WHEN Steven Gerrard was appointed Liverpool under-18s manager ahead of the 2017-18 season, all eyes were feasted on The Academy.
It was a move that brought about great interest from the outside, as well as a lot of good feeling on the inside.
Jürgen Klopp had said that his door was always open if the former skipper needed advice about getting into management prior to the appointment, and there is a lot of evidence to suggest his time observing at The Reds’ youth training base was a big learning curve for Gerrard.
Upon announcing his retirement from football, Liverpool’s third all-time appearance maker was immediately hit with job offers to take his next steps into management — the most public of which came from MK Dons, then of League One.
However, it was clear from Gerrard’s words since then that the job offer came a bit too soon for him, and he felt it was more appropriate to go back to where it all began to begin the process of learning his trade.
I can only imagine the influence his presence must have had on the lads coming through, not only at the under-18 level but also those on the cusp of that in the lower age groups.
To have a mentor who featured 710 times having come through the ranks himself, winning almost everything on offer and being regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever, can only inspire you to want to follow in his footsteps — especially for the local lads.
His appointment was a sign of how highly the club still regarded him, and how much mutual respect he shared with Klopp as his own managerial mentor. The close relationship between the two must have added to the motivation to succeed for those young lads, knowing that your name may get brought up in conversations between the two.
Although Gerrard has taken the next step in his coaching career with Rangers, as he continues to bolster his own prospects of a dream return to Anfield as first-team manager, the feel-good factor he helped contribute to hasn’t left Kirkby.
It is a credit to everybody at The Academy that the foundations were already set for Gerrard to come in and influence things the way he did, but also that those foundations have been built on successfully — and the appetite to become the next Steven Gerrard hasn’t dissipated.
For under-23s manager Neil Critchley and the new under-18s boss Barry Lewtas in particular, there are lots of external factors to deal with in bringing youngsters through — trying to deliver results amid constant changes in terms of which players can be selected.
However, the main objective for both, as well as many others at The Academy, remains to develop and mould the lads that are coming through to give them the best possible chance of making a breakthrough at first-team level.
As Gerrard’s replacement, Barry Lewtas, said himself in an interview with The Anfield Wrap: “My job day to day is to work with the boys, concentrate on their individual development and then try and put that into a collective identity.
“We’re probably in a fortunate position at the moment that there seems to be a pathway; if your attitude and mentality is right, and obviously if you’re good enough as well.”
The lads who were in and around Gerrard’s under-18s last season wouldn’t have needed to look far for motivation on that front — and there are still constant reminders inside The Academy complex of what it takes to become idolised at Liverpool, on and off the pitch.
While the great work goes way beyond what Gerrard brought in his time as a coach at Kirkby, he can still be held up as the example to follow as a player.
And there will be fewer who feel that weight of expectation more than his cousin Bobby Duncan, who joined the young Reds in the summer from Manchester City.
That pressure doesn’t appear to be affecting the 17-year-old though, he’s notched 20 goals so far this season with Lewtas’s side still competing on several fronts.
His strike partner, Liverpool-born German Paul Glatzel, is slightly ahead on 21, with the healthy competition between the two likely another motivating factor.
Lewtas will be looking for both to make a big contribution again tonight as the under-18s face an unbeaten Wigan Athletic under-18s side in the quarter finals of the FA Youth Cup at the Swansway Stadium in Chester.
There has rarely been a better time to take a keen interest in the next generation of Liverpool FC. Get yourself down if you’re at a loose end.
Who knows? You might just get to see the next Steven Gerrard.
Tonight’s FA Youth Cup quarter-final clash with Wigan Athletic kicks off at 7pm at the Swansway Stadium in Chester. Tickets are £3 for adults and £1 for concessions, while season-ticket holders and members don’t have to pay a penny.
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“He’s got great technique, he’s quick, he’s tough, he’s a got a good appreciation of the game.”
16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever is named in a senior Liverpool matchday squad for the first time 👏
🗣 We spoke to Under 18s boss Barry Lewtas about the Dutch teenager… pic.twitter.com/AXqnj2tZyT
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 7 January 2019