Inglethorpe on LFC's Academy recruitment and culture
Monday marked another milestone to celebrate for the Academy.
Three graduates from Kirkby were handed their senior debuts during the FA Cup tie with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
They were moments that Rafael Camacho, Ki-Jana Hoever and Curtis Jones will always remember and came as culmination of years of hard work – by the players themselves and the system around them.
As Liverpool’s Academy director, Alex Inglethorpe would have been entitled to a sense of personal pride when the teamsheets were submitted at Molineux.
His satisfaction, however, comes from seeing the club’s youth policies pay dividends and the affirmation that the approach can continue to successfully bring talents through the age groups, with Camacho, Hoever and Jones representing three different pathways to senior level.
Born in Portugal and now a youth international for his country, Camacho caught the eye during a trial for the Reds three seasons ago and has quickly moved up the ranks to the Melwood training group.
Hoever joined the club from Ajax at the beginning of the season and, with a maturity beyond his years, has taken advantage of defensive injuries to impress at every step of his rapid development – culminating in an appearance at Wolves aged 16 years and 354 days.
Jones, meanwhile, is a Scouser whose affiliation with Liverpool began at U9 level and acceleration to the first-team stage brought the attack-minded midfielder a debut before his 18th birthday.
“Throughout the Academy now what we have got is greater difference, people from different cultures and ethnicities,” Inglethorpe, speaking in December, told Liverpoolfc.com.
“I think our Academy is more representative of what our first team looks like now. I think we’re more inclusive and broader in our thinking and I like that.
“I think if you were to come and see our Academy sides play, there is a similar dynamic, a similar representation as what you’d see in the first team and I like that.
“It’s important that from our demographic, we select from everyone that is available and we look and identify what long-term potential looks like. We don’t need the best U9s team, but what we do need is the best U9s potential. There’s a difference.
“The best U9s potential might have a fair share of summer birthdays, as the first team would have, whether it’s a Jordan Henderson or an Adam Lallana or whoever it would be.
“That’s what I love about football – that it is inclusive. Anyone can play and what I do think is important is that we have people that are capable of identifying what long-term potential looks like.”
Jones became the latest in a line of Scousers to fulfil the dream of representing the first team when he took to the field as part of Jürgen Klopp’s starting XI at Wolves.
The manager and his coaches are on record with their commitment to maintaining a local presence in the Liverpool side whenever possible, with Trent Alexander-Arnold a shining example in recent seasons.
And although by nature the Academy recruitment process must look both within and beyond Merseyside, Inglethorpe and his staff are committed to the ‘heartbeat’ too.
“The Academy is made up predominantly of boys from the north west, so we have more than our fair share of Scousers in the Academy but we’ll also have boys [from elsewhere],” he explained.
“We can recruit from either 60 minutes or 90 minutes away from Kirkby, depending on the age group. Of course, as they get older that extends out, but what we don’t want to do is take away the heartbeat.
“If anything, what we have tried to do is focus more on the local area. We’ve really tried hard in our pre-Academy to get the recruitment right in there and to look after the age groups.
“I’m really excited about some of the boys who are at the Academy, there are boys here who should and will play for Liverpool – I have no doubt in that we have boys here who will represent this club.
“So, for me, I think it’s important that we are well represented from staff and from players from the Merseyside area, but of course that’s going to extend out into the north west. That’s logical.”