Thursday 14 December 2017

Liverpool cap youth player wages at £40k-a-year to combat 'too much too young' culture

Jurgen Klopp (2nd left) with Academy Director Alex Inglethorpe, U21 coach Michael Beale and First-Team Development Coach Pepijn Lijnders
Jurgen Klopp (2nd left) with Academy Director Alex Inglethorpe, U21 coach Michael Beale and First-Team Development Coach Pepijn Lijnders

Chris Bascombe

Liverpool have introduced an Academy wage cap in an effort to combat the ‘too much, too young’ culture in English football.

Teenagers are being lured to join the biggest Premier League clubs with huge financial incentives but the Merseyside club has decided it will no longer pay more than a basic salary of £40,000 a year to their 17-year-old first season professionals.

That will increase with bonuses such as Under 23 appearances and first team promotions at Anfield or while on loan in the lower divisions.

Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur have enforced a similar policy, which the Premier League would welcome across the country.

Despite the lure of wealthy clubs elsewhere – the North West catchment area makes it one of the most competitive in world football – Liverpool are adamant the shift will serve the interests of those who want a route to the first team more than massive pay days in their teenage years. It is believed some of the wealthiest Premier League clubs are trying to entice players as young as 16 with contracts worth £11,000 a week.

With the support of manager Jurgen Klopp, Academy Director Alex Inglethorpe is also reducing numbers to favour quality over quantity in different age groups.

Jurgen Klopp Photo: PA

Both Klopp and Inglethorpe are also against Football Association advice discouraging Academy players from playing grassroots football for their school or local sides. Liverpool are actively encouraging their youngsters to play as much football as they can outside their Academies.

It is Klopp’s commitment to creating a pathway between Liverpool’s Academy and Melwood that is giving the club confidence they can ensure sporting rather than financial motivations are prioritised.

“I've always been at clubs for the long-term so when I see a 16-year-old player who is good, I can always wait for him,” said Klopp.

“I can promise that before we sign a player who isn't a lot better than what we already have, we will always use our own boys. That's how the future should be, even in the crazy football transfer world. We want to be this special club.

“That's why I am really interested in the talent groups and all these boys. We have created a situation where all these boys see a real perspective. That's very important. They need to know that there is a way through.”

Liverpool’s golden period of Academy football is considered the early 90s, when Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard emerged as world-class internationals.

There has been a dearth of home-grown talent in the 20 years since, but Klopp is determined to ensure there will be no lack of opportunity while he is Liverpool’s manager.

Inglethorpe has brought back Liverpool legend Steve Heighway and former youth coach Dave Shannon – both regularly namechecked by Gerrard, Owen and Carragher as pivotal figures in their development years.

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“Maybe for the Scouse people around that doesn't happen often enough.

“There are other examples where a club couldn't wait long enough. That's not a criticism. Sometimes you think the next step won't come with a player. Then he changes club and it's like: 'Oh yes, there's the next step' and you think: 'Oh my God, why didn't we wait?'

“I worked as a youth coach when I was very young. I got a team to manage and after one year the sports director came to me and asked me how many new players do you want for next year?

"I said: 'I don't want new players.' He said: 'Always take new players, the best from other clubs.'

"But I said I wasn't interested. I wanted to keep that team and work with them.

"You need scouting, of course. You need to have the best talents as much as possible, but I don't know the way to find out which 10-year-old boy will really go through. It's much too early at that age.

“I'd always say: 'Stay in your club, don't travel a lot, focus on your education. Just play football because it's the best game in the world, it's fun and play as often as you can.'

“It's better playing football 20 times a week in school than training three times a week with other players.”

Klopp says he would also prefer Liverpool’s youth and first team to train at one site, although that brings logistical issues. It would require a revamp of the Academy at Kirkby or locating a new site for development.

“It would be easier,” said Klopp.

“You wouldn't need to drive between two different places.”

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