Former Liverpool U23 Michael Beale joined us to talk about his time at Liverpool, the players he’s helped develop through the academy & their potential under Jürgen Klopp.
LFCTR: Since Jürgen Klopp has taken over at Liverpool he’s handed out 19 debuts, with 12 of them coming through the academy. This must make you immensely proud as a former mentor. Do you feel that giving youth players a chance is a part of the vision of the club, in order to find the next Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher?
MB: “The club has an amazing history of developing players from the local area. Owen, Fowler, McMananaman, Gerrard, Carragher to name some of the more famous ones. The owners at LFC are excellent and the club very much has a plan of how to develop the club/business and the football team. Klopp is an excellent fit for this vision and the club has a fantastic group of academy coaches. For example, players such as Alexander, Woodburn, Wilson, Kent, Brannagan have been at the club since the age of 6, 7 years old. Firstly, the players have to be good enough or Klopp would not use them – but also, it takes a huge amount of courage and dedication from Klopp to put this into the first team and show confidence in them also.”
LFCTR: It seems that Jürgen Klopp subscribes to the view that ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ having handed Ben Woodburn his debut at the age of 17 earlier this month. Having scored on his debut, how far can Ben go at Liverpool Football Club & what did you make of him during your time in charge of the U21s?
MB: “Ben has fantastic potential. He is a very versatile player due to him having an excellent technical base. he is also a player that is very low maintenance in regards to managing him on a daily basis. He is a boy that just loves to practice and wants to constantly improve his game. He has a great chance to push on at LFC over the next few years. I don’t want to make any more predictions or place him under anymore pressure than this. Ill end by saying that it was a privilege to work with him.”
LFCTR: Another impressive youth player has been Trent Alexander-Arnold who has really started to prosper of late with increased playing time in the first team. Do you see him as a natural right back or could be return to central midfield where I understand he played often as a developing player in the academy?
MB: “Trent has outstanding physical attributes and these will only be enhanced as he grows and becomes a man. Again, he is technically very good and is able to beat his direct opponent with his speed, close control, dribbling and passing skills. This makes him another player that can play well in a variety of positions. For example, as a full back you are able to see his speed and excellent crossing ability, when playing as a midfielder you become aware of his passing techniques. I remember Gerrard made his debut as a full back also… so there is no immediate need to give him a permanent position.”
LFCTR: Trent has recently broken through alongside Ovie Ejaria who has also shown the early signs of being a gifted player. Where you surprised that Arsenal had let such an obviously talented youth player leave their academy & do you think he can compete in Liverpool’s current hotly-contested central midfield spaces in the coming years?
MB: “I coached him as a 6/7 year old at Chelsea. Ovie is a very shy and calm boy, he loves his football and is always with a big smile on his face. The Arsenal situation was not a case of him not being wanted by the club, more a case of him feeling that he would not fulfil his future at Arsenal. It was very much a mutual decision. We were extremely fortunate to get him at LFC and i was able to tell him what a fantastic club he was joining and that he would have a real chance to progress to the first team. The staff have worked so well to help him settle in the north and also to give him the freedom to express himself. He has all the talent to make a big impact in the future and if so, it couldn’t happen to a nicer boy.”
LFCTR: The current Liverpool team seem to be lacking a winger with Sadio Mane away with Senegal at the African Cup of Nations. Jürgen Klopp seemingly didn’t fancy Jordon Ibe, but could any of the young wingers at the club like Sheyi Ojo or Ryan Kent conceivably compete at Premier League level for Liverpool?
MB: “Ryan Kent has the potential to play at the very highest level of the game. Seyi Ojo likewise – although they are very different in styles. What both players need is to try and make better decisions in possession of the ball and to ensure that their huge ability fits within the team and enables the team to be successful. I think both boys are making excellent progress and i feel that with the correct development over the next 2-3 years that they could be outstanding young players for LFC and England.”
LFCTR: Harry Wilson is a player who has seemingly been considered a hot prospect for a while. Are you surprised it’s taken this long for Liverpool to give the Welsh star his debut considering his meteoric rise in the U23s this season?
MB: “Harry’s development is a bit behind Sheyi and Ryan as he is smaller in stature and needed additional time to develop to playing with men. However, the injury last season held him back – and he has shown this year that he was ready to progress to more first team involvement and i was delighted to see him make a first team debut last week. It was like the ice on the cake for my time at LFC. I was genuinely emotional to see him play in the first team as i have followed his journey with him for the last four and a half years.”
LFCTR: Danny Ward is a player that has impressed both at Aberdeen & now at Huddersfield Town. Considering the inconsistency of Liverpool’s goalkeepers this season, do you think Danny may earn a chance in Jürgen Klopp’s side & is he good enough to cement a place in the Premier League?
MB: “Danny is good enough to play in the Premier League. He has been excellent in both loans and I think he has a fantastic future ahead of him. Goalkeepers tend to make the first team a little bit later than outfield players and they then tend to play a bit longer also.”
LFCTR: A younger player that has been catching the eye recently is striker Rhian Brewster. Having recently been promoted to the U23 squad, do you feel he could be the next star to emerge from our academy & what did you know about him from your time at the club?
MB: “I have know Rhian since he was 5/6 years old and i was actually the person that took him into Chelsea. He is a very good prospect and one that will be exciting for the LFC fans to see in the next 2-3 years. But, I urge patience in order to let him develop and grow. He is very young.”
LFCTR: Pep Lijnders is clearly an important figure for Liverpool’s development of young players. It was recently revealed he takes a ‘Talent Group’ of prospects to train with the first-team. How important is that experience for youth players & how has Pep Lijnders adapted to that new role as development coach?
MB: ‘Pep is an outstanding youth developer. The combination of him and Alex Inglethorpe is extremely important for LFC. The talent group is one training session a week, its important but is a small piece of all the work that is going on at Kirkby and Melwood. Its not the reason players are breaking through the academy. but its definitely a help.”
LFCTR: The unification of the Academy & Melwood seems to be a priority for Jürgen Klopp & FSG’s long-tern vision for Liverpool FC. What impact do you think a new amalgamated youth academy & training ground in Kirby will have on Liverpool players young & old?
MB: “To be able to rub shoulders with the senior players every day will be fantastic and bring the club even more together. In the wait for the new facility, Alex Inglethorpe has been very clever in bringing the role models back into the club to fill this void. People such as Jones, Fowler, Mc Manamaman, Heighway, Dalglish and now Gerrard playing a huge role in terms of setting the standards of LFC.”
LFCTR: After a positive & fruitful time at The Academy, you embarked on a new challenge as assistant coach at Sao Paulo in Brazil. how are you find it working under a legend like Rogerio Ceni & how what can we expect from your replacement Mike Garrity?
MB: “It was so hard to leave – honestly I am still heartbroken about the situation and my family/kids are still in liverpool now. I don’t feel that i have left the staff and players as i formed such a bond with them that i am constantly in contact on a daily basis to support and help in anyway that i can.
The Sao Paulo job is to develop myself as a coach and to also learn from a new culture, playing style and language. I could not have picked a more famous club or a better environment for me to develop. Brazilian football was my inspiration as a kid and I’m sure it was the same for many young boys growing up and falling in love with the game. The people here have been excellent and we have started very well. In our first pre season tournament we managed to beat River Plate and Corinthians in two “Classicos” to win the Florida Cup.
My replacement is Mike Garitty with the u23s and I’m delighted he has the chance to take the team and continue his personal development. He was an excellent assistant to me and loves the club more than anyone I met in my time at the club. The early signs are very positive for him and the academy.”
LFCTR: Finally, Liverpool’s promising start to the season has stuttered of late. Having dropped 10 points behind Chelsea & fallen out of the EFL Cup, do Liverpool fans still have reason to be optimistic in your eyes & are you still following the reds from South America?
MB: “I’m following each game at u18, u23 and first team level. I think coutinhos injury and mane being at the African Cup of Nations has really effected the rhythm of the team. I would not panic just yet as i think the team will definitely qualify for the Champions League this season. Chelsea have set an unbelievable pace over the past 14/15 games which Liverpool did well to keep pace with for a long time. However, i think a 2nd/3rd place finish this season would be big progress.”
The interview was conducted by Robert Rogers. (@RobRLFC)