By Sam Mathius
This week, two of Liverpool’s most promising young players were bestowed accolades of the highest caliber. Jonjo Shelvey received his first call-up to the England squad and Joe Allen was named Welsh Player of the Year over players such as Gareth Bale.
Both offered Reds fans moments of pride and a brief source of happiness. However, these milestone achievements for the young duo won’t change the fact that Liverpool is a bottom-half Premier League club at the moment. The fact that Raheem Sterling was also included in the last England squad and Jordan Henderson continues to captain the U21 England squad will have zero effect on Liverpool’s results. The Barclays U21 Premier League Group 3 table-topping Liverpool squad will also have no bearing on first-team success.
What it does show is that Liverpool Football Club may be in a better position than most people believe.
It’s a sentiment that’s unpopular but certainly legitimate. Unable to compete with the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, and others in the transfer market, the club must rely on nurturing youngsters. Disappointingly, we’ve seen the Academy churn out fantastic youth teams in the last decade or so without producing an out-and-out first-team star.
Just three months into Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool tenure, the gap between the fledglings and the first-team is already being bridged. The obvious fruits of youthful inclusion present themselves in the aforementioned Shelvey, Allen, and Sterling. They, along with the ever-patient Suso, have stepped into their respective roles with incredible proficiency and have provided the first-team with vigor and depth.
To a lesser but just as important extent, the defensive pair of Andre Wisdom and Jack Robinson has shown impressive improvement. The former (a lad that reminded me more of an NFL linebacker than a Premier League defender when I saw him in the preseason) was a solid defensive presence in the thrashing of Norwich and grabbed a Europa League goal against Young Boys with a confident, textbook header. Robinson, despite the result, showed marked progress in the Udinese match. In particular, his first-touch, agility, and ability to support the attack caught the eye.
The amount of credit Rodgers deserves for the development of these young players is debatable. There is only so much that can be done in the short time he’s been at the club. Surely, like likes of Rafa Benitez, Frank McParland, and Rodolfo Borrell will be on the manager’s Christmas card list come December. Even so, he can’t be denied credit for one very important thing: putting the young players in the first-team.
It may not register on the Premier League table, but the club is in a better position than many thought it would be at this point in the season. Results aside, which is admittedly a big factor to ignore, performances and development into a positive style of play have exceeded expectation. Like it or not, a top-four finish was always going to be a tough task for the campaign. Already eight points off the pace, it’s even more unlikely now. However, the revolution at the club may actually be ahead of schedule.
In the summer, most betting men wouldn’t have wagered on Sterling and Shelvey being called into the England camp at this early stage of the season. Additionally, few probably rated Wisdom as highly as they do now and Suso was a massive question mark.
Keeping in mind what this season is really about, development and progression of young talent, the club has exceeded expectations. It hasn’t been flashy. It hasn’t been wrought with brilliant results. It hasn’t been easy on the fans’ emotions. Still, when you take a step back and look objectively on the state of the club, it’s better than it was a year ago.