John Henry of Fenway Sports Group is a legend when it comes to investing in his own right, however it’s his ability to recognize talent and put the right people in the right place at the right time that has made him so successful. Nowhere has this been more apparent than with Liverpool’s Academy.
With the new “Go Young” policy, Liverpool owners have made it a point to target younger players and enhance the youth system to develop a talent factory for promotion into the first team. Previous management relied more heavily, if not solely, on purchasing players from the market during transfer windows, a strategy that was unsustainable and probably a reflection of the clubs dip in form. Nevertheless, credit must be given where do, and it was actually Rafa Benitez who was instrumental in making the savvy personnel changes that have ultimately strengthened the youth system.
Poaching Spanish coaches, Jose (Pep) Segura and Rodolfo Borrell from Barcelona’s heralded youth system, Benitez laid the groundwork for future Academy success, evidenced in having Jack Robinson, Martin Kelly, and John Flanagan all feature for the first team recently. As impressive as these three have been, the future looks even more promising with a talented group of youngsters chomping at the bit for their chance to break into the starting eleven.
After signing for Liverpool in February 2010 from QPR for an initial fee of £600,000 (with the total potentially rising to £5 million depending on total number of first team appearances), Sterling is one of the most exciting prospects. With blistering pace and plenty of guile, Raheem terrorizes opposing right backs. Having once scored 5 goals in a 9-0 FA Youth Cup demolition of Southend.
To say that Adam Morgan has a nose for the goal would certainly be an understatement. Finding the net in 13 successive games for the U18’s and reserves in 2010-11, the youngster struck 21 goals in all competitions, adding a double recently in a 3-0 victory over Molde for the U19’s. Mark Morris, Reserve and Academy goalkeeping coach, compares Morgan to previous Liverpool Legends stating, “He reminds me a lot of Robbie Fowler when he was at Liverpool.”
Captain of the Liverpool U18s, Conor also led the England U17s to a European Championship last summer, and featured for Liverpool’s first team on 2 separate occasions. With an ability to occupy a holding midfield or center-back role, Coady brings versatility and vision as well as a knack for tough tackling. Traveling in place of the injured Gerrard, Conor featured on Liverpool’s preseason Asian tour, sending a screamer into the back of the net in a 4-3 win over Guangdong Sunray Cave.
These three are by no means all Liverpool fans have to look forward to, just a handful chosen to highlight. The likes of Suso, Andre Wisdom, Toni Silva, and Kristan Adorjan are all brimming with talent and undoubtedly have what it takes to one day be regulars with the first team. The bottom line is that Kenny has some really tough decisions to make in the not too distant future, but that’s a good thing. Managing expectations while nurturing talent to reach its full potential is by no means an easy task, but it comes with the territory.
Realistically, all of these youngsters will not be stars in the EPL and it would be naïve not to understand that some might go the way of Dani Pacheco. That being said, the homegrown talent coming through the ranks now is scary, and for me Raheem Sterling will certainly be one to watch.