Rodgers looking to rediscover Liverpool's Mersey beat
Published 10/01/2013 | 05:00
Brendan Rodgers says he will make a dedicated effort to keep the Scouse heart beating within his Liverpool side after a prolonged drought recruiting world-class, local talent.
He is concerned about the lack of players from Merseyside who are emerging from the youth ranks and becoming established first-teamers.
Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have been icons of the Liverpool team over the last decade, but it has been a recurring theme under successive managers, finding those who will take on the baton once the heart and soul of the current dressing-room needs replenishing.
"My big thing is getting in young players from the local area here in Liverpool. Players from the city," Rodgers said. "If you look at the history here, you have Carragher, Gerrard, McManaman, Fowler, Owen. Then name me the best two players in England in the last six or seven years?
"Steven and Wayne Rooney; they're Scousers. One is from that part of the city and the other from that part. So you are not telling me there are not top young talents in Liverpool."
Liverpool are far from the only Premier League club struggling to unearth local talent. Opponents on Sunday Manchester United have similar issues, the golden period when Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers emerged having long since passed.
Liverpool and United are consistently trying to strike the balance between their global appeal – sending scouts to find the best overseas youngsters – while keeping Scouse and Manc blood coursing through their veins.
In his autobiography, Carragher emphasised that it was harder than ever for home-produced players to make an impact at the elite clubs.
"Liverpool, like many top clubs, have suffered because it's impossible to guarantee top-class players breaking through on a regular basis," he wrote. "Where are north London boys emerging through the Arsenal and Spurs ranks?
"How many Salford Boys have made their debut at Old Trafford since the mid-'90s?"
Rodgers wants to address the issue urgently, the sporadic track record of the Reds academy not yet reflecting the idealistic portrait that decorated the entrance hall when it opened in 1998.
Then, an emblematic photo highlighted the seven first-team players of the time, shining stars of one of the most celebrated youth systems in Europe – Gerrard, Carragher, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Michael Owen, David Thompson and Dominic Matteo. All seven appeared on the 16-man team sheet in the league game of February 13, 1999, a 1-0 defeat to Charlton.
Although, as at most clubs, the early rounds of the League Cup and FA Cup include numerous teenagers, there has been nothing comparable in terms of established first-teamers on league duty since then.
From Gerard Houllier to Rafael Benitez, Kenny Dalglish and now Rodgers, Liverpool managers have tried to blood youngsters with limited success.
There have been 26 debutants emerging directly from the Anfield academy since Gerrard in 1999, although it would be harsh to suggest they have all failed. Some, such as Stephen Warnock and Martin Kelly, have won England caps and there is certainly a sense of renaissance in Liverpool's youth set-up following changes in recent years, with a 4-1 win against Inter Milan in the U-19 NextGen Series on Tuesday.
However, even the player who shone most this season – teenager Raheem Sterling – was signed as a 15-year-old from Queens Park Rangers. Andre Wisdom, the young right-back who signed a new long-term deal yesterday, joined from Bradford.
Since Gerrard, most agree Liverpool have not given a debut to a genuine, world-class talent who was born in the city. Instead, the fashion has been to look abroad, partly through choice, more often than not through necessity.
"It is sexy to look in Spain and I am one who loves working with European players," Rodgers said. "All my life I have worked with players from different parts of the world.
"But we mustn't forget what is on our doorstep and, for me, this is a hotbed for footballers who have a passion, hunger and incredible qualities. That is a massive part of my job and something we're trying to put in place."
Carragher said: "The next world-class Merseyside teenager to make his debut at Anfield will feel the breath of 40,000 sighs of relief as fears of the extinction of local talent are eased." (© Daily Telegraph, London)