The latest edition of our Academy column is provided by a new face in Pepijn Lijnders, who was brought into the club as U16s coach last summer and oversees a crucial stage in young footballers' development. Here, he explains all.
There are only a few clubs in Europe with more history and tradition than FC Porto, and Liverpool is one of those clubs - it made me proud that they made every effort to bring me here. During the last few seasons I always remained faithful to Porto, I felt at home. I left a great group of professionals and an even larger group of talent behind. The club and especially the Portuguese talents have marked my personality.
I'm so pleased with Liverpool as a new club and new project. I felt from the start that it was the right time, the right club and especially the right people. They wanted to strengthen the coaching staff for the long-term. After five seasons at PSV Eindhoven and seven seasons with Porto, Liverpool is another chapter of my professional career. With Alex Inglethorpe and Michael Beale, I'm surrounded by professionals in developing top talent, talent with so much passion. This, in combination with the history of the city of Liverpool, the mentality of the supporters, the tradition and all the trophies, made the decision to represent the club a logical one.
Alex is doing an important job: he unites philosophies and innovates. He is a director who thinks and acts like a coach. The combination and variation of our complete staff makes it interesting to work for the Academy. Our manager gives the Academy a chance and our Academy represents the values and the vision of the club. If you are good enough, you are old enough. Age is no barrier with Brendan Rodgers as the manager.
My captain and playmaker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, has already trained several times with the first team. The same goes for Toni Gomes, our No.9 and attacking reference, and also Yan Dhanda, my winger and a quick, creative dribbler, has had the opportunity to excel in training sessions with the first team. Brendan is a manager who believes in youth development.
My vision is based on two universal goals: winning and development. I believe that winning is a logical result of development, so my complete focus this season is on planning and preparing my team and each unique individual to compete every day at a higher level. Team and individual development go hand-in-hand and make each other stronger. In my opinion, you can't see them separately.
Football is an extremely creative and collective game, so there are many different ways to have talent. That's why I believe that a coach's playing style has to be based on giving each individual the chance to reach for good limits. Talent has to work in their speciality and identity and needs to have freedom of expression to strengthen their strengths.
The more time and effort you put into areas of non-talent with your playing style, the fewer opportunities a talent gets to reach excellence. It takes away the opportunity to explore their unique part. Learning is 10 times more valuable than teaching. We need to create independent individuals, who understand by learning, give them chances and freedom within a clear game idea to excel.
The starting point of development is the passion and ambition of a player. What I've learned over the years is that there is one characteristically decisive factor that decides 99 per cent of development - love for the game. Because if you don't love it, you will never work hard and play enough to become really great. I believe that winning is a logical result of development - development of the individual, development of co-operation and development of the team. I believe that self-confidence is a logical result of development.
Everybody wants to win, every team wants to win. But how do you prepare yourself to win? That is what counts. That is what makes the difference over a long period of time. Consistency in performance is only possible when there is performance consistently. And performance only starts with careful planning, preparing the team and individual development. Development for this U16 team, for each player in this culture, is different because of different potentials.
Character development, self-initiative, self-responsibility and self-confidence are the best fuel. I believe that how you train, you will play, that you don't win games at the weekend but by preparing yourself in the sessions. I really believe that my players are a product of their environment. And mainly, we are their environment: the coaches and the Academy. That gives a huge responsibility to me, Des Maher and Oliver Morgan in planning and preparing all activities throughout the week for our group.
Our style is to attack, with and without the ball. We realise that the game is played with one ball, our ball, and we steal it back wherever on the pitch and we use it to attack the opponent. It doesn't matter who we play against, we will press them high and aggressively and we will attack and attack them again. You can make a top team or top players look bad by pressing them intensely and aggressively. This, in combination with the Scouse mentality, makes for a very effective path to success.
We are responsible for creating a new generation, a generation who can create chance after chance at a high level, a generation who can break down defensive walls. Nobody knows what the future of football will look like; the only thing I'm sure of is that the defensive organisation of teams will be even better. They will protect the middle zone of the pitch better and defend their area better. We need to create players who can ruin this defensive organisation.
The first team wants players who are able to open up games and speed up the attack. We are working on a daily basis, individually and collectively, on those offensive, productive, creative and attractive qualities. With guts, courage, faith and a great heart, we look for fast individual and collective actions to get behind the defensive line. "You play the game 20 per cent with your head, 20 per cent with your feet and 60 per cent with your heart," is a famous Dutch saying. It is how Einstein said it: "Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere."