Live4Liverpool and a few other fansites were invited along to a Liverpool FC Q&A session at club’s Kirkby based Academy, on Thursday. We were pleased to be in the presence of Academy Director Frank McParland, Academy technical director/Head of Coaching Rodolfo Borrell, and Under 21s Manager Alex Inglethorpe.
Below are some of the questions that were put to the guys who manage, develop, coach and train Liverpool’s future stars.
How do you measure success?
FMcP: By getting players to the next level. When they are at under 9s we want to get them through to the under 10s and so on, but the ultimate one for us is when they get into the first team. Although he didn’t get onto the pitch against Southampton it was fantastic for us to see Ibe on the bench.
Would it be good to win the Youth Cup for the first time since 2007 and get some silverware on the table?
AI: The trophies are the lovely things with great pride attached. To a degree they are the benchmark of where the team is. However, you would make sacrifices and finish bottom of any league to see the next Steven Gerrard walking onto the pitch. Ultimately that is were we are judged. There are plenty of grown men walking around with a youth cup winners medal in a normal day to day job. Winning one of these does not give you the guarantee that you will have a career at Liverpool or with any other football club.
We are very proud of the current group. To have progressed to the semi finals is good because there is more pressure. As you are progressing through the rounds the more intensity you feel. You have more interest from the TV, the crowds get bigger and the stadiums get bigger. It’s interesting to see which players out of the group can handle the pressure of being on the bigger stage.
Since Steven Gerrard, the academy has not produced a player of his quality. Because of this the academy has took quite a bit of criticism. Although plenty of really good players have come through the academy, once they move up to Melwood their progress is out of your hands. Because of this do you feel the criticism is unfair?
AI: If you look at most clubs the 18-21yrs bracket is the hardest to conquer because you have players who show talent and potential and in England it is very hard to breach that group. You hear of super talents at the age of 17/18 who disappear off the radar. The final step is the hardest to take. The bigger the club you are at the harder it is for the opportunity. When the likes of Stevie and Carra broke into the 1st team the squad sizes were smaller, 70% of the players in our league are foreign.
RB: It is difficult. You have to remember that this is Liverpool Football Club. It is one of the best clubs in the world. To get into the first team of one of the best clubs in the world is not easy. In the past three years many players have come from the academy to make their debuts in the first team. This is a great thing but you then need to make yourself a regular first team player. If you are a midfielder you have to fight for your place against the likes of Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva. So it is not easy.
Just how good is Teixeira?
AI: He’s a talent and he is eye catching. He come from a good club in Sporting Lisbon. They have something there what we are trying to have here in were there is a natural path into the first team. They have produced big players such as Figo, Ronaldo and Nani. There is a lot of history there. It was a big decision for him to move. He has had to adapt. He came with an injury. He has needed time to adapt to the weather.
For a kid to come over, not being able to speak the language, a change in the food, and with no family or friends you can understand how hard it is going to be. He is over that initial period now. He is now fully fit and consistently training to a better level. His qualities are obvious. He is great to watch and you can see how he connects with everybody in the team. There is still a long way to go and he is working really hard to create more assists and score more goals. He has been the most eye catching during the previous weeks.
AI: If you look at Suarez he is not a big man but his body work in how he shields the ball is a Latin quality that Teixeira has also got. It’s a street quality that they have got and learnt. So although he is not the tallest there is no reason why he can’t cope with that aspect of the game.
From the outside, it seems that player recruitment this season has slowed down at academy level. Is that a policy to keep the group down or is that down to the changes during the summer?
FMcP: Recruitment at the academy has pretty much stayed the same. There has been no real change in what we do here. The scouts still go out and watch plenty of games. I’d say it is harder to sign players now. The level has really improved. We will get people in and we won’t always sign them. We are looking for top players now. In the past we haven’t signed players just to fulfill fixtures, but we have signed players that would help the players already here.
We feel as if the groups are good and they only need tinkering with maybe 2 or 3 players. The first team are also involved. They have scouts all over Europe so they will look at the young players for us and if they see somebody decent there is good communication there. We have just signed a Hungarian schoolboy who is 16 who came in on trial and did really well and we are hopeful for him.
Rodolfo, you were at Barcelona for 13 years and coached from the under 11s through to the under 17s and developed players such as Fabregas, Messi and Gerard Pique so you have a lot of experience in Spain. What differences do you see between the Scouse and Spanish kids, not only technically but also off the field both mentally and socially?
RB: The football is so different in both countries. You cannot just go to a different country and say everything is rubbish so we will import everything, because that is not right. Each country have their own characteristics. You can try to implement something to make the British players better. In Spain the game is more technical and tactical. Here in England the game is more physical. What you can not do is change everything about one country because here in England many things are great and the league is considered as, if not the best, one of the best in the world.
From the social point of view you always have boys coming from different profiles in terms of family and backgrounds and that is quite similar between both countries. The better players to represent a club are always first the locals, and second the bigger players. Approximately 75% of players at the academy are locals.
What characteristics do you look for in a Youth Player and can any deficiencies be developed?
AI: Integrity is really important. That would be up there. The best and most successful players I have worked with have that and their ability to be able to self analyse is second to none; if there is a problem, weakness, or deficiency they do not just put an elasto-plast over it and expect it to go away. They will dig it out and work and work and work until their ability to critique their own performance is there. That is an elite trait. If their is a mental weakness with a player under fatigue or pressure it normally comes out. If you quit when the going gets tough you can work on that and I have seen players turn that around. The top players will face problems but its about having the ability to move on and adapt.
FMcP: I always look for the players with a big heart. The top players have something in there that is different. The top players look like born winners. That is hard to put into a player. If you watch the 9 year olds and then the same players again when they are 13 years old, it is the same ones who have that something special. We don’t have to win every game but I love the winning mentality in a player.
RB: For me it is to see a player who has the willingness to be a top player. This is very difficult at a young age. You need to be surrounded by the right people not only in terms of the training sessions, but also at home.
How big an inspiration is Jamie Carragher to the youngsters here?
FMcP: His enthusiasm even now when he is due to retire at the end of the season is unbelievable. He appeals every decision in training. Nobody wants to ref Jamie’s game. He is distraught if the team loses a goal. He is an incredible competitor and his sheer desire has got him were he is today. He is at the academy at least 3 times a week and he is always talking to all of the kids. The kids are all on first name terms with him. We would love Jamie to be involved in the academy once he retires. We would find something for him to do. He represents what LFC is about. The club is in his heart and he has been a great servant.
We would like to thank Liverpool Football Club for this opportunity and the other fanzines and fansites who contributed to an insightful afternoon.
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