Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard.
There used to be a time when Liverpool Football Club was known for its youth academy. In the early 2000s, after the last great youth product, Steven Gerrard, graduated to the first team, the Liverpool Academy lost its way.
But the arrival of Rafael Benitez saw a whole-scale review and resurrection of the academy model. And now, almost three years after Benitez’s departure from Anfield, it appears that the Reds are reaping the rewards from the seeds he sowed.
We’ve all heard and seen it this season: the likes of Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Suso all got early-season chances and took them impressively, but since the turn of the year, especially with the January additions of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, another famous Academy graduate on the brink of retirement has returned to the first team with significant impact.
But alas, Jamie Carragher will no longer play for the Reds next season, and Steven Gerrard is nearing the twilight years of his career as well.
Here are six youth players who could go on and take their place as Liverpool stars in the future. Enjoy and let us know your picks and thoughts in the comments below.
Disclaimer: Those players who might still be of Academy age but have taken any sort of established role in the first team (e.g. the aforementioned Sterling, Wisdom and Suso) will not be considered.
Since Liverpool’s North American tour last summer, Ryan McLaughlin has never left the minds of Reds fans when it comes to discussions on hot young prospects.
And with good reason. McLaughlin showed plenty of pace, promise and power in his brief cameos on tour, while he has exhibited a real potential while playing for the U21’s this season.
Most similar to current incumbent right-back Glen Johnson out of all reserve pretenders, McLaughlin has Andre Wisdom and Martin Kelly—both youth team graduates themselves—as competition to make it to the first team in his favored position.
But with Wisdom and Kelly’s more natural positions being in the center of defence, a further season bursting down the right flank for the Liverpool U21’s in front of the watchful eye of Brendan Rodgers could elevate him to the senior team for good.
For most of the season, Jordon Ibe has been exciting crowds at youth-team and U21 games, but he finally got a chance to mix in with the seniors when he traveled to Southampton for a Premier League a few weeks ago.
Even though he didn’t end up making his debut off the bench, his inclusion on the bench was just reward for his development this year, and a sign of things to come for the exciting winger.
Signed from Wycombe Wanderers in late 2011, Ibe has become the most talked-about winger in the Liverpool academy, especially after the prodigious Raheem Sterling finally made his long-awaited step up to the first team this year.
We might not get a chance to see Ibe play in the Premier League in the few remaining games of the season, but expect plenty of involvement, thrill and expectation this summer and for seasons to come.
A winger who did make his senior debut earlier this season is Jerome Sinclair—and not only did he make his debut, he smashed Jack Robinson’s record as the youngest ever player to play for Liverpool.
Sinclair was just 16 years and six days old when he came on against West Bromwich Albion in a September League Cup tie, and just a week earlier had only made his first appearance for the U21 team in a NextGen match against Internazionale.
No mean feats for no mean player.
Blessed with pace and goal-scoring ability, Sinclair will look to take advantage of the coming preseason games to impress Rodgers as a striker. In Sturridge and Suarez he has formidable obstacles to overcome, but—more importantly—established strikers to learn from.
A year and two months ago, Joao Carlos Teixeira arrived at Liverpool from Sporting Lisbon with a burgeoning reputation as the next Deco. Soon after, injury struck and kept him out of action until last summer.
Since then, he has made a seamless transition to life as a U21 Red, where he has impressed many a watching fan with his silky dribbling, creativity and passing.
An attacking midfielder by trade, Teixeira is a classic No. 10 with immaculate technique and awareness of the game around him. He will take inspiration from Suso’s progress to the first team this season as he looks to be the next promising midfielder to make the step up.
The contingency lies in his back. First troubling the Liverpool management with his back problems prior to his move, he has at times struggled with back pains, and the Reds medical team will have to repeat their achievements with Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger to see Teixeira realize his immense potential.
It’s fitting that Steven Gerrard’s name has been mentioned so often in an article on future Liverpool stars, and thus it’s fitting that Jordan Rossiter should be included on this list as well.
Rossiter plays in the same midfield position as the current Liverpool captain and also has the similar raw strength, power and pace that Gerrard once did, not to mention an eye for a pass and a penchant for a long-range shot.
It’s surely too early to say how far Rossiter can go from here, but if he’s getting the attention he has from Liverpool icons, he’s surely on the right track.
Our last name on this list is probably the least known, but with possibly the biggest potential to make it as a Liverpool great.
Early days, of course, for the 17-year-old Lloyd Jones, who signed from the Plymouth Argyle youth academy in 2011 for a reported “six-figure compensation fee” (TalkSport). He has spent most of his time in the Liverpool U18 squad, where he has exhibited technique and strength in the center of defence.
Growing up as part of the passing philosophy Brendan Rodgers has instilled in Liverpool from top to bottom, Jones could well develop the tactical awareness and technical ability required to sustain a career as a top center-back for Liverpool.
In March, Jones scored two goals as Liverpool beat Hull City in the FA Youth Cup en route to the semifinals. The hope is that he can remain on track with his development and do that for the first team soon.