Vitor Matos has detailed how Liverpool's joined-up thinking allows youngsters to feel at home on the pitch when with the first team.
A number of the club’s young prospects have travelled to Austria with Jürgen Klopp’s Premier League champions to prepare for the 2020-21 campaign.
And we sat down with Matos, the Reds’ elite development coach, for a wide-ranging chat about youth development and the chance to catch the manager’s eye during this training camp...
Vitor, we’re here in Austria for a training camp in unique circumstances, but how exciting an opportunity is this for you and the coaching staff?
It’s been really good. It’s been really intense, like our identity. We are really enjoying all the moments and all the training sessions. It’s an amazing place, everything is really well organised, the staff around the team have been doing an amazing job, so we are really happy with everything. It’s been perfect.
How challenging is it for the coaching staff to get the squad ready for a demanding season ahead in such a short space of time?
You need to think about a lot of things, starting with what you believe is more important for the team in this precise moment and when the season starts – and this is related with your game idea and with your major principles. So we really need to know where we will start to build around it. With time, you start developing these principles. Then you need to understand the recovery-performance process and you need to manage the individual and collective development. So it’s been really good because you need to work with a lot of people to have everything on the right process and on the right track. So it’s been good, really hard work from everyone and it has been really important because everyone we can see renewed their hunger to win and willing to improve, so this is most important for us.
Your role, of course, involves working closely with the club’s youngsters. A number of them are on this trip to Austria, so how good of an opportunity is it for them?
For them it’s unbelievable because they are inside a world-class team with world-class players and being around them, it’s wonderful. They can really learn and get as much as they can from these role models like we have inside of the team. At the same time, they can learn and be educated in a way that we believe is the best way for doing it. And at the same time, they also start feeling, learning and putting inside their own bodies our game idea – and this is really, really important for them to perform and also to be able to show all of them their talents that they have inside of them as well. So being here, for them it’s an amazing opportunity, that’s no doubt.
Have you had any feedback from them about how they are finding it so far?
They are finding it good. They are enjoying it and pushing themselves a lot. For them I know it’s been unbelievable to be around them. They are really excited, we can see it in their eyes, always with the brightness of a young player coming to these environments. So it’s all been good.
There’s also a number of youngsters who aren’t on this trip but have been in and around the first-team squad recently – Leighton Clarkson and Jake Cain, for example. Just how satisfying is it to see so many of these youngsters getting a chance to impress around the first team and the manager?
It’s part of the process and it’s part of the pathway that we create with the idea of developing young players and young talents and to help them in the beginning of their career. Everyone has a project, everyone has a process and you need to know that different players need different feedback and different things to improve. It’s been really good what we create and the connection that we have with the Academy. This is very important because when we relate to the game idea, the training process, the individual development and the values of the club are on the same place. It’s just enjoyable to watch. These amount of players that are starting to be around the first team, it’s because of this pathway and also because we believe it’s the best way to develop them.
How good is the manager at dealing and supporting these young players? He said a few days ago he took Billy Koumetio for a session...
It’s part of the process. That’s why it’s so important we have this common language and this common process between the first team, the second team and the Academy. Because in this way, the young talent when he comes here and does a training session they already understand a lot of concepts and principles. So when he hears feedback he can already make the link with the way it should be. So this connection is really, really important. For example, that situation with Billy is really good for him to hear from the manager such important feedback and how to understand and how to make their role on the defence line. As a young player, having this feedback and coaching from the manager is absolutely priceless.
He’s obviously really patient with these youngsters, too, which is very important – only using them when the time is right…
Yes. Time and patience are really important when we are talking about development. At the same time, there is no-one better to do it than the manager. So it’s really important to have these timings. There’s no recipe and no guideline to do it, it’s about the feeling and it’s about the moment and it’s about what is behind the work around these players. Young talent players don’t need criticism, they just need guidance.
But the senior players also help, don’t they? You’ve mentioned in the past how well they understand the situation of a young player coming into this environment…
They are absolutely unbelievable because they understand how difficult it could be and, at the same time, they understand how demanding they should be. So they always demand from them but they always help them to perform. So this is really important because the young player when he comes here, they should know that this is the high standard that they should really perform on and, at the same time, they have world-class players helping them to do it. So this connection, this relationship, it’s unbelievable and priceless to watch. It’s so important for a young player to hear something from Hendo, Virgil, Millie, Sadio, Mo, Bobby. So hearing something from them and seeing and watching them do it, it’s much more important than feedback from me. So it’s really good.
Neco Williams signed a new contract this week and he was full of praise for you for your help and support throughout his rise. How impressed have you been by his development in the past few months because it has been really remarkable?
Neco has been a really consistent developer, so he was really going step-by-step. He is a worker, a real talented worker and player. He has this mentality to learn and to try to learn everything that he can. So for me that makes the line for a really talented player. At the same time, it is very, very important to be part of this team. It is the only way you can do it, if you know you really need to work hard and you really need to be willing to learn, so Neco has this inside of him. He is this player that always tries to do his best in the training sessions, so it’s unbelievable. We see it as the beginning of his career, the start, and we are helping him to build his career. We are really happy for him and it’s been a really good last [few] months. Unbelievable.
He’s not the only one that’s developed massively over the last few months, though. You’ve got Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, and Rhian Brewster did very well on loan at Swansea City. Ki-Jana Hoever and Sepp van den Berg over here as well. It’s nice to see, isn’t it?
All of them have their own pathways, their own project and their own careers. It’s just the pathway we create allows us to have these players coming up and really being around the first team. So you can only take what is good from it and we can say that we are already taking the fruits off the tree that was seeded time ago, so it’s really good.
How well do you think the squad is set now because you’ve got this world-class group of senior players that obviously won the Premier League and the Champions League fairly recently, with a group of hungry and talented youngsters pushing them?
It’s part of the culture. So it is part of the culture of the club, the way that we believe we can develop players and we can develop talents and, at the same time, continue to develop the club and the first team. So it makes part of the big picture, if you can say it like that. We are working hard to continue like that with all the hunger and desire that we have inside of us. So it’s been really good to do it and the staff have been so important for them because they really know how to push them and to support them as well.