For this week's Talking Reds column, Harry Hugo examines the changing face of youth development in this country – and how LFC have responded.
This is a new age of football; a generation shift in interaction and communication. Fans are now just as interested in how the U21s are getting on and how many goals the U18s have scored that week as they are the first team. It's much more of a collective club support rather than just a 'team' due to the social magnification of football - where anyone can find out about anything the club is involved in.
It's a turn of events that has seen the traditional 'reserve' team die, replaced by a new development system. No longer are the young players just there to make up the numbers, but they have a chance of influence. This system is built with the players in mind, not just the ease of the coaches. Every player matters and they all have an equal chance if they prove themselves to be good enough. But with this comes consequence; the young players are under such a bright, shining media light it's making them squint at their prospects of succeeding.
The casting shadow of Barcelona and Ajax's youth success has burdened every club to emulate their style with pressure coming from the fans. This isn't a bad burden; but one that will take time and money to appreciate - but we've seen how successful it can be. The synchronicity in philosophy, between their squads, licenses assent to be simple for these players. Under Brendan Rodgers and Rodolfo Borrell, this is something clearly implemented.
Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Suso found themselves under this pressure last season because of the lack of depth the first team squad started with last September. All three players took it in their stride, becoming instrumental cogs in the Rodgers system. However, Rodgers, a former youth coach, recognises how these stars of the future should be handled. Sterling, Suso and Wisdom became key individuals but they were never heavily relied upon, perhaps the opposite of how Michael Owen was used in his youth at Liverpool.
It's now purely developmental and progressive for the players that find themselves in the Liverpool youth system. They are coached in their character and esteem as much as they are made to use a football. As Alex Inglethorpe often alludes to, Liverpool Football Club is out to make young men as much as it is out to produce talented footballers. The second it sees as a byproduct of the first - the talent is already there, it just needs nurturing. This is important; the game of football has changed. It takes a lot more than just a gifted right/left foot to succeed now; it also takes a cool head and self-belief.
Thus these youngsters have been born in the right era, watching the switchover to this new system and seeing the possibilities that go before them. All dealings and schedules are planned in meticulous detail by the Academy staff with Rodgers as the all-seeing eye symbolising that 'chance'.
Jordon Ibe (now that we have sorted the pronunciation of his surname out) has made a real impact on the fans as he has capitalised on his chance. His superb run in the FA Youth Cup last year and his powerful performances in the U21s at such a young age has seemingly cemented his place in Rodgers' future plans. He is in a similar position to where Sterling was last year: impressing enough to move permanently to the first team. He is, alongside the others that have taken the apprehensive leap, an example to the rest. But not only is he this, he is exceptional.
It's important not to get ahead of ourselves.
We have an eclectic mix of talent in our ranks and it's something we must nurture, not destroy. Players take time to come of age. Different players develop at different stages of their career and we, as fans, have to recognise that. Luis Suarez was a late developer and is now one of the best forwards in the world and in contrast Ibe is playing in the Liverpool first team at 17 years of age; it's not an exact science. Jordan Rossiter is playing four years his senior in the U21s and doesn't look out of place; the same can be said of Ibe and Sterling and it's captivating to see their progression on LFC TV, but it's not right to over-accentuate their talent as they have a lot to learn. Our set-up now realises, evolves and fosters their football education.
Expectation is a fine thing, but only at the right moment. Expect performance from those that expect expectation; but don't allow yourself to prey on those that aren't expecting to be expected upon. Just let yourselves be pleasantly surprised with their growth.
There's no blueprint to how a player should be developed, there's no predetermined route into the first team and there's no lack of opportunity. The players know all this and they are working hard to give themselves a chance.
Don't pile pressure on our academy players, it's a long-term project and it'll come good: it always does.