I’d Like To Thank The Academy

In football, an academy serves different purposes for different-sized clubs. For smaller clubs, an academy is used as a pipeline to the first team. Bringing up youth products acts as an advertising placard for other talented youngsters in the area to ply their trade with a given club. The ultimate goal though for most of these organizations is to move these players on for sizeable fees. That money is then reinvested into the next generation of the club.

For bigger clubs, an academy is more of an episode of “Hoarders.” Raid the lower leagues, lesser clubs, and untapped markets. After that, one will see a slew of loans. Those loans may then eventually be sales aiming to get at the very least a decent ROI. If one or two break through into the first team, you pat yourself on the back.

The beautiful thing about Liverpool Football Club is they somehow live in both camps. This has been on display the past few weeks as their injuries mounted. But there was no better encapsulation of how the club has used the academy in recent times than this past week’s contests: Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final against Chelsea and the FA Cup fifth-round tie with Southampton.

READ MOREThe Darwin Nunez Experience by Trevor Utley
SUBSCRIBE & FOLLOW: YouTube
 X (Formerly Twitter) / Instagram / TikTok

Pressed Into Action

A cliched phrase in sports is “We’re going with a youth movement.” When you hear management utter this phrase it usually means one of two things: A) Younger players are less expensive and we are desperate to shed payroll or B) The team is so bad that the only way to save face is to provide a fresh-faced coat of paint to the roster. Liverpool’s injury woes of late cropped up a rare third stage of a youth movement: necessity.

Morning Coffee (or Tea) Sponsored By Reckless Coffee Roasters 2/26/2024

A full starting XI’s worth of players missed out on the EFL Cup Final. The much-maligned, yet much-needed for this affair, Ryan Gravenberch was wiped out within the first half an hour. By the end of extra time, half of the outfield players wouldn’t have graduated college yet. Nevertheless, as Chelsea rolled out £150m+ of substitutes, Liverpool relied on academy products to get through the first quarter of the quadruple charge.

Heading into the new year, we knew there was going to be reliance on members of the youth team as we lost Mo to AFCON and Endo to the Asian Cup. Pair those untimely departures with fixture congestion and the inevitable injuries that come during winter football and it wouldn’t have been the least bit surprising to see some numbers on backs usually meant for defensive linemen and wide receivers rather than Premier League footballers. But none of us believed that this would become a full-blown crisis.

Steady Hands

“Next man up” is a novel concept in a vacuum. If you are on the roster, you should be fully capable of taking over in a time of need. That is what people think should be the case. Injuries and dips and form happen to everybody. You need to be in a consistent state of preparedness for when your name is called.

So many times though, this just isn’t the case. It is not because of a lack of willingness or desire to step up to the proverbial plate, but most times it is just a dearth of talent or an inability to handle the glow of the moment’s spotlight.

SHOP THE AMERICAN SCOUSER COLLECTION TODAY

That is what makes what happened this past Sunday so special. Entering the season, there would be little to no shot that I could have picked James McConnell out of a lineup. To be perfectly blunt, there is still a halfway decent chance that I may still cut the wrong wire when it comes to identifying the teenager. But when his name was called to provide some pep in our step as our collective legs tired, he did anything but disappoint.

The same goes for Conor Bradley who went from deputy for Trent to deputy for Mo right fucking quick following Gravenberch’s untimely carting off. The young Northern Irishman didn’t shy away from the responsibility that came with having to be part of a front three in a Cup Final. It was truly a sight to behold. Fast forward half a week and you have Southampton licking their chops for an upset only to have those dreams dashed as well.

The Academy Is…

As Liverpool supporters, we’ve attempted to hitch our wagons to the “next big thing” many times. Jordon Ibe, Ben Woodburn, Andre Wisdom, and others were all pegged at various points in the club’s recent history as heir apparents. But conversely, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones were given ample opportunities albeit most of their original runs coming in positions that they did not feature in while at the youth level.

Part of the beauty of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure with the club has been his adaptability. Now I know that sounds hypocritical of me given my thoughts on his lack of desire to shift formations. But what Klopp has done with players, especially academy ones, has been astounding. Every call-up isn’t necessarily going to be thrown to the wolves like they were on Sunday. But Klopp is going to test your mettle. You’ll be deployed where he sees fit. You are no longer a square peg in a round hole. Jurgen’s got his sandpaper out and is ready to make things match. It is up to the player at that point to prove themselves worthy of the gaffer’s faith.

More Tests On The Horizon

We will have a good amount of our walking wounded back, hopefully, by the City match. Alas, bridging the gap to that affair was going to take more academy involvement. If we want to keep Klopp’s Farewell Quad intact, we were going to have to have our academy gents go again and in larger numbers to beat the Saints. And boy oh boy did we.

Seeing Virgil van Dijk in the starting lineup was a shock after 120+ minutes against the Blues. But other than that, the lineup was unsurprising to host Southampton. Even the most optimistic of supporters couldn’t see things transpiring the way they did though. Three goals from teenagers, one from Lewis Koumas and a brace from Jayden Danns, sunk the Saints. Both hauls were firsts for the youngsters in a senior Liverpool shirt. A collision with eternal rivals Manchester United now awaits Liverpool in the quarterfinals.

From there though, the aforementioned bridge to the potential title decider gets a bit dicey. Not only is the Forest game away, a place where the club lost last campaign, but the Europa League tie with Sparta Prague is away as well. We’ll need to see some recovery of the squad to have any chance of not only sweeping the triumvirate of games but also not burning out our newbies.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome of these next couple of weeks, we have quite the pipeline being built. Whoever supplants Jurgen Klopp needs to be sure that Alex Inglethorpe is the first hand he shakes for being the architect.

Another Monday of looking for answers as we look at the recent struggles but put all of it in perspective as we talk about the 35th anniversary and what it means to us
  1. The Drought
  2. Let's Stare At The Eclipse
  3. Generational Dutch Oven
  4. Build-A-Manager
  5. Patreon Days
Comments