Friday 23 February 2018

End of an era as Liverpool call time on Melwood

Klopp: Moving training ground Picture: Getty
Klopp: Moving training ground Picture: Getty

Chris Bascombe

Liverpool have announced the end of an era by publishing plans to leave their Melwood training centre to merge their senior set-up with the club's academy, five miles away in Kirkby.

The Merseysiders have been based at their current training ground since the 1950s. It was first transformed by Bill Shankly after he became manager in 1959, and was the subject of a major revamp under Gerard Houllier in 2001.

Now Jurgen Klopp has reviewed the training facilities and, after exploring several options, the club have decided to integrate with the academy. Owners Fenway Sports Group are financing a renovation which will £50 million and it is hoped that Liverpool's first-team squad will relocate to Kirkby by the summer of 2019.

When Shankly took over at Liverpool, Melwood had fallen into disrepair, little more than a cricket pavilion remaining from what were once school playing fields. "It was a sorry wilderness," Shankly wrote in his autobiography. "One pitch looked as if a couple of bombs had been dropped on it. 'The Germans were over here, were they?' I asked."

Shankly demanded renovations, had the dressing rooms rebuilt, with a gymnasium and sauna added, while a better playing surface was laid. Over the next few decades, Melwood was the control centre for domination on all fronts.

However, by the late 1990s it was out of date and unsuitable for a club of Liverpool's standing. The appointment of Houllier in 1998 led to a review of the site, the French manager shocked by the facilities.

Soon after his arrival, the separation of the junior set-up from the senior players took place. Liverpool's most successful era of youth development was under former academy director Steve Heighway in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the School of Excellence, as it was then known, enabled the likes of Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher to move seamlessly from a youth game into a first-team training session.

Liverpool opened their youth academy in Kirkby in 1999 - the first purpose-built facility of its kind in England - and three years later a new-look Melwood opened, designed in large part by Houllier.

The club had considered taking the first team to Kirkby at that time, and it has become a regret that the separation proceeded.

The distance has often seemed psychological as much as physical in the intervening years. It undoubtedly caused tension during the era of Houllier and Rafael Benitez, the division between the youth and senior levels regularly manifesting itself as overseas teenagers signed by the manager inevitably found themselves based at Melwood, while players born locally were based several miles away.

Since becoming Liverpool manager, Klopp has spoken about bringing all elements back together, enabling an easier transition from youth to senior ranks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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