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Teenage kicks best way for Rodgers to rejuvenate Liverpool

The president of the Disney Corporation told the BBC's 'Today' programme that great achievements can flow from supremely bad misjudgments. This has been the week when Liverpool have proved the point.

Their dire failure to retain enough strikers when the transfer window closed is an outcome of a flaw in the club's senior management structure -- the absence of a fully empowered chief executive -- which still hasn't been fixed.

But the hole which was created in the squad has allowed some young players around the fringes to suggest, in very convincing terms, that Liverpool possess the most talented pool of teenagers in the Premier League.

If a side in which Spanish 18-year-old Jesus 'Suso' Fernandez may start are defeated by Norwich City today, then Liverpool may find themselves joint-bottom tonight.

But ignore the bookies, should you hear them promoting short odds on Rodgers winning the sack race. Rodgers is building something very interesting, and club owner John W Henry, perhaps the canniest mogul in United States sport, knows it.

If Liverpool finish 16th this season, as the club's playing foundations go in, Henry will accept it, and so will many supporters.

The singing of Rodgers' name when the club were 1-0 down at West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup on Wednesday told us a lot.

His decision to send on a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old at 1-1 revealed even more. This was a Liverpool who had not won a domestic fixture all season. Their excellent football won through.

Young players like Raheem Sterling -- raw, yet remarkably high on game intelligence -- and Suso, a teenager possessing the coolness to set up a goal against Manchester United last weekend -- are not of Rodgers' finding.

Both belong to the academy system Rafael Benitez built up.

There were a few bids for Suso on deadline day and only now is work under way to extend his contract, which is in its last year.

But, while using youngsters can buy a manager time, Rodgers has required depths of courage to give them a go and make them believe.

Andre Wisdom, a defender who stagnated like some others in the Dalglish era but shone in the recent Europa League win in Berne, is in the same bracket, but the best may be yet to come.

Look out for Jack Robinson, with pace and the tactical nous Benitez always wanted drilled into the Academy players, who has the potential to be an Anfield left-back for a decade to come. Jordan Ibe may follow. There is some surprise around the England U-17 ranks that Jerome Sinclair, who became Liverpool's youngest player, at 16 years and six days at the Hawthorns, should have accelerated into the team so fast. Even the FA hadn't seen that one coming.

"It's funny how things work out," said Rodgers. "Maybe it's fate. Maybe this is all part of the story. Sometimes things happen by design, others by necessity."

The new Anfield supremo is a master of rhetoric and knows all too well that all of this fits a long Liverpool tradition.


A gem of a book on the Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley era, Simon Hughes' 'Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout', reminds us of how it was the shock FA Cup sixth-round defeat at a Watford side struggling to avoid relegation from the old Second Division in February 1970 which led Shankly to turn to youth.

In adversity, he signed a young Kevin Keegan and Ray Clemence.

A manager can't just employ those players, though. It is the way he ushers them into senior football which tells you about his really significant skills.

Professionals often talk about the nervous energy which accompanies their fragile first game, playing in front of 20,000 people, rather than the usual 20. They'll tell you that you can burn off so much of the stuff that by kick-off time you are shattered.

The adjustment to the higher level of pace and technique required also means that virtually no young player will be good enough to go straight into a top-six side and flourish. It takes 20 games, maybe 30.

Look out for the manager's relationship with that young player during the game for a sign of whether he really possesses the powers to help him flourish.

When Marnick Vermijl, Manchester United's 20-year-old debutant right-back, put a cross into the stand against Newcastle United last Wednesday, there was muffled disappointment from supporters.

Alex Ferguson was straight out of his dug-out to clap the Belgian. It was a revealing moment. Rodgers has the same intuition. "He gives you energy," the young players say.

It is conceivable that Rodgers may have broader resources to call on, in time.

Some in the United States speculate that Henry and the Fenway Sports Group will sell the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

Henry bought the Sox and the New England Sports Network for $700m in 2001, and Forbes reckons that the team alone is now worth $1bn.

The American says there is no basis in rumours that he will sell. But the Sox are having a poor season, and another mogul with money may be willing to pay over the odds to revive them.

The view from the US is that the Premier League is the most effective place to export US knowledge of making money from a sports franchise.

For now, though, it is a delicately balanced story of Rodgers and youth. Every defeat brings renewed urgency.

Liverpool have four 'winnable' fixtures before the Merseyside derby. But history proves champion sides aren't built in a day.

It was six years after Keegan arrived that Liverpool finally soared. By then, Shankly had gone.

In the meantime, Rodgers leads his team to Norwich -- where last season Luis Suarez scored a brilliant hat-trick in a 3-0 win -- believing that things are finally starting to come together.

"Our opening five fixtures were always going to be tough but we have that mentality within the group that we have been looking for and the balance in the team is good and the spirit is strong," he said.

"All I can control is our own preparation -- the work ethic of the team and the confidence -- and ultimately that will lead to success.

"The confidence within the team is very high. Even though we haven't won in the Premier League it is still strong.

"Now they have adapted well to what I have been asking them to do -- and there is still a lot of improvement to make -- I know for sure the rub of the green will come very soon." (© Independent News Service)

Norwich v Liverpool,

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Irish Independent