Rodgers’ Toddlers ready to jump in at deep end

We’ve had the Busby Babes, Coad’s Colts and Fergie’s Fledglings so is it time now to start talking of Rodgers’ Toddlers?

Well, perhaps we should be wary, and not only because it’s always too easy to be blinded by the hype when another episode of Star Trek — The Next Generation makes it to the big screen. In any event, while Brendan Rodgers might have been the manager who chose the names for the team sheets for the games against Young Boys Bern in the Europa League and then, this week, against West Brom in the League Cup, the real credit for the rise of the kids at Liverpool probably belongs to Rafa Benitez, whose appointment in 2009 of Frank McParland as director of player development and academy manager, helped set in train in the process which now has more excitable sorts talking of the emergence of a new golden generation on Merseyside.

Just how new some of them are may be judged by the fact that Jerome Sinclair — who came off the bench against West Brom to become, at just 16 years and six days, the club’s youngest player ever — was actually misnamed ‘Jordan’ Sinclair in the team-sheet.

But on a night when Liverpool bounced back from the early concession of a goal to win away from home, the names on everyone’s lips belonged to two other tyros, Nuri Sahin who scored both goals in the 1-2 win and Oussama Assaidi who gave West Brom full-back Billy Jones twisted blood.

Turkish international, Sahin — on a year-long loan at Liverpool from Real Madrid — is a comparative veteran at the age of 24, as is the Moroccan Assaidi, while the hope for the Reds faithful will be that even younger guns, like Andre Wisdom, Jack Robinson and Fernando Suso — all in their teens — can follow in the accelerating footsteps of Raheem Sterling who was signed aged 15 and who, just two years later, has already earned a call-up to the senior England squad.

When Benitez brought in McParland — along with Pep Seguro as the academy’s technical director and, from Barcelona, Rodolfo Borrell as U18s coach — the intention was to shake up youth development and scouting and create something akin to Barca’s talent hothouse La Masia, inculcating a way of playing which would flow seamlessly from U9s all the way to the senior team.

Rafa might be long gone but with Rodgers now in situ, Liverpool have a man at the top of the pyramid who not only subscribes to the pass and move philosophy but who, by virtue of his wealth of experience working with the youth team at Chelsea, should know what it takes to bring the best out of developing talent.

“We believe we’re doing it the right way,” said McParland recently. “The kids understand tactically better now. They still have work to do when they go with the first-team but the work is getting done properly and there’s no one better than Brendan to make the necessary tweaks once they are with him.

“The target is to have 50% of the first-team squad coming through the academy. But the thing we really want is to get a player in the first team and stay there. There’s only one team that matters at Liverpool and that’s the first team.”

And, though he didn’t say it, there’s only one competition that really matters too — and it’s neither the Europa League nor the League Cup.

The word at Anfield, before Kenny Dalglish was replaced by Brendan Rogers, was that owner John W Henry was effectively prepared to surrender hopes of winning any major prize this season in exchange for seeing real progress being made in blooding the next generation of stars.

Short-term pain for long-term gain is not, however, the kind of deal to which any fan base is generally happy to subscribe to and especially not one at a once dominant club which has failed to land itself a league title since 1990.

A famous Liverpool old boy still has egg on his face for declaring that you can’t win anything with kids. But, despite all the positive vibes from Anfield this week, Brendan Rodgers will have his work cut out proving Alan Hansen wrong again.

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