Liverpool have always been a club that is highly committed to bringing forth new generations of talent from their youth ranks – a pledge which has successfully yielded some of the Kop’s all-time greatest representatives.
Built in 1998, The Academy is the Red’s current headquarters for football development – and hosts players from as young as six years right up until reserve team level. Prior to the new facility’s construction, academy operations took place at the now exclusive first-team training ground; Melwood. Notable graduates include club legends such as Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, and Steve McManaman, who all progressed to the senior squad under the watchful eye of academy director Steve Heighway. The Irishman himself being a former Liverpool icon – registering 329 appearances and winning four First Division titles between 1972 and 1979.
Knocking on the door
While Jürgen Klopp continues to ready his new-look squad for a hopeful title push in the coming season, he may benefit from keeping an eye on his younger assets. Work at the academy has been business as usual, and as a result over the course of the last few years, several extremely gifted young starlets have rose to prominence. The crème de la crème of the reserves are knocking on the first team door, and justifiably so. Names like Ben Woodburn, Ryan Kent, Harry Wilson, and Rhian Brewster should stir excitement amongst the Merseyside faithful, and for those that may not have heard of them, you likely soon will.
A spell out on loan can be a daunting undertaking for young players; however, temporarily moving to even a much smaller club can present a good opportunity to obtain vital game-time – which is key for developing ability. 18-year old forward Ben Woodburn, has been on the books at Anfield since he was seven. The 2016/17 season saw the Welshman burst onto the scene with a non-competitive debut against Tranmere Rovers, and a goal and assist in the following game against Fleetwood Town. November 2016 saw Woodburn make his competitive debut in the Premier League with a substitute appearance against Sunderland, making him the club’s third-youngest debutant of all time. Days later the youngster scored in an EFL cup quarter-final win over Leeds United, thus earning him the title of Liverpool’s youngest-ever goalscorer.
Woodburn’s continued good form and use of his opportunities through the season, saw him capped for the Wales national team, and earn a nomination for the European Golden Boy award, which was eventually snatched by Kylian Mbappé. On August 1st 2018 it was announced that Woodburn had completed a season-long loan move to Sheffield United. The Red’s recently rejected a loan bid from Wigan Athletic, but decided to allow the forward to join The Blade’s as Klopp was reportedly impressed by their football last season. Woodburn has already demonstrated the talent he possesses, however his position is crowded by players such as Mohamed Salah, Mane, and Shaqiri. This move will likely provide regular minutes on the pitch and enable one of Liverpool’s most impressive prodigies to hone his skills.
The Gerrard connection
Ryan Kent is another academy youngster who is expected to benefit in the coming season out on loan. The appointment of Steven Gerrard as manager of Rangers following his spell in charge of Liverpool’s Under 18’s, made many begin to suspect we would be seeing multiple moves from Anfield to Ibrox in the coming weeks. The 21-year old winger has joined up with Gerrard until next summer as he looks to impress in Scotland.
Some of his previous stints away from Merseyside with Bristol, and SC Freiburg in Germany, comprised of mixed success. Kent was unable to enjoy prolific seasons in front of goal of recent, however what he missed out on with scoring, he made up for with technical ability and creativity. The staff at Melwood will be hoping the young winger does well north of the border, and plays a key part in the rejuvenated Rangers team Gerrard is looking to build to rival Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic.
October 2017 saw the England U-17 squad win the Fifa U-17 World Cup with a string of dominant displays. England’s stars of the campaign were BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award winner – Phil Foden, and Liverpool’s own, tournament Golden Boot winner, Rhian Brewster. The teenage striker had long impressed in club-level youth tournaments and wreaked havoc amongst defenders significantly older than himself. In May 2018 Brewster turned 18-years old, and the next month signed his first professional contract.
Brewster committing his long-term future to Liverpool comes after serious transfer speculation between the player and Borussia Mönchengladbach. The rumours escalated significantly, and Liverpool consequently cancelled a pre-season friendly with the German outfit after allegations of ‘Tapping Up’. Retention of Brewster’s services will be a large relief for the Reds, as they will not be losing one of their most impressive young stars. The England youth hero will be excited by his recent promotion to the senior side, and important new role of providing cover for Roberto Firmino, which summarises the level of admiration Jürgen Klopp holds for him.
Wilson has set the standard
Out of all the academy graduates enjoying success elsewhere on a temporary basis, none have done better than Harry Wilson. Appearances in the Premier League 2 and youth cup competitions for Liverpool earned Wilson a national team debut for Wales in 2013 aged 16-years. This gave him the title of Wales’ youngest ever player, and made him Liverpool’s youngest ever international. In January 2018 Wilson joined Hull City on loan for the remainder of the season. The 21-year old scored seven times in thirteen appearances for the Tigers, proving highly popular with the fans. His efforts pulled Hull out of the Championship relegation zone on several occasions, and the wide-man even captured the EFL Championship PFA Player of the Month award for April.
This summer, Wilson completed a season-long loan move to Derby County, where he joins up with Wales teammates Joel Ledley and Tom Lawrence. Wilson will be aiming for an equally successful and prolific term with The Rams at Pride Park as he enjoyed in Hull. The Welsh international is a pacey, technically gifted winger who enjoys running at defensive lines. The player is reaching an age where he will be wanting first-team football, and so will look to use the coming months to get on Klopp’s radar.
Within Liverpool’s academy are many more players on the verge of attempting to push their way into high-level first-team football – either in front of the Kop or elsewhere, and the few players analysed here are just the latest in a line of successful graduates plying their trade across world football. Woodburn, Brewster, and Kent etc… are all showing skill and ability far beyond their years, and should their progress continue, it is likely these are names that will be on the lips of fans across the nation for years to come.