BY CHRIS ETCHINGHAM
Anyone who follows Paul Grech on Twitter will know that he is a passionate fan of Liverpool (his recent purchase of a Jurgen Klopp LFC mug is testament enough) and so his book Liverpool’s Blueprint is an analysis of the clubs academy which gives a thoughtful insight into an area of the club which has its own folklore
The book is broken down into seven chapters which delve into how the academy fell into disrepair and was rebuilt by Rafa Benitez and, finally, how it runs in the present day. The recent appointment of the aforementioned Klopp and his philosophy on developing young talent would make a fantastic sequel.
The book itself should not be seen as just for Liverpool fans, there are enough issues raised by Grech to make fans of other top clubs think about their own side’s academy fortunes. For Liverpool fans though the narrative of the academy over the last fifteen years or so is a snapshot of the disjointed thinking which has held the club back. One example cited is the geographical location of the academy itself at Kirkby rather than at the first team Melwood training ground, or indeed close Melwood itself and open a new complex which would encompass the first team and academy. Grech cleverly contrasts this with Gary Neville believing that members of Manchester United’s legendary Class of ’92, who trained on the same site as then first teamers and could see a career path in front of them if only they worked hard at the academy.
The other mystery which the book attempts to solve is how Gerard Houllier, who was brought into the club partly due to his experience at France’s Clairefontaine academy, failed to capitalise upon the discovery of players such as Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher with other obvious talents like Stephen Wright and Darren Potter. One answer the book explores in detail is the acrimonious departure of academy stalwart Steve Heighway under the reign of Benitez
Benitez insisted on a root and branch takeover of the academy once he’d established himself as manager of the club and Grech discusses in significant and informative detail how Benitez recruited the sought after Frank McPartland from Fulham due to his enormous scouting network (McPartland recruited Raheem Sterling after Tottenham were put off by his background) and also Pep Segura from Olympiakos to imprint Benitez’s philosophy onto all levels at the academy, most notably players fitting in with Benitez’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system. There is also great emphasis on recruiting local talent, Scouse first, then English and only then if a position still wasn’t covered would the club recruit from abroad.
The book also covers the state of the academy during the reign of Brendan Rodgers, who despite initially showing little interest in the academy did promote those who showed promise and allowed them to train at Melwood, most notably Jon Flanagan and Sterling. There was a lot of personnel change at coaching level at the academy and Alex Inglethorpe came in to restructure the coaching pyramid there and Steve Heighway also made an informal return too.
Grech also discusses the use of the loan system by Liverpool, something which he believes that they have fallen behind the times with in relation to other teams. Historically, the club have been wary of the system believing that players learn more being trained by their own coaching staff than elsewhere. Grech also states that both Houllier and Benitez did not have the contacts to establish a wide ranging loan system for their players. Nowadays, players are sent on loan to clubs who Liverpool believe share the same philosophy for coaching that individual that they do too, though Andre Wisdom currently in his third loan spell away from the club may disagree.
The book concludes with Liverpool’s plans for the future and how the academy fits in with this forecast. In September 2012, John W Henry wrote an open letter to the club’s fans following the clubs failure to purchase Clint Dempsey at the end of the transfer window, he stated that there was to be an emphasis on developing players through the academy. A few weeks later McPartland, then still at the club, said that he wanted the Liverpool’s first team in the future to have a 50% representation from the academy. These statements were set in context against recent flops such as Andriy Voronin, David N’Gog and Milan Jovanovic. Looking to the future, Grech points out that Liverpool have not made the best use of former players. Robbie Fowler and Steve MacManaman are both club legends whom have come through the academy at Liverpool yet have been used on nothing more than an informal basis.
Overall the book is a fascinating study for the generation of Liverpool fans who have never seen their club win the league. Whilst reading, it is worth keeping at the back of one’s mind the Manchester United Class of ’92. Both clubs cover a similar catchment area and Liverpool began the Premier League era arguably on parity with United. Yet when the Anfield production line slowed, the Manchester United one kicked onto the next level producing some of the finest players this country has seen. Hopefully under the newly installed German, a revolution is just beginning.
Liverpool’s Blueprint by Paul Grech is available as an e-book for just 2 Euros HERE with all profits before the end of December 2015 being donated to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool.
YOU CAN FOLLOW CHRIS ON TWITTER @CArmband AND CHECK OUT HIS BLOG https://emancipationforgoalposts1.wordpress.com/ HE IS ALSO THE HOST OF THE NEW TWFP PODCAST AND THE AWARD WINNING MAN ON THE POST PODCAST