In our latest Academy column, we speak to U21s boss Michael Beale on their trip to the USA and Saturday's opening game with Sacramento Republic FC, plus the debut of Sergi Canos at West Bromwich Albion last weekend.
It is an absolute honour for me to bring a Liverpool team over to the USA to play a couple of games and it’s a fantastic way for us to end what has been a truly memorable year for everybody at the Academy. It’s also a good time for us to integrate some of the U18 squad for the boys who will be moving up to U21 level - like Adam Phillips, Ovie Ejaria, Corey Whelan and Jake Brimmer. It’s also a lovely opportunity for Brooks Lennon to go home to the USA and show everybody how well he is developing at Liverpool.
We start our tour in California, which is a wonderful part of the world to visit, and for me personally this is the first time I have been here. This is a wonderful experience for the players and we know the two games against Sacramento Republic FC are sell-outs. We are looking forward to these two games against their full men’s professional team, starting with the first game tonight at Bonney Field Stadium in front of 10,000 supporters. In our second game we head to Las Vegas to play the first-ever professional football match in the the state of Nevada on Wednesday. That is quite unique, I’m sure, and we are really looking forward to it.
We are also here to help promote the first-team tour in LA during the summer and some of our boys could well be a part of that. It really has been a fantastic season for the Academy with our manager Jürgen Klopp handing so many of our youngsters an opportunity. I think there has been 12 Academy players who have made a first-team appearance. I’m not sure whether we have had a better year in terms of Academy players getting a first-team chance. I think we are definitely showing, firstly, a commitment to developing youth players and in Jürgen we have a manager who is not scared to play them. I think they have given him some really good performances and shown that they are a work in progress. We have seen growth in a number of players this season, which is huge for the Academy.
Last weekend we saw a number of youngsters again getting a first-team chance at West Bromwich Albion and Sergi Canos made his debut. It was a fantastic moment for Sergi. He has had an outstanding season on loan in the Championship with Brentford and I would describe the spell as probably the most memorable loan I can remember. He scored goals, provided assists and Jürgen recognised that and handed him his chance at the Hawthorns.
A big success of the season was Kevin Stewart, who worked so hard to come back from injury and play well in the first team in a midfield role which is relatively new to him. Kevin started the season on loan at Swindon Town only to pick up an injury. To his credit he fought his way back quickly, impressed on the Melwood training pitch and got his chance in the first team. Cameron Brannagan has also got his chance and he has shown people he is more than capable of playing in our first team.
I must also mention Jon Flanagan because this was the season when he came back and was rewarded with a new contract. We are really proud of Jon at the Academy and he deserves everything that comes his way. Jordon Ibe is also an Academy boy and it was fantastic to see him score a goal of such quality at West Bromwich Albion. I think we can really be proud of this year’s efforts but the hard work never stops and that has whetted our appetite for the future. It should give every Academy player confidence that if they continue to improve and work hard then they will be rewarded with a first-team opportunity.