ON the train back from that London and the FSF awards today – we won, thanks for voting – I drifted off for a bit and started thinking about Robbie Fowler. I do this a lot. When I’m running and struggling, which is normally the case, I’ll think about my favourite Fowler goals and suddenly get some more energy in my legs. When I score with my left foot in five-a-side, which is rare, I shout “Fowler” in my head. When I’m hungover on a Sunday, which isn’t rare, I pray for Robbie Fowler goals on LFC TV to get me through it.
In our heads, Fowler was plucked from the streets of Toxteth and thrown into the Liverpool first team at the age of 17. It feels like he was nowhere and then he was scoring goals, with nothing in between.
His autobiography however is a reminder that this wasn’t actually the case. In it he talks about the agonising wait to get into the first team. About travelling with the first team, hoping to see his name on the teamsheet, and being disappointed. About finally making it as a substitute only to experience the frustration of being made to sit and watch as his team-mates struggled.
Now Fowler reflects that Graeme Souness, the Liverpool manager at the time, was only trying to do what was best for him. Waiting not just until he was ready, but also that the timing was right. This is a decision that every manager has to face with young players, even with a talent as obvious as Fowler, and something that Jürgen Klopp will be thinking about ahead of the Europa League match with Sion on Thursday.
Liverpool have qualified for the next round of the competion already, and travel to Switzerland with only top spot to fight for. With the issues around Thursday/Sunday football well documented many, including some of our lads in the daily Facebook video, are advocating sending a young side over and leaving the first team at home.
I wince slightly when I hear this. The young players at the club are not there just to give older players a rest. They are at the club because we think that, one day, they might be able to make a contribution for Liverpool Football Club.
For some, that day will be sooner than for others. For others, it will never come. But, just like for Robbie Fowler, the decision needs to be based on what is right for the boy, and the wrong decision can be damaging.
Some young players have been given a chance this season in the competition. Jordan Rossiter, Pedro Chirivella and Cameron Brannagan all played out in Bordeaux and may feature on Thursday. You’d expect Connor Randall to play, too. But away from that it’s hard to see who from a young Under-21 team, which is bottom of their league by the way, is currently ready for the step up.
Because it is a step up, no matter what your opinions of the strength of the Swiss League are. Not just because the footballers are better, but because it suddenly matters. A full house in Sion is a different ball game to a couple of hundred people at St Helens. You never know for sure how well a young player will cope.
Last week, Connor Randall didn’t seem to be coping very well in the early minutes of the League Cup quarter-finals at Southampton. I was worried about him, and it took me back to Jon Flanagan against Blackburn in 2012 when he was hooked after an “eventful” 26 minutes during which he managed to get his goalkeeper sent off.
Flanagan bounced back from that night, but it took a while.
Connor Randall got through it against Southampton, and may be better for it, but he did it with the help of experienced team-mates around him.
Young players need this. A wise head to get them through the game. Someone who can help them out. Steven Gerrard said that Didi Hamann used to literally talk him through games when he first broke through into the team. The same was evident when he was on the pitch with Gary McAllister. And that was Steven Gerrard.
If you send a full under-21 side to Sion, I’m not sure who they turn to if things aren’t going well. Someone like Divock Origi might be a full international, but is he mature enough to know when his team-mate is struggling, and what to do about it? He’s still trying to develop himself.
People might say that the game on Thursday doesn’t matter. Tell that to a young player who gives away a penalty on his debut. Or a lad who suddenly has doubts if he can make it at the top level because the players there just seem that bit bigger and quicker.
It will matter to any young player who gets the nod on Thursday.
We owe it to them that they are given every opportunity to swim rather than sink. And that means plenty of experience around them, and only playing them if we truly believe they are ready.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Never looked at it this way before John – great point all round though. To quote the manager; I am sure if things aren’t going too well on Thursday night (if it is just the “kids”), some of them may feel very alone out there on the pitch.
I’m glad you shared this perspective, I wouldn’t have thought about it that way, I was just thinking sending over the youngsters as well as some 2nd team players who rarely play. I’m sure Klopp will get it right and rest the players who need resting and giving some players the nod who need the experience and time on the field. By the way, congrats on winning the Best Podcast of the Year award. YNWA!
A team of kids is the wrong approach. Knowing the starting lineup for the weekend and trying to start as few of them as possible is the right approach. So a mixture of kids and experience against Sion. If Kolo is fit, he should start. Bogdan in goal. Origi up front. Probably Joe Allen. Start Studge at the weekend, so Big Ben against Sion. That sort of thing. I’m sure JK will do it right.
Some fantastic points here, I agree we need to be very careful. Don’t see it being worth putting more than 4 under 21’s in, including Rossiter and Randall. May be of note that none of the side who did so well in the 2004-05 league cup side ever truly broke through, and they actually did very well. Think it should be a kind of halfway house team, it should be enough for a draw to secure top of the group, and on paper that gives us a slight advantage in the draw for the last 32. And a kinder draw there would mean we could possibly rest players in that and get through, as a kind of domino effect for the second half of the season.
There needs to be a mixture between youth and experience going over.
We need to finish top of that group.
Apparantly due to Swiss air traffic control laws the team can’t fly home straight away as they normally would so have to stay another night which mean they won’t get back to Liverpool until Fri morn/afternoon, 48hrs before the match.
If Coutinho and Sturridge are both fit to start on Sunday (please be) then I’d have them nowhere near that plane to Geneva. I’d also keep Can at home, one of the centrebacks, one of the fullbacks and Mignolet.
I would take Benteke and Firmino who haven’t exactly been consistent recently. Perhaps a few goal in Sion will help their confidence and understanding with one another. A start for Henderson is a possibility in a less intense situation than the Prem alongside Allen and Rossiter?
Maybe a team looking something like Bogdan, Clyne, Kolo, Lovren, Smith, Allen, Henderson, Rossiter, Firmino, Benteke, Ibe???
Surely that team should be good enough to at least get a draw at Sion??
Please do not tell the Sturridge rumours are true??!
He can’t be injured AGAIN?!
If they turn up in Bordeaux they will have the place to themselves.
Many congratulations to everyone at TAW on the FSF award. No more than you deserve,
JK wont field only kids, he took the whole squad to the far side of Russia in the last round with a huge game just over the horizon that weekend. We dont need to win this one, but topping the group has some benefits, and the manager so far has taken each game pretty seriously. I think we can expect to see a fair number of senior pros play Thursday night, along side some of the younger players.
We all seem to agree that this German fella has a pretty good idea what hes doing.
Fair argument but I’d argue a game completely without pressure is different to one with pressure. If it was a side of only kids then Klopp would be able to manage them and their expectations. I’d guess it would be along the lines of the old ‘just go out and enjoy it’. Personally, I think they’d benefit in playing for Liverpool in a game such as this, providing the fans (not the ones in the ground) act as you’d hope they would in these circumstances. I don’t want to see any of the first 11 squad players (you know what I mean) out there. We’ve simply got too many games for Klopp’s high intensity style to play them. I appreciate finishing top may possibly result in a better tie but at the same time it might not. We could win the group and draw Arsenal. They’re group F and I think I’m in saying the 3rd place in CL groups A-D are seeded when they enter Europa and groups E-H aren’t. I think the truth about playing kids is probably somewhere in the middle or more accurately, could go either way. For that reason, I’m all over giving them a chance at best or them taking one for the team at worst.
I disagree slightly. While I don’t think we should just ship the u21 team over and say good luck, it is actually incredibly valuable experience. Not everyone from the u21 side will see the first team. This gives those that will a taste of what it’s like at the next level (not THE next level) and gives them something to remember when they’re playing St. Helen in front of 200 people. It gives them an idea of what their deficiencies are and what they need to work on. It gives them a taste of playing front of a packed stadium, actually running on the pitch, and can drive the work ethic and hunger to get there just a little bit more.
As you say Flano recovered from an absolutel nightmare to have a brilliant season. The experience can be valuable even if the performance is poor. Are the boys really progressing by leaps and bounds sitting last in the reserves league and playing poor opposition week in and week out. Weed out those who won’t make it, and give them ones that deserve a chance, a chance.
How many players really had their career ruined by an early debut? And how many of those just weren’t good enough regardless?
I’d have Milner my first name on the team sheet (with a rest at the weekend in mind) and play Ibe and Origi from the first team.
Congrats on winning the FSF. Easily deserved. You should be awarded one every week. Seldom does one come across such consistent insight, humor, balanced perspective, optimism, realism and all the rest bundled into one. Quality! (And I’m not even a subscriber. Wouldn’t get any work done if I was.)
On the Sion game; even if it’s not a must win, the Newcastle debacle means we don’t want to lose this one. Need the lads to be nice and confident on Sunday because, no matter who plays tonight, coming off the back of two losses can become a problem, especially if the game stays level for long.
Well done all at TAW, well deserved. I do occasionally listen to Guardian, The Times and 5Live, and TAW is by far superior, despite my bias.
STURRIDGE !!!! AARRGGHH. Next few games will be interesting on how Klopp sets up our attacking play after the lack-lustre display at Newcastle.
No, No, No, No.. No, No, No, NO, There’s no Sturridge…
Trying desperately to cheer myself up…depressing!