Academy products key to Klopp's blueprint

Trent Alexander-Arnold, 18, has benefited from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp's policy of giving young players minutes on the pitch.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, 18, has benefited from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp's policy of giving young players minutes on the pitch.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Last night's FA Cup tie against Plymouth showcased something fundamental happening to Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp.

It featured Ben Woodburn, the shy 17-year-old winger-striker from Cheshire, alongside two other golden kids, Trent Alexander-Arnold, 18, a versatile player who grew up a kilometre from the Melwood training ground, and Ovie Ejaria, 19, a creative attacking force prised from Arsenal three years ago.

They, along with other academy talents like Rhian Brewster, 16, are the reason Klopp has a net spend of just £6.46 million (S$11.42 million) since arriving.

Fans who crave transfers will be disappointed, but Klopp's strategy for Liverpool rests on growing players and he has been this way since coaching nine-year-olds.

Borussia Dortmund reached the 2013 Champions League final with three academy products, and seven footballers Klopp signed aged 21 or younger, playing regularly.

"The biggest stories are written by local players," he told The Times of London. "If it's Barcelona, if it's Ajax, if it's Manchester United, if it's Liverpool I don't know how long ago...

"Dortmund were like this. The 'Boys of 88'. A special year, because my son was born and a lot of those guys were born in 1988 too. It's not the most important thing in football, but it is nice (those Dortmund players) are friends for life."

The dream: Liverpool growing a team the same way.

"First you should try to be successful. At Liverpool we need to be successful," Klopp said. "But you should try to be more independent of the money. Liverpool have always a special identity. That's why I loved this club even before I was here. My first responsibility is to use it, to keep it and, if possible, make it more special."

He views every youth game nowadays. What does he look for?

"Of course, skills set," he said. "But skills are only one thing. Attitude is what they should bring.

"If you have to force somebody to work... it's no problem, once, on a bad weather day. But if you have to do it every day the boy has no chance. Being too cool, too early, is always a ­mistake."

What made him feel Alexander-Arnold, Ejaria and Woodburn were ready for Cup exposure and the bench in Premier League?

"Quality. You watch them training and if you are not blind you see that it's close (between them and senior players) and getting closer," he said.

"The good thing is they don't feel pressure."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Academy products key to Klopp's blueprint'. Print Edition | Subscribe