I’ve seen plenty of exciting young players turn out for Liverpool down the years, from Alan Hansen Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan, through Rob Jones, Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and onto Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy. This latest crop of youngsters at Anfield is both exciting and plentiful.
Usually one or two decent young players break through, but this time there is almost a whole team emerging at once. One could argue the Premier League hasn’t seen this amount of young talent in one team since Beckham/Neville/Giggs/Scholes saved Alex Ferguson’s bacon in 1995.
Martin Kelly made his debut under Rafa Benitez, Jonjo Shelvey made his debut under Roy Hodgson. John Flanagan and Jack Robinson got their chances under Kenny Dalglish, although Robinson’s first appearance was under Benitez. Kelly, Flanagan and Robinson all looked accomplished defenders straight away, although Flanagan has been found wanting since. Kelly is mainly a central defender, but has only been used as a right-back so far.
Add to those, the names of Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom, Adam Morgan and Suso Fernandez and you realise the embarrassment of riches that exist in the youth team at the moment. Nuri Sahin (24), Oussama Assaidi (24) and Samed Yesil (18) have been added to the team this season and contribute to reducing the overall age of the squad.
Danny Pacheco is another player who has been given a chance this season, although he actually made his debut under Rafa Benitez in December 2009, having been signed from Barcelona as an 18-year old.
On Wednesday, Jerome Sinclair became the youngest player to play in the first team for Liverpool. His record of age 16 and 6 days beat Jack Robinson’s by 244 days. These two may well form an important part of the Liverpool side in the future.
For this weekend’s win over Norwich, Liverpool fielded their youngest side for 9 years with an average age of 24 years and 347 days. Only the inclusion of Steven Gerrard (age 32), stopped that average being even lower.
Many of these players have come through the Liverpool Academy, and there are others who have yet to break through, such as Conor Coady and Stephen Sama. The Academy was where Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher came from and has built a fine reputation over the years, since its inception in 1998. Although success at youth level is not always a guide to future riches as few of the Youth Cup winning sides from 2006 and 2007 ever made it to the full side.
One of the aspects I have been so impressed with about this current batch of kids is how they have settled in so easily. One could argue they have settled better than the likes of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson or Charlie Adam did last season. Raheem Sterling has shown a maturity beyond his years so far this season, forcing a regular place in the starting line-up. He possesses searing pace which has worried more experienced defenders. Suso Fernandez has looked a class act in the couple of games he has played, creating much from midfield.
One advantage they also have is they are being managed by a coach who believes in the old tradition of hands-on management which is what Liverpool’s success down the years was built on. Rodgers has taken a gamble in throwing these kids in so early, but it must surely shake up players like Henderson and Downing who will now have to fight for their places. We have already seen how they have played very well in the Europa League as well as in the Premiership against Manchester United and Norwich City.
The future certainly is bright for Liverpool, the future is youth.