Marc Bridge-Wilkinson has spoken of his immense pride at being appointed Liverpool's new U18s boss by Academy manager Alex Inglethorpe.
The former Derby County attacker, who arrived in Kirkby in 2015, was previously in charge of the U16s and will step up a level for the 2020-21 campaign.
Bridge-Wilkinson succeeds Barry Lewtas in the role following the latter's own promotion to U23s manager earlier this year.
We recently caught up with the 41-year-old to discuss his role in helping young players in their career development, how he came to join Liverpool, and a special Anfield memory he will never forget.
You can read the exclusive chat below...
Marc, many congratulations on being appointed as U18s manager – a proud moment in your coaching career so far…
I'm really proud, really honoured and really happy to have accepted the role, so I can't wait to get started.
How grateful are you to Academy manager Alex Inglethorpe, who has given you great support so far?
Alex has been brilliant. Firstly, obviously he brought me to the club, which I can't thank him enough for doing that in the first place, but since then he has shown an awful lot of faith in giving me the different roles I've had during the last four-and-a-half years.
You were previously in charge of the U16s, so just tell us a little bit about your Academy journey so far since you arrived at Kirkby in 2015…
I arrived at Liverpool from a different club as the U14 coach. I did that role for 16 or 18 months and over time I've kind of progressed up, so I then took the U15s for a period of time and then the U16s for a couple of years. And thankfully now I've been offered this opportunity, that's really good, so I'm happy.
How did the move to Liverpool come about? Because you were coaching the youngsters at Huddersfield Town previously…
It was a bolt out of the blue really. I was just cracking on and doing what I was doing at Huddersfield Town and I got a phone call asking would I be interested in a role at Liverpool. I think there was a role available and I was offered the opportunity to speak to Alex. When a club like Liverpool comes and knocks on your door, there's no two ways about it – you don't say no! So I came across, had a chat with Alex and it kind of went from there really. We both see football in a similar way, we see development in a similar way and thankfully he gave me the opportunity and I'm forever grateful for that.
Was that your first coaching role in football at Huddersfield Town?
Yes, when I came straight out of playing. I was fortunate that within two or three months I was offered a full-time coaching role there. So, again, I'm really grateful to Huddersfield and the opportunity that they gave me as well, which was really important.
You are also a proud holder of the FA advanced youth award – just tell us a little bit about that…
There are three courses that you do prior to that. They used to be called youth mods, one, two, three and four and then you apply to go on what's called the advanced youth award. It's basically talking about coaching youngsters at different age groups, depending on which level of course you get to and how to associate with them, how to get them to buy into you and how you buy into them and ultimately how to coach young people. It was a great course and I'm really thankful I managed to do it and get through it.
You are following in the footsteps of Barry Lewtas, who moves up to U23s manager. You have a close relationship with Barry and, of course, he led the team to FA Youth Cup success…
It's interesting because when I first joined, Barry was in charge of the age group above me and it's almost like as Barry has moved, I have as well! Over the years we have built up a good relationship and we will continue to do that. We speak quite regular, daily when we are in the building, around issues with my group or his group or just general football queries and conversations, and that will continue. Barry is a great guy, he's a great coach and I for one have learned a lot from watching him and being around him over the years, so really good.
You are all a very close-knit group at the Academy, which is so important with everyone pulling together in the same direction…
Yes, 100 per cent, and the important message is it's all about the development of the individual players and the group comes around that. Each and every one of us as a member of staff is in it for the right reasons, I believe, which is to help these young boys develop into really good people, really good young men and hopefully obviously have an outstanding football career on top of that. So that's the aim.
In terms of the role as U18s boss, what do you see as the main objectives?
To help the individuals develop. Ultimately we are going to be judged on players getting into our first team, so obviously last season when I was with the U16s, to see the likes of Layton Stewart, James Norris and Tom Hill getting the opportunity to go with the older boys and play competitive fixtures is fantastic, James Balagizi playing for the U18s as well. It's great to see the individuals developing and moving forward and hopefully taking the next step, then the next step again. And who knows? One day it could be someone running out at Anfield and doing what we all hope they will.
It's also a very exciting role, isn't it? Witnessing at close hand the journey of these players – some who you have coached during your time at the Academy…
I've been quite fortunate that the group of players I'm going to take over, I've worked with for over two or three years, so I know the individuals really well. It's great to see them on that journey, it's great to see them making positive strides on it but the work is never finished. The work just continues and ultimately my job is to keep helping them progress to the next level and hopefully pass them on to Barry, who gets to pass them onto the first-team staff.
And in Jürgen Klopp we have a manager who believes in youth and giving youngsters a chance if they are good enough…
It's fantastic and it's a brilliant place to be. As a development coach, we see our role in helping these youngsters and continually improving and when you have a sort of figurehead at the club like our manager is, who believes in youth as well, there is a real pathway, there is a clear pathway for the boys and they can see it and for us as staff below as well. It gives us an awful lot of belief that our work is not wasted. It gives us great belief in the work that we do and hopefully the boys will get there and manage to push through.
Going back to your playing days, you have played at Anfield yourself, it was November 1998 and Derby County won 2-1. I know you only came on right at the end of the game, but it must be a pretty special memory?
It was unbelievable! Obviously, in the days leading up to it, even the months leading up to it, I'd been in and around the first-team squad but had kind of dropped away a little bit at that point. Then there was a few injuries and we were short of players and there was quite a few young lads on the day that ended up in the team or getting on, like myself. It was just a really bizarre time. Suddenly I ended up at Anfield, I was on the bench and thinking, 'Wow, this is impressive!' What a stadium and the club speaks for itself. Then we ended up going 2-0 up and I was sat on the bench thinking, 'Wow, what a day this is!' The manager Jim Smith told me to warm up for probably around 25 minutes before he put me on. It was probably the longest 25 minutes of my life! I was just itching to get on and then he threw me on right at the death in the 90th minute. Liverpool had scored through Jamie Redknapp, so I managed to get on and made my debut at Anfield in the Premier League. It was the only appearance I made in the Premier League and for Derby in a competitive fixture. It was really special and now obviously I work for Liverpool, it has kind of come full circle a little bit. It's a little bit strange but something I always look back on, be really fond of and really proud of. Hopefully I'll be working with players who will get the chance to do that and obviously go further and continue their career at that level.
Can you remember if you got a touch of the ball having come on right at the end of the game?
I think I touched the ball twice. One was a clearance and the other one I just hit the space and put the ball into their half and that was it, and I think I might have given a foul away. We were really fortunate and the goals came from Kevin Harper and Paulo Wanchope. Paulo went on to achieve great things and he was a really great character. At that time he was still quite new to the scene but we came away with the win. In the changing room it wasn't stunned silence because we were really pleased, but it was unbelievable because we were down on players and down on experience and somehow managed to come away with this victory, which was fantastic, so really great memories.
As a player you made almost 400 appearances for various teams, you had some great highlights on a personal level. Do you feel you can share some of your experiences to help these Liverpool youngsters on their pathway?
The level that I found myself playing at was sort of League One mainly, which is a good level of football. Obviously it's not where everyone aspires to be and it's tough. It's a different type of game and it's not what people see in the Premier League with the tactical themes and technical themes. There's a lot of hustle and bustle and scrapping, and I think when you look at how our first team play now, we kind of have a blend when we can do both. We can play the Premier League, the international football, but we can also fight and scrap for games if we need to. In my experience of playing, that was kind of how I was brought up and what we had to do, so it kind of fits quite nicely. I can offer the experiences that I had. Hopefully these boys, lots of them will go on and have careers that will far outweigh what I achieved in football. That's the aim, to give them the understanding of the game tactically but to give them as well the understanding of the difficult side of football as well when things don't go your way. When things are tough but you've got to knuckle down and stick with it, kind of use that grit and determination to achieve something. So I think around all the technical parts and the physical element, it's as much about mentality as anything else.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the new Academy season then when we get the go-ahead and it's safe to do so?
Firstly, I'm just buzzing and hoping we get back obviously as and when we can. The boys are itching to get back, we speak to them regularly and they can't wait to get back in and start playing football again. They are doing their programmes, they are doing their ball-work stuff but it's not the same. So hopefully we can get back as soon as we can. Obviously it's got to be safe and it's got to be right for the club, of course, but it's got to be right for the individuals as well, so the Premier League and Liverpool and the medical staff will get all that boxed off. And as soon as we get back in, it becomes football, it becomes what we know and love. So then it's about making improvements and giving the boys greater understanding, improve their technical attributes, improve areas of their game that they are perhaps not quite as strong as others, but also improve their strengths. Let's make sure we focus on improving the individual and giving them the collective and the understanding so they can play well as a team and as a group of players. And then who knows where we go? Let's hope we perform well and we see what happens. It's the first time for me as a coach that there will be a league table in place, so that will be nice to see and give us something nice to look at – well, hopefully nice to look at on the weekend! It's mainly about performance, individual and the team, and then results come after that.