With the bulk of the summer transfer window still to play out, with checks quickly being written and cashed, the short-term future of the club (and our opponents, as well) is still a bit hazy. Consider it the ‘Fog of War’. Despite all our recent transfer activity, there is no word coming out of Anfield that the spending is done. Perhaps once we get closer to the second week of August, we’ll have a clearer vision of the exact squad we’ll be going to battle with and what we might realistically expect from the 2007/2008 Premier League season.
Until then, I’ll hold off on the annual “Is this our year?” talk. (Rest assured, it will come)
Oddly enough, it’s almost easier to look further into the future. As I’ve touched upon on in a multitude of recent posts, Rafa has been busy continuously bringing young talent to the club. (In fact, I wish I hadn’t used the Whitney Houston/”I Believe the Children Are Our Future” gimmick last week) The manager’s wish to scour the globe for young, inexpensive talent in hopes of grooming the next batch of Anfield stars has been no secret. But, it’s only been in the last year that the club has clearly started to make obvious progress and reap the benefits of all those energies devoted to identifying players and securing their signatures.
A simple look at the numbers hints at the strides the club is taking to ensure future on-the-field success. In fact, the simple act of cataloging each and every youth transfer the manager has collected proved more a task than I had anticipated.
Here, to the best of my ability, is a list of the majority of youngsters Rafa has brought to Liverpool during his tenure (and who are still with the club):
- Alex Kacaniklic, 15, Swedish MF (via Helsinborgs)
- Dani Pacheco, 16, Spanish/Czech ST (via Barcelona)
- Marvin Pourie, 16, German ST (via Borussia Dortmund)
- Astrit Ajdarevic, 16, Swedish MF (via Falkenbergs FF)
- Ronald Huth, 17, Paraguayan CB (via Tacuary)
- Martin Hansen, 17, Danish GK (via Brondby)
- Andras Simon, 17, Hungarian ST (via MTK Hungaria)
- Mihail Alexandrov, 18, Bulgarian MF (via CSKA Sofia)
- Paul Anderson, 18, English MF (via Hull City)
- Ryan Crowther, 18, English MF (via Stockport County)
- Emiliano Insua, 18, Argentinian FB (on loan via Boca Juniors)
- Krisztian Nemeth, 18, Hungarian ST (via MTK Hungaria)
- Miki Roque, 18, Spanish CB (via Lledia)
- Mikel San Jose, 18, Spanish CB (via Athletic Bilbao)
- Godwin Antwi, 19, Ghanian CB (via Real Zaragoza)
- Jordy Brouwer, 19, Dutch ST (via Ajax)
- Francisco Duran, 19, Spanish MF (via Malaga)
- Jack Hobbs, 19, English CB (via Lincoln City)
- Besian Idrizaj, 19, Austrian ST (via LASK Linz)
- Nicolay Mihaylov, 19, Bulgarian GK (via Levski Sofia)
- Nabil El Zhar, 20, Morrocan ST (via St. Etienne)
- Lucas Leiva, 20, Brazilian MF (via Gremio)
- Sebastian Leto, 20, Argentinian MF (via Lanus)
- David Martin, 21, English GK (via MK Dons)
- Gabriel Paletta, 21, Argentinian CB (via Banfield)
- David Amoo, 16, English ST (via Millwall)
Of those 26, only six (Paletta, Martin, Hobbs, Antwi, Roque, Anderson) have been with the club for over a year. Nabil El Zhar’s term of service clocks in at just under a year. Everybody else, all 19 of them, are fresh off the boat, plane, train or automobile.
That’s just the new buys. How about the home-grown kids? Who is the Academy contributing to the cause?
A few names jump out at me; either those who have played/trained with the first team or enjoyed success as the (back-to-back) Youth FA Cup winners. One can only hope that some of these kids turn out like two esteemed members (Owen & Carragher) of the 1996 Cup-winning squad:
- Danny Guthrie, 20, MF
- James Smith, 21, FB
- Martin Kelly, 17, CB
- Ray Putterill, 18, MF
- Jay Spearing, 18, FB
- Robbie Threlfall, 18, FB
- Adam Hammill, 19, MF
- Stephen Darby, 19, FB
- Ryan Flynn, 19, MF
- Craig Linfield, 19, ST
- Lee Peltier, 20, MF
The positional breakdowns look something like this, although a number of these kids play in multiple positions or will be moved into a new role:
Strikers and Centerbacks have been split into two groups simply for viewing purposes.
Strikers: Pacheco, Pourie, Nemeth, Simon, Brouwer, Idrizaj, Linfield, El Zhar, Amoo
Midfielders: Guthrie (CM), Putterill (LW), Hammill (RW/LW), Flynn (CM), Lucas (CM), Leto (LW), Duran (?), Anderson (RW), Alexandrov (?), Ajdarevic (RW), Kacaniklic (LW), Crowther (RW)
Center Backs: Kelly, Paletta, Hobbs, Antwi, San Jose, Roque (CM/MC), Huth
Fullbacks: Threlfall (LB), Smith (CB/LB), Darby (RB), Insua (LB), Spearing (RB), Peltier (CM/RB)
Goalkeepers: Martin, Mihaylov, Hansen
That’s a pretty diverse collection of players. In total, there’s 37 of them. Obviously, the majority of them will not make a career at Liverpool Football Club. Some will be sold, others released. Some will go on to coach, others to own (or work in or live in) a pub. But, a lucky few may actually succeed by carving themselves out a niche in the first team.
But, how many of them? Honestly, there’s no telling. You may be able to look at the names and cherry-pick one or two that might be a good bet to stay a few years, but that’s an educated guess at best.
Yet, taking injury and the such out of the equation, simple logic dictates that out of those 37 names, there must at least be a few gems to be mined. But, what is a decent success rate?
10%? 20%? 30%?
Looking at the litany of names on the field, ten percent would be almost four players. If Rafa and the staff were able to groom a new McManaman, Owen, Carragher and Gerrard (regardless of their country of origin), that would be quite the windfall.
So, years after declaring the system didn’t work, Rafa is making strides to revamp Liverpool’s youth policy, the Academy and its staff more to his liking. And as the players continue to stream in, the likelihood of return on investment improves greatly.
To be fair, though, so do expectations.
Personally, I like our odds.