After Gerrard and Carragher, the next generation of Liverpool starlets are ready to stake claims for first team places at Anfield. Step forward Jack Robinson, Suso and Raheem Sterling.
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers was a bold move from FSG, as they finally look to usher in a new era at Liverpool Football Club. The club’s owners have had the unenviable task of cleaning up the mess left behind by George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the previous custodians of Liverpool, as they were encumbered with an underachieving playing squad and an unsustainable wage bill. It should come as no surprise, then, that FSG have continually stressed the importance of the club bringing players through the youth system in an attempt to adhere to the impending Financial Fair Play regulations put in place by UEFA.
Having first honed his craft as both a youth team and reserve coach for well over a decade before turning his hand to management, Rodgers is as qualified as anyone to decide whether the players in the Reds reserve team are ready for a chance in the first-team, and has shown a willingness to do nurture these players as they attempt to make the step up. With ex-Barcelona duo Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell seemingly working wonders at the club’s Kirkby academy, the Ulsterman is fortunate that he has a crop of talented youngsters who are ready for a shot at the big time.
Here are three players in particular who are not only ready for the first-team, but would help strengthen positions that are currently otherwise lacking in depth and quality:
Jack Robinson (left back)
Liverpool are fortunate to have a pair of talented full backs come up through the youth system in Jack Robinson and John Flanagan and, whilst the latter has featured more for the first team, the former looks the more complete defender. The 18-year-old is every bit the modern day full back; he loves a crunching tackle just as much as he does a foray forward – and is a regular provider of assists, something that has been lacking from the Reds current full back core.
With Fabio Aurelio made of cheese strings, Enrique had no real competition and his performances waned as the campaign went on. Robinson should get the chance to push the Spaniard for the left-back spot.
Robinson is the youngest ever player to feature for the first team at 16 years and 250 days old when he came off the bench against Hull City in May 2010, the final game of Rafa Benitez’s tenure. He played well in few appearances he made under Dalglish – particularly at the Emirates when he put in an assured display up against Theo Walcott – and, had he not spent most of last season on the treatment table, he may well have proved himself worthy of being regarded as more than just an exciting prospect.
Jose Enrique is firmly established as the Reds first choice left-back and had a superb first half of the season but, with Fabio Aurelio made of cheese strings, he had no real competition and his performances waned as the campaign went on. With Liverpool featuring in the Europa League this season Robinson should get the chance to push the Spaniard for the left-back spot. A regular at every youth level for England, if he can get over his injury problems, we could be looking at Ashley Cole’s successor for the national team.
Suso (attacking midfielder)
The young Spaniard is arguably the most technically gifted player in Liverpool’s youth ranks, boasting a classy touch, incredible passing range with both feet and a keen eye for goal. Suso, or Jesús Fernandez Sáez as he was born, has perhaps the sweetest left foot at the club’s Kirkby academy since Robbie Fowler, the man they coincidentally refer to as God.
Fans will be that hoping Suso eventually makes a similar sort of impact to the one that his compatriot Xabi Alonso made at Anfield.
After initially impressing in the number 10 role in a 4-2-3-1, Rodolfo Borrell decided to move to him the right of the midfield three in order for him to gain a better understanding of the defensive side of the game – and Suso initially struggled for the first six months or so, as he was unable to exert the same sort of influence on the game as he did centrally. However, he eventually adapted to the role and regained the form which won him the plaudits, and the Spaniard certainly seems a much better player for the experience.
Suso is yet to make his debut for the first-team, but he is the archetypal Rodgers player – who seemingly prefers ballplayers to destroyers in midfield – and at the very least he should get a chance to impress in pre-season along with a selection of other reserve stars. He seems the perfect fit for a place in the Liverpool midfield, and fans will be that hoping he eventually makes a similar sort of impact to the one that his compatriot Xabi Alonso made at Anfield.
Raheem Sterling (winger)
Sterling has grabbed the most attention out of all the players in Liverpool’s youth setup, and it is easy to see why. His dazzling performances for first the U18 and then reserve sides earned him a few substitute appearances at the end of last season under Kenny Dalglish and, should he continue to improve, then it is likely that he will add to those cameos this upcoming season. The diminutive winger possesses electric pace and great balance which, along with his fantastic dribbling ability, allows him to breeze past players with consummate ease. As with Suso, Rodolfo Borrell decided to move Sterling from his natural position on the right wing over to the left, where he needed to think more on the ball as he was on his weaker foot, and after an initial struggle he has adapted the role extremely well.
Although Sterling still has much improving to do both technically and tactically, he has the potential to become a very important part of Liverpool’s future.
It is easy to get carried away when talking about Sterling; it is always the case when an exciting English teenager starts to make a name for himself (see Rooney, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain) - but it must be remembered that he is still only 17, so it is vital that expectations are managed realistically; he has already been touted as a potential star for England at the 2014 World Cup by respected reporters such as Guillem Balague and Michael Calvin which, whilst obviously flattering, only adds to the ever mounting pressure on the youngster.
With Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson failing to impress during their respective debut seasons at Anfield, and with Maxi Rodriguez looking likely to follow Dirk Kuyt out the door, there is a real opportunity for Sterling to make a run at the first team. There are stylistic similarities to Swansea duo Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer which may well appeal to Rodgers as he attempts to implement his ideals on to the side and although Sterling still has much improving to do both technically and tactically, he has the potential to become a very important part of Liverpool’s future.
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