With the current Barcelona side ripping up the record books, every club in the world is looking on with envy. How do we achieve what they have ? Chelsea met with the former Barça sporting director Txiki Begiristain. Manchester United and Arsenal both reportedly view Pep Guardiola as a long-term successor to there long serving managers. But have Liverpool got the upper hand in not just making the not to distant future a Barcelona Way but also restoring the club to the rightful Liverpool Way ?
This may have already started with the reintroduction of Kenny Dalglish, having overseen events at the Academy he is more than aware of the talent that is in or around the first team squad. But as grass-roots level is no longer his domain what else is in place to help build the stars of the future. After all this is where world-class players learn their trade and develop alongside each other. To the world outside and the mass media talk of Liverpool developing a Barça style of football would certainly be laughed at having had 6 months of Roy Hodgson, the similarities between him and Pep start and finish with the fact that the two of them both breathe in order to live. But for fans of the club and those of us in the know we realise that one of the most defining moments in the Rafa Benitez era might be something that he will be very rarely credited for if it comes to fruit. The introduction in the summer of 2009 of Jose Segura and Rodolfo Borrell.
In a recent interview on LFCTV Jose Segura (Academy Technical Manager) talked about ‘creating a line and a style, everyone following the line’. This isn’t necessarily just copying Barcelona but creating a similar aesthetically pleasing game on the eye, a hard-working system and finding an approach that will better serve the players in the demands of English football. The Scouting system will obviously need to play their part as they have with a variety of good 15/16-year-old talents having been snapped up recently. But when Segura talks he references the arrival of a 12-year-old Andres Iniesta at the La Masia which he does with a sense of pride. By following this ‘line’ as a 12-year-old, almost drilled into them on a daily basis, by the time they reach 20 after 8 years it becomes second nature. Stripping away bad habits and keeping to the same goals is very military like but has outstanding results. But this is where the scouts play a massive part as the players need to have the raw talent in the first place. Iniesta was a very good footballer (as far as 12 year olds go) according to Segura but the coaches obviously nurture the talent to reach there potential. However when Sky Sports pundit and ESPN writer Graham Hunter spoke to a certain Lionel Messi he said “I’ve always played this way” and more tellingly perhaps “There were a number of coaches in the youth development system at Barça who tried to change me, but I just ignored them and kept playing my game”. As it’s clear that Messi arrived from Mars, unless Liverpool pick up a young future world’s best player (ever ?) it’s fair to say that they won’t go far wrong with Jose’s imaginary “line”.
In the case of Señor Borrell (Academy Under 18 Coach) everyone at the club can’t speak highly enough of him. Having spent 13 years at the Nou Camp, coaching all age groups from U11’s to U17’s he clearly knows if a player has the potential to make it or not. Pique, Messi, Bojan, Fabregas and LFC’s very own Dani Pacheco have all been coached by Borrell at various stages in his time in Catalunya. Now he can get his teeth into Jesús Fernández Sáez, aka Suso and Toni Silva. Borrell spoke last summer that he felt the Academy wasn’t up to scratch on his arrival “The under-18s had no centre forward, no balance, no tactical level, no understanding of the game. We are working hard, but you can’t change things overnight.” It’s a work in progress but things are a definite step in the right direction. The passion of Rodolfo has been evident for Academy director Frank McParland who said “Rodolfo is an ultra keen competitor who works his socks off every day with the players. They actually not just respect him, but they love him for what he does.”
Barcelona’s youth set up is right next to its famous stadium, the La Masia building an old farmhouse was suggested by Johan Cruyff then a Barcelona player in 1978. It’s aim was not just to develop fantastic players but have an identity and also a loyalty which is key in a money driven world. With 8 players starting in Pep Guardiola’s prefered starting 11 it is the best in the world. What should be taken into consideration is this is a probably a ‘one off ‘ never to be witnessed again. Many clubs in Spain have fantastic youth systems but what they have at Barcelona is untouchable for now.
The English media will often look at the manager if the quality of the young players doesn’t make the top grade which seems a little unfair as they have often not appointed the youth team coaches and neither have they had the pleasure of working with the players day in day out. Having two top coaches that have worked in such a set up can only be of benefit to Liverpool. That’s not to say they will be able to reach such heights again but a proven track record and hard work is all fans can ask for. Perhaps the most important thing for a club that has produced the likes of Fowler, McManamen, Carragher and Gerrard is that they realise it’s not just about picking up the best players from around the world. “The best players to defend the Barça shirt are Catalan players, the best players to defend the Liverpool shirt are English players,” said Borrell, maybe he ment Scouse but that was lost in translation, either way the future of Liverpool Football Club is in good hands even if it takes 10 years to reap the rewards. Whether it be a new Gerrard or a new Xavi, Jose Segura and Rodolfo Borrell know what is required.