Luis Longstaff has had the perfect role model to follow as he learned a new position as a centre-forward this season.
The Academy attacker’s opportunities to train at Melwood provided close-up experience of how Roberto Firmino leads the line so expertly as a No.9.
Longstaff arrived in Kirkby from Newcastle United as a promising winger and has also played in central midfield in a 4-3-3 system.
But before the January arrival of Joe Hardy and with the U23s in need of a striker, Longstaff’s position was switched, culminating in him debuting for the seniors in the Carabao Cup quarter-final at Aston Villa.
“That was something I never really expected at the start of the season, to be honest, in that scenario, because it’s not something that happens a lot,” he told Liverpoolfc.com.
“We were basically an U23s team playing against Aston Villa’s first team in the quarter-final of the cup but it was a great experience and, despite the result, it was one of the highlights of the season.
“Even though we were away from home, the support we got from the Liverpool fans was unbelievable, and it felt like we were at Anfield a little bit.
“It was just a great experience all round despite the result.
“I had to learn the new position fast because I’d only played as a striker about five games before the Aston Villa game.
“The advice and support I got from the coaching staff to try to get me ready to play in that position was a great help and it really did help me in that game. Because even though it was a new position for me, I didn’t go out onto the pitch feeling lost or didn’t know what I was doing.
“I felt pretty comfortable and the coaching staff were a big part of that.
“I’m enjoying the new role. It suits my game because I’m not really an out-and-out No.9 and I’m a player that likes to drop in and out a little bit and help the team.
“I think it just came about because of injuries really but I’m enjoying it and feel comfortable playing in it.”
The 19-year-old’s development has been aided by invitations to train at Melwood with the first-team squad.
Whenever such a chance arises, Longstaff always tries to make the most of it – with Firmino a particular case to study.
“I look at Firmino and he is a player that I take a lot of inspiration from,” he added.
“He is not really an out-and-out, in-the-box, big, strong No.9 and neither am I, so he is a good role model to look up to and see how he plays.
“I have tried to model my game similar to how he plays. I’m not big and 6ft5 who is going to score lots of headed goals, so you’ve got to try to find different ways to do it, and I think Firmino is a good example of how he does that.
“I’ve had a couple of times training with him and when you get that chance to go up there, you’ve just got to watch the people that play in your position.
“You can’t be starstruck by them and you just have to see them as a teammate and learn as much as you can from them.
“You can also learn a lot from what the manager and his coaching staff say. You have to listen to it as though they are saying it to you and take that back down to when you are going to play in the team.”
Read on below for more from our chat with Longstaff in the latest edition of our Meet the Academy series...
How are you keeping during these challenging times?
I'm doing well, thank you. The club are helping us a lot with FaceTime calls and keeping in constant touch with us. It makes you still feel a real part of the team even though you are away from them, which is good. I’m just working hard and following the training schedule that we have been set.
Looking back on the season, one memorable game was the 7-0 win over Napoli in the UEFA Youth League when you scored a couple of goals...
That is probably the strangest game you could play in because going into it we had already played them away and that was one of the toughest games, away from home with the atmosphere and the pitch. Going into it we thought it would be a tough game but we absolutely battered them. Once the first couple of goals went in, it was like, ‘How many goals can we get?’ It was one of the most enjoyable games I have played in because you felt so free on the pitch. For us, that is probably one of the best Liverpool performances a lot of us have been involved in. To win 7-0 looks like they didn’t play at their best but we were just really good that day.
You were so unlucky not to a get the hat-trick…
It was in the back of my mind a little bit because I had never scored a hat-trick for Liverpool and I did have the chances. I think every shot [I had] after I scored twice, the ’keeper kept saving it!
What’s it like playing alongside Curtis Jones in that team?
This season he has just gone up another level and you can see that when he comes down from Melwood to play for the U23s. Another thing that is good is when he comes down, even though he is at Melwood every week and now part of the first-team squad, you don’t see anything different. Curtis is not big-headed, he doesn’t do anything different and he is the same kid that was at U16 level. Because he is in that first-team environment every day, you can also see the intensity and quality he has been training at. Curtis puts that into our training and we try to replicate that.
Where do you see your position as now?
At this moment in time playing as a striker but obviously I’m happy to play anywhere, just wherever the team needs me to play. I didn’t really think about playing as a No.9 but you’ve just got work at it and try your best and learn. At the moment that is probably my position but who knows where I could be playing next, so you just have to adapt and put it into practice as best you can.
This season you have moved up to the U23s, so what has that been like and how big is the step up from U18 level?
It’s a massive step up. It’s the realisation as well that the next step is the first team. When you are playing for the U18s it still seems quite far off but at U23s it sort of hits home a little bit that is the next step. The U23s is the hardest level for you to get game time as well because you don’t know what your team is going to be from one week to the next. That was a little bit tough at the start of the season, getting used to that, but when you learn how to cope with the fact you won’t be playing every week, no matter what, you still have to put 100 per cent effort in at all times, which is the main thing. For my first season with the U23s I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been in the Academy training and playing games.
There is a misconception that you are related to the Longstaff brothers, who have made a name for themselves at Newcastle United. But you’re not, are you?
No [laughs]! The amount of times I’ve been asked this question since they started playing for Newcastle is unbelievable! Just so I don’t have to hear it anymore, they are absolutely no relation! I do know them well but no, no relation at all. It’s the biggest coincidence that there are three people with the same surname with Newcastle connections. It’s just like people assuming Rhys and Neco Williams are related, isn’t it?
You played for the U18s under Steven Gerrard – how much did you learn from that?
A great learning experience. Sometimes players that become coaches can change a little bit from the way they played, but the way Steven played was the way he managed. He was very dedicated and committed and he put that into the team. If you wanted to be in his team then you had to give 100 per cent, work hard and it wasn’t solely down to just talent. You had to have the dedication and commitment, which was the way he was as a player, and Steven wanted everyone to play like that. I thought that made for a good environment for a team to train in because it wasn’t just like that on a Saturday or a midweek game, it was like that every single day in training. Steven has done pretty much everything in the game and learning from someone like that day in, day out in training was a really good experience.
How do you feel you have grown as a player since coming here and working with the likes of Alex Inglethorpe?
Since I came in from Newcastle my development as a player has been massive really. From the amount of different positions I’ve played to my defensive work-rate, Alex has been a massive part of that and some of the advice he has given me has been brilliant. Not just Alex as well, but literally every coach that I’ve been with – Barry Lewtas, Critch, Steve Heighway, Des Maher and Vitor Matos, who recently came in. Everyone has been brilliant with me and the amount of stuff that I have learned from every single one of them has been brilliant.
The FA Youth Cup last season – what are your memories of it and can you believe it is just over a year ago?
I can’t believe that, it seems mad, doesn’t it? I can just remember the build-up. Even though we tried to approach like it was just another game, it still wasn’t, it’s a big game, a final. We had only just come back from the Dallas Cup, so we didn’t have much time to prepare for it. The day of the game you could see the excitement of the whole group, even in the team meeting, the bus ride to the ground and then the changing room, you could see the energy in the team. Being on the bench, it’s obviously disappointing because you want to start, but you’ve just got to accept that and that was the best decision on the day. I then got my call to come on as a substitute and went out thinking, ‘How can I impact this game and how can I help my team as much as possible?’ So even though you are disappointed not to start, you have to keep a positive mindset on the bench. It was probably the best night and best game of my career so far really. To win it was just fantastic and it was amazing to celebrate with the lads and staff.
What are your hopes for the future at Liverpool?
I’m missing it so much, so we just want to get back and play football when it’s safe and possible to do so. I just want to continue to develop as a player. I want to get as much time as possible and impress the coaches as much as possible. I want to try to become a better player than I am now and try to make that next step into the first team by whichever path that might be through. I will work as hard as I can to get to that next level and prove to people that I can be the player I can be.
It’s going to be exciting when the first team move to Kirkby as well, isn’t it?
That’s going to be brilliant. Melwood is such a great and historic place. Now every day they will be in the same building and being in and around them will be a great thing. Hopefully the amount of chances you get to train together might go up a bit with us all being together. I’m looking forward to that and if the chance does come up then you just have to take it. Being around them is going to be great, just to learn how they conduct themselves will be good as well.