Alex Inglethorpe has explained how Academy staff and players have been adapting to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During an extended chat with Liverpoolfc.com, the Academy manager outlined the procedures put in place to care for the wellbeing and fitness of the club’s youth players as the UK remains in lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Inglethorpe opened up on how much he is missing the day-to-day activity in Kirkby and the communication methods being used to stay in regular contact with his team.

He also looked back on another productive season for the Academy so far, including the progress of Curtis Jones and the rewards he is reaping from working with the first team at Melwood, and the continued inspiration provided by the achievements of graduate Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Read the full interview below...

First of all, Alex, how are you, the staff and the players during these challenging times?

They certainly are. Staff and players are all well, thank you for asking. I have been in regular contact with both and everyone seems to be coping. I think we are at the stage now where it is probably approaching normality, isn’t it? So you wake up and know what your routine is, the staff and players have got a structure. But, of course, that is going to be hard for a lot of them with home schooling and a lot of them have got partners that might be key workers on the frontline, so adjusting and trying to juggle their new lives has been a challenge but everyone so far is doing alright.

Everybody wants football back, but health and safety is the paramount concern at this moment in time and we have to stick to the guidelines?

Yes, I think it’s really important. This is hopefully going to be a small period in all of our lives. But at the minute, whilst we are in it, it’s imperative that we do exactly what is being asked of us. As hard as that might be, we have to take a decision to not be selfish, and try to help each other out, and be fantastic people to all and everyone at the minute.

I know you would like to praise all of your staff, who always do a magnificent job to support you and help everyone get through this...

I’m very, very lucky. I’ve worked in some good organisations but I feel particularly blessed here that I’ve got some really talented staff, and some really good people more importantly. Not that you would ever want a situation like this to remind you, but it certainly does remind you how much you miss them on a daily basis. It’s a fantastic place to work and I consider myself very, very lucky.

You have the likes of Andrew Powlesland and Nick Marshall as your right-hand men at the Academy, but there’s a lot of other unsung heroes at Kirkby, isn’t there?

It’s true. Not just in terms of right-hand men but I’m very well supported and there’s also Martin Diggle and Tim Devine in that list as well and you’ve got Steve Heighway. I’ve got four ex-academy managers at the club, which is pretty unique I think. It’s a great question but the trouble with a question like this is the moment you start mentioning other members of staff I’ll invariably come away saying I should have mentioned her or him, and what about her etc. Suffice to say we have a management team and cascading down below that in every single department we have some fantastic people. So, life running the Academy is a lot easier for me when you are surrounded by talent.

You mentioned Steve Heighway there, before lockdown we still saw him as a regular visitor to the Academy, watching games from the touchline and giving players and coaches the benefit of his expertise…

Steve brings a unique perspective. He’s 72 now but you wouldn’t know it. When he coaches he has as much enthusiasm and as much energy as anybody. He puts a lot of people to shame I think – including myself – when he coaches! I feel very lucky to have that wealth of knowledge around us. Tim [Devine] and Nick [Marshall], like Steve, have also managed academies.

I have seen a few video messages you have sent to the staff and players. The Academy is like one big family with everybody pulling together...

I’m sure they wouldn’t want to see my face too often on video messages, so I try to keep them very brief! The key is communication, isn’t it? At times like this – whether the communication is from across the country, the government, from federations or in this particular instance the Academy – the staff just want to know what’s going on. And if there isn’t anything going on and there isn’t any news then probably they just want to hear that as well, just wanting to know how things are. With us at the minute, we are not quite sure when we are returning and not too sure about possible start dates for any of the age groups. I think it’s important to make sure that the staff are aware of anything that is potentially going on.

Of course, it must be tough for the players as well because we are dealing with some very young lads here who just want to get back on that pitch and play...

I think it’s more than that, to be honest. [For] a lot of the really younger ones this is a very frightening time for them. They are worried about parents, grandparents and siblings. I’m sure for a lot of them at the minute this is a very unsettling time for them. What I can hope is that whilst they’ve got this time that it maybe forms as a bit of a distraction and maybe they are able to play in the garden or find some little space with a football and actually do what kids of generations past had to do – which is use their imagination. I suppose, go back to something which is less structured, which I think is really important during this time, to suddenly rediscover yourself with a football and maybe if you are lucky enough to have a wall as well and the ball can come back to you. Like I say, let your imagination run wild a little bit, so I really hope there’s plenty of that going on.

We have seen Jürgen Klopp and Pep Lijnders working with the players as Andreas Kornmayer is putting them through their paces with training programmes for them to do at home. Is that something similar for all of the age groups at the Academy?

Yes, certainly the U18s and the U23s have had very structured virtual work and they have been given a programme to follow. The teams below that, our U9s to U16s, their programme is very similar without as much structure. There is regular contact from coaches to parents and players. What we have been doing is sending them videos or ideas around things they might want to try to practise. So I think it’s been a good opportunity for us to discover different ways of connecting with the players.

Your job is extremely busy to say the least, so on a personal level just how much are you missing the day-to-day operations?

I’m fortunate in that I always knew how much I enjoyed this job and I didn’t need this to remind me exactly how much I would miss it. If this is what retirement looks like then you can forget it – there’s no way I want to be doing this for the latter part of my years! I enjoy it and certainly enjoy being around people, certainly the young players and the staff. There’s a certain energy and there’s definitely something missing in my life at the minute, that day-to-day and the energy the place [the Academy] gives you, which is hard to recreate.

Before the season was halted it was turning into a pretty fruitful year for the Academy on and off the field with so many highlights, wasn’t it?

Yes, it’s been an extraordinary year. We have the first team to thank for that because our manager has been incredibly brave with some of the decisions he has taken, and I’ve said that since pretty much day one. He trusts the young players and thankfully I don’t think they’ve let him down. They’ve made a mark but now they’ve got to go on and take that opportunity now.

The Everton FA Cup win will be talked about by Kopites for many a year because we had so many Academy graduates on the pitch. They weren’t overawed and as Academy manager that must have filled you with immense pride…

Yes it did, I must admit. That did fill me with real pride because it was a proper game and it was against not only proper opposition but with it being a derby, it certainly couldn’t be any more of a test for the kids than that. I think what I was really grateful for at the time was the way that the senior players surrounded them. I was very grateful for the way that the likes of – and I’m sure I’ve missed a few out here – Adam Lallana and Joe Gomez, they supported the boys in an incredible way. Although it was fantastic to see the Academy players do so well, I think it would be remiss of me not to point out that they did have an awful lot of help from a few big brothers on the pitch that day that saw them through it.

For Curtis Jones, that day was a real Roy of the Rovers moment, wasn’t it? An incredible moment that will live with him forever…

Curtis is evolving into what he wants to become. He is adding numbers to his game, which I think is important. If ever there was someone who you thought would thrive on a big stage it would be him. He backed that up with another goal in the away game against Shrewsbury. So although his strike in the FA Cup at Anfield gets the headlines, the manner of it and everything else, it’s pleasing for me to see him getting into goalscoring areas more and more. There’s no doubt he’s gifted and I think the support he’s had again from the senior players day in, day out at Melwood now for what’s been over a season has been vital to his progression.

Do you think when Neil Critchley gave Curtis the U23s captaincy it helped him in terms of maturity and responsibility? It had a similar impact when Michael Beale gave the armband to Harry Wilson a few years ago...

I think it’s a good point. I do think that some players who haven’t been given that responsibility prior to that thrive on being trusted. I think it was a really good move by Critch to give Curtis the armband and a good move by Bealsie as well when he gave it to Harry. I think those types of players like to step up and they like to lead from the front. You get different types of leaders but they tend to lead on the pitch. To be fair to Curtis, he has done that this year in the U23s. There have been times in the games where he has looked above that level, well above that level.

The Shrewsbury Town game at Anfield as well, that is an occasion the young lads will never forget…

It was. I think the crowd played an incredible part that evening because it was a little bit strange in the first 15 minutes as I don’t think anyone knew quite how to react. It was like you are watching Liverpool but no-one is familiar. But I thought the crowd were incredible because whoever represents the club they gave them everything and in the end they were our 12th man. They allowed us to play in the way that we did, which was brave with our hearts. The manager was incredibly supportive, as he was against Aston Villa as well, to see us play our way, play our style and see where it takes us.

The progress Curtis and Neco Williams, for example, have made this season, I think a word is needed about the help they receive from the likes of Steve McManaman and Rob Jones, who do a lot of work behind the scenes…

Yes they have, and there’s a lot of people who have helped Curtis and Neco. There’s a lot of coaches who have worked with them down the years, so it’s never just one person. We also had Robbie Fowler around with us and he was a part of that before he is now managing in Australia. With the three of them [Steve, Rob and Robbie] the most important thing for me is, firstly, they are just fantastic people – no ego. And if you met them you would never have known that they reached the heights that they did. Secondly, and I think it’s really important to have [them] around the players, I was speaking about this to someone the other day, gladiators who have been in the arena, people who know what it’s like to have played at Anfield and know what it’s like to have played at the highest level. I think that their perspective on the game can really help young players. Whilst Rob and Steve don’t profess to be coaches as such, what they are is our coaches but just in a slightly different guise. They give a perspective to players that, I think, is very difficult to get, so we are very lucky to have them at the Academy with us.

Even after those moments against Everton and Shrewsbury, all of the young players realise this is just a start for them. But a young role model for them, if you like, has to be Trent Alexander-Arnold. He made his U18s debut at the age of 15 and before then was Pep Lijnders’ captain when he was in charge of the U16s…

Trent is an obvious example but we couldn’t have a better example of someone that’s not only matured as a footballer but also matured as a young man. He is an impressive man when you hear him speak now. He certainly wasn’t that when he was younger, he found it hard to possibly speak in front of a group to express himself, so I’m pleased with Trent to see how he has evolved as a person as much as anything else. I do think he gives the other players hope. They can see there’s an opportunity there. You have to be patient like Trent and you have to take your chance as well. If you are presented with the opportunity then you have to take it because you are not going to be presented with too many of them. So you have to show the manager, I think, signs that not only you can cope with it but you are prepared to learn, be coachable and get better. Then hopefully you are given more time.

Finally, Alex, what would be your message to everyone on behalf of the Academy during these times…

The message from the Academy is please just continue to follow the guidelines. Keep yourselves and your loved ones safe. I’m sure on behalf of everybody there’s a heartfelt thank you to the NHS and all the work that they are doing amongst other people that are keeping the country going during this difficult period. Please keep safe and follow the guidelines.

Yasser Larouci

Meet the Academy: Yasser Larouci