JANUARY was always going to be a month when loan moves were evaluated and assessed. While some moves for the likes of Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli were a year long with no backsies, for many of the youngsters the deals only took them to January — sensible with the risks of playing time and settling in attached.
Maybe then it was inevitable that some would come back at this time. Sheyi Ojo, for example, wasn’t getting his game at Wolves after a promising start, so it was logical, under any manager, for him to come back to Liverpool.
You fancy, however, under Brendan Rodgers, that they would have tried to find him another club more suitable, while under Jürgen Klopp it sees he’ll remain at Melwood, at least for the time being.
It seems a definite change of policy, one that Klopp has hinted towards ever since he arrived.
The manager has spoke of the importance of players developing together, in a similar youth system to the one he enjoyed the fruits of at Borussia Dortmund.
He wants Liverpool players working with Liverpool coaches, learning how to play how he wants, in a system he is likely to play.
It would be interesting to know if all at the club share his view.
In the past Liverpool youth coaches have spoken of the importance of the loan system in developing players.
Was this a toeing of the party line at the time, or suggestive of a conflict in opinion now? No matter, I suppose. The manager wins out. That’s not to say all loans are being recalled, of course.
Sergi Canos — probably the biggest success of all the outfield loan players this season — has extended his loan spell at Brentford.
Probably because they are flying in the league, and he is having a great time.
But then it was similar situation for Danny Ward, and we’ve asked him to come back. So what of these lads now they are back?
Officially they are competing for first-team places, and the selection at Exeter might have given hope to a few that chances are there.
It certainly did for returning Tiago Ilori who said, “hopefully there will be more minutes to come for me in a Liverpool shirt” in an interview with the Liverpool Echo that was printed yesterday.
Since then the manager has done a press conference saying we have three centre halves available, naming a midfielder but not him, and then signed another defender in Steven Caulker as back up. So best of luck with that Tiago, lad.
Other returning players will probably find it just as tough, especially as players, hopefully, recover from injury.
It’s one thing giving players a run at Exeter, but will the manager feel he can do the same should we get through to face West Ham, a team that has already beaten us home and away in the league.
He’s also shown little inclination for resting players in the Europa League, a competition he clearly takes seriously.
It’s highly likely that Klopp, by recalling these players, just wants a closer look at what he’s got before the tough decisions are made in the summer.
How much can he learn about Ojo making fleeting substitute appearances at Wolves? How easy is it to assess Ryan Kent playing in League One?
Ward might have proved himself a good keeper in Scotland, but can he do the things our manager requires a goalkeeper to do?
Jurgen will have been briefed on the quality and potential of all of the young players at the club and he can watch videos when he finds time but it’s not the same as analysing the players in the flesh.
It’s understandable why a new manager would want a closer look with his own coaches. Especially one who plays in such a distinctive way, a style not often replicated by the clubs carefully chosen by the previous regime. “Ok, you can do that, but can you do this?”
Jurgen needs to know all this, and quickly. He’ll be thinking of next season already, trying to use this season as a learning year while at the same time trying to pick up as many points as possible.
Before he knows what he needs, he needs to know what he’s got.
He’ll probably be hoping for just one or two gems from the returning pack that he can move forward with.
That might not quite be what the returning players think they signed up for, a few months of Under-21 football and a manager seeing if they can flourish playing in his style, but it might be what they get.
This has a knock-on effect, of course. Flood the Under-21 team with 20 and 21 year olds who need a game, and what does this mean for the 18 and 19 year olds who ultimately may have more potential but suddenly nowhere to play. Especially in a league which is hardly flooded with fixtures.
Do they grow despondent, or slow down due to a lack of football? It comes back again to faults in the system — problems that aren’t necessarily Klopp’s to solve, but ones he will have to deal with.
He might find in the future he has to revert back to a loan system he sees as less than perfect to help bridge the gap between youth football and the Premier League, and make sure everyone contracted by the club is playing regularly at the highest level possible.
But, for now, he’ll watch and analyse what he has.