This first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 4th July 2013.
Liverpool academy director Frank McParland and his team can be mightily pleased with their achievements in 2012/13. This season was a fantastic year for Liverpool’s academy, as several of its graduates made a real impression upon Brendan Rodgers’ first team.
Seven young Reds (Morgan, Suso, Wisdom, Yesil, Sinclair, Coady and Ibe) made their senior debuts for the club, and Raheem Sterling made his first start after three substitute appearances at the tail end of 2011/12, meaning that the Academy provided more new players for the first team than in any previous season in the Premier League era.
As Frank McParland told the Liverpool Echo: “To get seven debuts in one season is great and we’ve had a successful year. Every time one of the lads breaks through it lifts everyone’s spirits at the Academy.”
Academy graduates had success away from Anfield in 2012/13 too; although Michael Ngoo has yet to play for Liverpool’s first team, he had an excellent loan spell at Hearts, scoring four goals and providing four assists in fifteen league appearances, as well as setting up a goal in the Scottish League Cup final.
Jack Robinson (formerly Liverpool’s youngest ever player) will have also picked up some good experience at Wolves, making eleven appearances, and Dani Pacheco scored five and assisted a further four goals for SD Huesca in Spain.
But back in the Premier League, several of the aforementioned youngsters made a key contribution to the performance of Liverpool. The Reds were the only side in the top flight to start a match with three teenagers (Sterling, Suso and Wisdom) in their team this season, and what’s more, they did so on six occasions.
Even more impressive is the fact that Liverpool were unbeaten in these games, winning three and drawing three. So what specific contributions did the youngsters make this season?
Andre Wisdom scored on his debut away at Young Boys (becoming only the twelfth player in the previous twenty years to net during his first Liverpool appearance), and provided an assist in his final league run out against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Perhaps most impressively, the Leeds-born defender was ranked fifth overall in the Premier League for final third passing accuracy (for players attempting a minimum of 250 passes in total), illustrating that the young man is not overawed at the business end of the pitch. He also won 90% of his tackles, never losing more than one in a match, and winning all that he attempted in eight of his twelve league appearances.
When Rafa Benitez tells you to take note of a young player (“keep your eye on Suso… I tell you, he has promise” the former Liverpool manager wrote in a newspaper column last summer), you tend to sit up and pay attention, and Suso has certainly demonstrated plenty of potential this season.
His league debut against Manchester United at Anfield was a fine example of his ability; coming off the bench at half time, the young Spaniard created two chances, was one of only three Reds to have a shot on target, and did not misplace a single pass.
Impressive stuff, and Suso also displayed his passing ability in the Europa League, where he was ranked fourth out of all players in the competition’s group stage for accurate through balls per game.
Raheem Sterling made a decent impact in 2012/13; he was ranked sixth overall in the Premier League for successful dribbles per game, and he had the second best final third passing accuracy in the Liverpool squad.
He was also ranked fifth in the top flight for number of times fouled per game, illustrating that defenders often had to rely on unfair means in order to stop him.
The England international clearly makes things happen at the attacking end of the field; in terms of frequency of creating goalscoring opportunities in open play, Sterling was ranked 19th best in the Premier League (for players with a minimum of thirty-five chances created), whilst just eighteen years of age. That he outperformed the creative talents of Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney and Leighton Baines, for instance, at such a young age bodes very well for the future.
On top of Wisdom, Suso and Sterling’s impact, at the age of just sixteen years and six days old, Jerome Sinclair (who was born just four months prior to Jamie Carragher’s Liverpool debut) became the youngest player in the club’s illustrious history with a substitute appearance at West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup, and seventeen year old Jordon Ibe made his first start for the club in the final league match of the season.
Not only that, but Ibe set up Philipe Coutinho for the winner against Queens Park Rangers, meaning that with one Premier League assist he matched the likes of Lampard, Scholes and Adebayor for providing teammates with goals this season. Not bad for the first twenty-three minutes of your professional career!
Though as Frank McParland says: “To play one or two games is a great buzz for the boy and his parents, but what we are desperate for is to get players into the first team who are going to stay there. No-one is a complete success for us as an Academy until he has played 100 first-team games.”
It’s a tough target, but one which the current crop of graduates appear to have the ability to achieve. With the seven debutants mentioned here all aged twenty or younger, it seems that Brendan Rodgers potentially may be forming the nucleus of an emerging Liverpool side for the next ten years or more.
The future’s bright, the future’s Red.