Analysis: Liverpool’s kids show the future really is bright after Jurgen Klopp

When Jürgen Klopp first arrived at Liverpool he spoke of his intention to use the club’s under-23s side similarly to the way European sides in Germany and Spain have second teams.

At Borussia Dortmund, their II side plays in 3. Liga, and Klopp envisaged the academy team at Liverpool in a similar manner.

However, it was one of the few things he was wrong about and had to learn doesn’t quite work the same in England.

The level of football in under-23s (now under-21s) football isn’t the same development for players, playing against fellow youngsters and not experiencing playing against senior pros.

Loans are required a lot of the time to get that environment, with Harvey Elliott having a highly effective season at Blackburn Rovers as Klopp’s first major loan success story.

Liverpool’s academy teams, too, trained at a different site from the first team, six miles away in Kirkby from the then-home to Liverpool, the iconic Melwood Training Ground.

It was no surprise then, when less than two years in Klopp’s reign that the club announced the decision to merge the first-team training base with the academy site in Kirkby, with an investment reported around £50 million to create the new AXA Training Centre.

Owners Fenway Sports Group had always been looking to make it happen, but Klopp’s role in pushing for it helped make it happen as part of talks over a new contract.

“I will miss it [Melwood]. But that’s how it should be ,” said Klopp when the move eventually took place in November 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. “It was an important place in my life, so I will miss it.

“But Kirkby will be great.”

  • And so it has proven.

The merging of the academy and first-team sites has allowed Klopp to much more easily call up academy players to first-team training, something that previously was made more difficult by the 20-minute drive between sites.

None more so is this evidenced by 18-year-old Jayden Danns, who started the season in the under-18s, progressed to the under-21s and started training with the first team at the end of January.

Danns, of course, was one of those youngsters who helped Liverpool to win the League Cup at Wembley, playing the final 33 minutes of the tie just four days after making his first appearance in senior football. “I loved Jayden from the first moment,” said Klopp afterwards. “He only started training with us recently!”

Alongside Danns at Wembley at full time were another academy duo, James McConnell and Bobby Clark, all of whom showed impressive maturity and composure on the biggest stage against Chelsea.

McConnell completed more passes (34) than Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher. Clark had more touches (four) in the opposition box than Raheem Sterling. Danns had more shots on target (two) than Chelsea’s £89 million Mkhaylo Mudryk and £52 million Christopher Nkunku.

That trio, plus 16-year-old Trey Nyoni, and 18-year-old Lewis Koumas, were five substitutes who have never started a professional league game at senior level.

Klopp said post-match that the overwhelming feeling was of pride, pride in the boys themselves, but also the staff at the academy for fostering an environment where so many young talents can thrive.

Academy director Alex Inglethorpe, elite development coach Vitor Matos, plus under-21s coach Barry Lewtas and under-18s coach Marc Bridge-Wilkinson are the most high profile of those, but it takes a village to raise a child and there are far more key personnel who work tirelessly behind the scenes at the AXA.

Klopp once joked about wanting to fulfil a dream of having a “team full of Scousers” and while that may not happen, he has become pretty close to a team full of players who have progressed from the academy.

Post-match at Wembley, in front of the raucous travelling Reds’ supporters, 10 players who have played for the academy posed for a photo – those being Danns, Nyoni, Koumas, McConnell, Clark, Elliott, Conor Bradley, Jarrel Quansah, plus injured duo Ben Doak, Stefan Bajcetic.

That was until Mo Salah pushed Trent Alexander-Arnold to take up his place alongside the young Reds.

And then there was goalkeeper Caoimhim Kelleher, who joined Liverpool as a 16-year-old in 2015 and was arguably the man of the match at Wembley after making nine saves and facing an expected goals total of 2.95.

No wonder, then, that Klopp says Liverpool will be “fine” after he leaves in the summer. “The future of this football club is bright,” he said on Sunday. Never could that have been evidenced more perfectly than at Wembley.

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