AT around 9.22pm on Tuesday September 20, both Jürgen Klopp and particularly Alex Inglethorpe would have been filled with a sense of pride.
As 18-year-old Ovie Ejaria made his way onto the pitch at Derby County’s Pride Park for his first-team debut in the League Cup tie, the culmination of hard work and dedication of The Academy staff at Kirkby was there for all to see.
Ejaria, now a confident midfielder showing pace, strength and vision beyond his teenage years, came to Liverpool off the back of a big setback in a young player’s career, having been dropped by his boyhood club Arsenal back in the summer of 2014. The progress made in those two years is not only testament to the player but to those who have helped nurture him as he’s shot up through the Liverpool ranks.
But he isn’t the only one.
Twelve other youngsters have made their senior debuts since Inglethorpe was appointed Academy Director back in 2014.
— Glenn Price (@GlennPrice94) November 11, 2016
Klopp has in the past stressed the importance of bringing through young players, and how he would prefer to give youth a chance over signing new players.
He told Sky Sports: “Actually, I can promise that before we sign a player which is not a lot better than what we have, we’ll always use our own boys.
“That’s how it is. That’s how the future should be. Even in this crazy football transfer world, we want to be this special club.”
This attitude from the manager, as well as the staff at Kirkby, combined with the rock solid foundations that have been built over the last couple of years, has seen The Academy prosper to a level that hasn’t been seen at the club in a very long time.
The fruits of this labour are as prevalent as ever this season with first-team debuts handed to both Ejaria and Trent Alexander-Arnold, as well as recent new deals for Ben Woodburn — again scoring an impressive goal this week — and Kevin Stewart.
While there are many reasons to be positive about the future as a Liverpool fan, seeing the manager so eager to give youth a chance and having such trust in the set-up at the club should fill fans with a further sense of excitement.
A new ‘multi-year’ deal for Inglethorpe sends out a message of stability in the club’s youth system.
After years of different approaches, different ideas and different leaders — stability is the key.
But for Inglethorpe, and the other staff at The Academy, this is a recognition of several years of hard work and a sign of things that are to come in the foreseeable.
The 44-year-old initially joined the club as manager of the Under-21s, as part of a backroom reshuffle conducted by Brendan Rodgers. He was highly regarded as a youth coach during his days at Tottenham and then Academy Director, Frank McParland, called it a “fantastic” appointment.
He added: “I’m sure he is going to help us push on at academy level.”
After McParland and Rodolfo Borrell both departed in August 2014, Inglethorpe was promoted to Academy Director, in order to work more closely with then manager Rodgers on bringing more youngsters through to the first team.
Both Jordan Rossiter and Jordan Williams made their first-team debuts in the League Cup penalty shootout win over Middlesbrough while the Northern Irishman was still in charge at the club, before Pedro Chirivella and Cameron Brannagan made substitute appearances away to Bordeaux in the Europa League.
Rodgers’ successor was also quick to emphasise the importance of bringing young players through, and displayed his desire to do so over the course of the season. Though injuries and a packed fixture schedule forced his hand to some extent, Klopp’s willingness to give youth a chance, as well as the reputation he developed at Borussia Dortmund, will no doubt have provided extra motivation for youngsters at The Academy.
Kirkby-born Connor Randall was the first to be given his chance under the German, within two weeks of his arrival at Anfield. But it was the FA Cup and latter Premier League games that provided ample opportunity for academy graduates to make their bow. Five more made their debuts in the 2-2 FA Cup third round against Exeter.
After the 2-1 league win over Bournemouth in April, in which Danny Ward made his first team debut among a youthful side, Klopp spoke positively about the future of the club but insisted it would be down to the players to show they have what it takes to make the step up.
“A few weeks ago we had a session only with younger players. After the session we brought them all together and I said ‘my impression is wow, what quality’.
“Now we have to answer the question of why only a few go through.
“I say ‘it’s only about you, you have the skills you need’. I have to prove that I really think what I say, so I was really pleased with them.”
The motivation being the key there, showing them there is a clear path to the first team.
That comes from the attitude of the manager but also the work done by the staff at The Academy to prepare these lads for life at Melwood. Being thrown in amongst your heroes, under one of the world’s most renowned managers. No walk in the park, that.
The new deal for Inglethorpe, the general positivity coming out The Academy at the moment and the work of so many others has created this platform. Klopp’s willingness to give youth a chance has given them opportunity. The likes of Ejaria and Alexander-Arnold, among others, giving further hope that things are happening at this club — and not just in the fact that the first team currently top the league.
Stability and positivity moving forward will ensure we see even more of these youngsters coming through and getting their chance in the first team, and hopefully see some of the current crop establishing themselves as regulars.
Inglethorpe himself spoke after his new deal, saying: “At Liverpool, we are blessed to have superb support throughout: from the commitment of the owners and the first-team management, through to my staff and the young players themselves.
“We have a clear philosophy and direction and that benefits each and every young person who comes into our system at Liverpool.”
Kev Stewart, who recently signed a new deal at the club, is one of those prodigies to make the move to Melwood and he recently heaped praise on the Academy Director, who he worked with when both were part of the youth set-up at Spurs. Loads of positivity.
It’s all relevant and all forms a part of the rock solid foundations that are being established. Those foundations will allow more to progress.
In the past there have been accusations that the focus hasn’t been in the right place — particularly when Rafa Benitez was in charge — and several managers have tried to overhaul the system to no avail. Now there appears to be a direction and a clear pathway to the first team, the move away from Melwood a further step towards this.
The Academy is in the best state it’s been in years, credit where it’s due. Long may it continue.
The future is bright.