Liverpool’s culture has allowed their youngsters to thrive, and Dan Morgan writes that it’s down to a role reversal from where The Reds have been in the past…

 

LAST week I wrote about Steven Gerrard, pondering whether his trajectory as a manager will ever truly be right for Liverpool.

After reading it back I felt slightly hypocritical, as a result of my own discomfort from having little patience for anyone else’s projections of a life after Jürgen Klopp in 2024.

Yet after studying the character of a modern day Manchester United over the course of the past seven days, I feel compelled to use the current as a warning of what not to do in the future.

United are, as ever, fascinating in their similarity and rise and fall compared to Liverpool. They run as near parallels, albeit over slightly different points in time. After watching United against Paris Saint-Germain, and the disastrous management which overseen it from the home bench, it is easy to see the Liverpool parallels of yesteryear.

Old Trafford is now a place which tries to emulate yesterday rather than find a better tomorrow. Against PSG, the best player in a squad recruitment-heavy with dice-rolling wage guzzlers was, and continues to be Marcus Rashford, a player from their youth system.

It got me thinking of how a successful and prosperous United could churn out so many wins at youth level, with players who you deemed from a distance to be ordinary. It got me thinking about Liverpool’s youngsters and their performance against Ajax.

The Reds found a different way to win once again on Tuesday, everything said and written about the game has been done. Yet the overriding feeling as we prepare for another must-win fixture is that all of Neco Williams, Curtis Jones and Caoimhin Kelleher can be trusted for Sunday.

Jones is now a given in that sense. Neil Atkinson rightly pointed out on TAW’s Review Podcast that if Jones was putting in that performance for any other Champions League club in Europe he’d be getting linked to Premier League clubs for around £50m.

Liverpool's Curtis Jones celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield

It was a much bigger night for the goalkeeper and full back. Klopp mentioned he had a long chat with Neco Williams after Brighton, telling him he was a much better player than he showed on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Kelleher might well have now finally buried the career of Adrian as he offered much craved reassurance as number two. Like Williams he benefited from the trust of his manager.

All three were able to prosper from the culture of excellence Liverpool have now built, a platform in which players can come in and succeed as a result of the varied excellence across the club.

Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams have also benefited from playing in a team which doesn’t drop standards. That’s what allowed several players to pass through United through the years and contribute to their success.

For many years Liverpool was obsessed with finding one jewel in the crown. There was a constant search for the next Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard or Michael Owen. United found players who could play over 100 games for them, who might move on but will still contribute to their success.

That’s what makes these teams stand alone from the rest, they make their players better. Kelleher or Williams don’t have to play for Liverpool for the next 15 years, not even the next five. If the club develops them and benefits on the pitch in the meantime, nobody has lost.

Everything once said about United is now uttered about Liverpool, and vice versa. The clubs have once again switched roles, while United constantly look to Rashford to drag them through, they simultaneously scratch heads at how the Champions have churned out yet more competence from the youth ranks. It’s a reminder that the past often repeats itself.

It’s now up to Liverpool to ensure these standards are maintained for as long as possible.


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