In the final column of the season, Academy director Alex Inglethorpe pays tribute to Steven Gerrard and talks about Joao Carlos Teixeira's accolade at the Players' Awards night.
I would like to start this column by paying tribute to Steven Gerrard and the legacy he leaves, which is an inspiration to every youngster who comes through the Academy each and every single day. Our first-team manager Brendan Rodgers said Steven is Liverpool last week and that is exactly right as he epitomises just what this great club is all about. Steven has been doing his coaching badges here at the Academy and he always interacts with the players and the staff. There's no doubt about it in my eyes - he will be a top coach.
We couldn't wish for a better ambassador. This is someone who joined the Academy at the age of eight, played his whole career at Anfield and inspired this club to some wonderful success. Every boy who walks through the doors in Kirkby wants to follow in Steven's footsteps. Our job isn't to create the new Gerrard because that's impossible. The job is to create the first door for the next generation and make that pathway for them to work towards playing for the first team one day. There's only one Steven Gerrard and that's what makes him so special. Our role is to help the next player coming through have his own identity and have his own characteristics while carrying those values that Steven and the club hold throughout their journey.
On Tuesday I attended the Players' Awards night with the Academy squad and staff at the Echo Arena and it was a fantastic occasion as we paid tribute to Steven and Philippe Coutinho, who won four awards. Joao won our Academy Players' Player of the Year award and it was richly deserved as he had a fantastic season on loan in the Championship with Brighton. There's a danger sometimes that you can take the next step in your progression and sometimes that's not realised. You have to sometimes take a few steps further before making that step up to the first-team squad, as Jordon Ibe has shown us.
It's fantastic to see Joao being recognised by his peers and they recognise his achievement to have played 35 games in the Championship. That's a testament to the players recognising how important that is. Joao is a really good boy to work with, I'm really close with him and I hope he can make that final push into the first-team squad once he gets back from his injury. He certainly has the talent and it's now a case of putting the final pieces in the jigsaw together for him and make him ready for Brendan to select him when he is back to full sharpness.
Last week we had our U9 signings day at Anfield, which was a fantastic occasion and we were absolutely honoured to have Steven [Gerrard] as our special guest. Not only is he an incredible ambassador for the Academy, I thought it was very poignant he was there because as one chapter is ending another is beginning. His words were very prophetic because he told us at Liverpool you are not just another number, you are a player, a person and you are cared for and treated as a player and not just another number in a roster. That speaks volumes. I think they stole the show when they came on stage at the Echo Arena! They did their best to steal the limelight but I thought they were terrific and represented the club really well. The work Anthony Ryan and Michael Yates do with them is incredible. They are well supported by the terrific work of Ian Barrigan and his recruitment team and it's a collective effort.
It has been fantastic for the Academy to see Jerome Sinclair making his Barclays Premier League debut away at Chelsea, and then make his Anfield bow for the club as a substitute against Crystal Palace in Steven's last home game. It's a big step in the right direction for a player who has worked hard on his game this year, both on and off the pitch. He would be the first to admit he's not the complete player just yet but it's nice to be recognised for doing the right things, and for the manager to look at that and reward him. There's a number of very talented players in our U21 group who have had outstanding seasons and taken significant strides. Jerome getting his opportunity should serve as a big inspiration to them.
We have seen the likes of Jordan Rossiter and Jordan Williams make their first-team debuts, Sheyi Ojo and Cameron Brannagan being named on the first-team bench. Joe Maguire has been with the squad as well on a number of occasions and that is fantastic for their development. Our manager Brendan offers these young players hope because they know he will give them a chance if they work hard and keep improving. If you are a young footballer at a club like Liverpool and you can't see light at the end of the tunnel and see a way through, that must be the most disheartening thing because straight away you feel disillusioned. We have a manager and owners who have an ethos at the club which is that young players will get a chance.
As I near the end of my first season as Academy director I feel very privileged to work for this great football club and the fantastic staff, because we are all together. I'm given incredible support by so many people. Our head of Academy football operations, Nick Marshall, and head of Academy business, Andrew Powlesland, do a wonderful job in supporting me. I'm lucky to work with some very talented coaches from U21s through to the U9s. They come in every day with the same enthusiasm and desire to improve our kids.
I also receive great support from Phil Roscoe, our head of education and welfare. Phil does an incredible job with the lads and their education work. We have wonderful people working in our recruitment team, facilities, the ground staff, everybody. An Academy is not about one person, it's very much a team effort. I want to thank every single member of staff for all their hard work this year because I genuinely believe they have given everything and look to improve the Academy every day. With these people working at the Academy we will only get better and better and there is real momentum.
Despite this being the end of the season, the Academy is still a hive of activity with lots going on. There are still tournaments to be played and it's fantastic for these young players to be representing the club on their travels across Europe. We never stop working and learning in this job as we strive to do our utmost and achieve our goal, which is to help another player make that step up to the first-team squad.