Currently, Liverpool are in a state of flux. Out of the FA Cup and adrift from relevance in the Premier League, the rest of their season will amount to little more than future planning. Who will survive. Who is equipped to take the club to where it wants to go in the future and who has just been the beneficiary of the past’s confused transfer policy.
Thought it may seem otherwise, this is a crucial period for Liverpool. It’s easy to dismiss this current period as a write-off and as a necessary sacrifice for the good of the future, but it’s also imperative that it yields some conclusions. Come the Summer, the club must not only be in a position to strengthen smartly and decisively, but also to jettison any useless parts. Anfield is home to a lot of talent, but it’s also providing a generous existence to a smaller group of players who have no real business competing for Champions League qualification.
If Klopp is to succeed - or if Liverpool are to extract the most value from his appointment - then the much-maligned transfer-committee may be forced to recognise some of its less than glorious moments. Put down the calculators, the spreadsheets and the protractors and realise that the methodology needs a tweak.
Part of that process involves the emerging players. The two recent cup games with West Ham have, even in defeat, shown that Melwood is built on fertile ground: there is a rich crop of youth players on their way through. Jordon Ibe is an established commodity and, though barely seen, so is Divock Origi. Beneath that layer, though, players like Pedro Chirivella, Joao Teixeira and Brad Smith have shown that they can compete against Premier League opposition and, given the right light, it seems likely that Sheyi Ojo and Jerome Sinclair would also grow towards the sun.
It’s time to give those players more of a chance. Not out of curiosity or because of an urgent need to replace existing first-team players, but because establishing a meritocratic culture facilitate a healthy atmosphere. A clear pathway between the academy and the Premier League creates a valuable incentive and, at best, can also foster a competition from within culture which takes the pressure off transfer-spending. Not “pressure” in the sense of literal spending, but the necessity of having to continually re-stock the first-team from outside. Liverpool’s great weakness over these past few seasons has been their inability to identify and properly price talent and that, unfortunately, has sent them spiralling back towards the also-ran places.
That needs to become a Plan B. Some clubs’ academies produce very few viable players and exist almost solely to create selling opportunities and revenue. Liverpool aren’t one of them, though, and this recent flurry of cup games has shown that. Why should, for example, Joao Teixeira not now feel entitled to an opportunity ahead of Adam Lallana? Is there a credible reason why Christian Benteke should preclude the younger generation from first-team exposure?
There’s a lot of under-performance at Liverpool and part of their evolution will have to involve the acceptance that mistakes have been made. As such, this is a very valuable period and Klopp would be well-served by using it to establish what he has at the developing level and what, as a consequence, he can afford to lose from his senior squad. There are thirteen league games remaining and, without being reckless or putting impressionable players in potentially damaging situations, that represents a sizeable opportunity.
If players have earned a chance, they must receive it; that should be at the heart of every club’s philosophy. Not all the promise will translate and some players glint early and then never again, but there are myriad benefits in at least attempting to move towards a more self-sustainable model.