Another four graduates were named on the bench with the Merseyside club finally benefitting from the time, effort and patience put into La Axa.
Football is very much about the now. If a player isn’t immediately contributing, they’re viewed as a flop. Even those that do have an impact can be viewed as a flop if their impact isn’t deemed good enough.
For the past couple of years, the narrative has been that the Liverpool academy just isn’t delivering at the rate it should be for a club of this size. I’ve always felt like it was a little bit harsh given Trent Alexander-Arnold has transformed how the full-back position is viewed, Curtis Jones was a good squad player and is now an important first-teamer, while Caoimhín Kelleher is viewed as a very good second-choice goalkeeper.
Few other top teams in the Premier League can rival that sort of academy presence in their first-team.
The media push the idea that Arsenal is a team built on academy starlets but Bukayo Saka is the only one really to claim a place in Mikel Arteta’s starting XI. Manchester City have Phil Foden, Rico Lewis and now Oscar Bobb, though they have sold exceptionally well, with the likes of Romeo Lavia and James Trafford fetching big money.
Chelsea have done well developing players but they’re all now being sold off to balance the books.
The fact Liverpool had three homegrown talents playing a part in the quadruple chase in 2021/22 should’ve been celebrated a lot more than it was. The Reds have many more graduates playing a part this time around though. Because, yes, Jurgen Klopp’s men are in the hunt for all four trophies once again.
Against Norwich, Jarell Quansah, Conor Bradley, Curtis Jones and James McConnell all started. Bradley finished with two assists, McConnell set up the opener for Jones, who is having his most productive season to date.
James McConnell 🔗 Curtis Jones
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 29, 2024
Beck did get minutes in the 4-0 win over Bournemouth while Kelleher played in the Carabao Cup semi-final and Clark has been racking up minutes off of the bench recently, even in the big games. They’re all playing their part. Klopp trusts them. Why wouldn’t he?
While Jarell Quansah and Curtis Jones both pre-date the German tactician at Liverpool, their careers have been heavily shaped by the former BVB boss.
They have been brought up through the ranks being exposed to Klopp’s style of play. They know what he expects and they’ve been developed in a way that allows them to deliver. Tyler Morton falls into this category too. He’s on loan with Hull City right now but everyone believes he has a future at Anfield. The midfielder competes physically and is deceptively good on the ball. He has all of the trademarks of a Klopp midfielder.
The likes of Clark, Bradley and McConnell don’t know anything else other than Klopp. The Liverpool way, to them, is the Klopp way.
These are the benefits of ensuring a club has continuity.
Klopp has been on Merseyside since 2015. It is no coincidence that now, in 2024, we’re seeing academy players who are almost readymade for the first team. Change takes time and patience.
But now the top talents coming through the academy have exposure playing the Klopp way from a young age, as everything is geared towards giving them the best chance of being ready for the first team.
Quansah doesn’t look out of place defending large areas and playing in a high defensive lines. Bradley doesn’t look at all bothered seeing a lot of the ball, something few full-backs are generally used to. McConnell looked to be a natural in midfield, he was combative without the ball and calm in possession. Clark has been a revelation during his cameo appearances. Progressive, intelligent and composed, he has all of the traits that could’ve made him a firm Klopp favourite had the German been sticking around.
The hope has to be that Liverpool appoint someone with a similar ethos to Klopp as this would mean the academy is set up to keep supplying the first-team with talent.
A shift away from that could see another rebuild that takes the best part of a decade to yield results.