No phones, no egos, no flash cars: Jamie Carragher interviews the brains behind Liverpool’s talent factory

Jamie Carragher next to a picture of Liverpool’s hometown youngsters from the 90s, including himself – Jon Super

A young footballer needs clear qualities to impress an elite coach like Jurgen Klopp.

No one can play regularly for a Premier League club like Liverpool without talent, spirit, courage and athleticism.

But in an in-depth discussion with Liverpool academy director Alex Inglethorpe, he highlights a key asset that explains why the golden age of youth development is helping the club’s top-four bid.

“Character,” he says.

“What makes me very proud is that nobody failed during Jurgen’s time here because of their character.”

I ask Inglethorpe to elaborate.

“You work here for 10 years to try out in front of the first team manager,” he explains.

“If you fail to impress, it’s because you’re not at the same level on the football field. It would be foolish to fail because of bad decisions made about the car you drive, the watch you wear, the training shoes.

“Jurgen is forwarded to everything. If a kid turned up at first team training with a 10k watch, he’d see it. So would the senior players. You tell me, what would you think?”

“If the senior players think you’re too big for Charlie, the first thing they’ll do is give you a training blow to teach you a lesson!” I recommend.

Inglethorpe nods.

Alex Inglethorpe (left) chats with Jurgen Klopp (right) at Liverpool's academyAlex Inglethorpe (left) chats with Jurgen Klopp (right) at Liverpool's academy

Alex Inglethorpe chats with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool’s academy – Getty Images/Nick Taylor

At Liverpool, this test of character has gone beyond advice. Inglethorpe informs me that a ‘car clause’ has been introduced as well as a £50,000-a-year academy wage cap under his directorship – now in its 10th year – which limits engine size to 1.3 litres, a warning also about dangers. much, much too soon.

“It’s a safety thing as much as anything,” he says.

“I don’t want guys who just passed the test with these big pieces of metal, but I was also tired of seeing a car park full of Range Rovers. If anyone comes up with one, they’re parking next door.

“We have a pay structure that is quite old fashioned. We give them jobs to do. We tell them to hand over their phone at 8.30am and return it before they go home.

“You are a senior player. You know how it is when a young player comes into the dressing room. You want to respect the path. They have to earn what comes their way first. Everything else is fine later. To get there you have to do it on the field.”

Alex Inglethorpe passes on instructions to Liverpool academy player Ranel YoungAlex Inglethorpe passes on instructions to Liverpool academy player Ranel Young

Inglethorpe passes instructions to academy player Ranel Young – Getty Images/Nick Taylor

Alex is speaking my tongue, evoking memories of legendary bootroom coach Ronnie Moran welcoming newcomers to first-team training at Melwood with the message, ‘we don’t want any big heads here’.

“Trent [Alexander-Arnold] He is a very good example,” says Inglethorpe.

“When you get to the senior squad, the best thing you can do is have senior players as your advocates. Trent didn’t have a flashlight. I remember how he drove the same car for years. He wore the same tracksuit. As soon as he made the step up, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and James Milner invested time and effort to help him. It was the same for Curtis [Jones].

“Now that baton has been passed on with Trent the vice-captain ensuring that the next person in the line has the same qualities.”

Jurgen Klopp puts his arm around Trent Alexander-ArnoldJurgen Klopp puts his arm around Trent Alexander-Arnold

More academy graduates are passing ‘auditions’, vital to Klopp’s latest trophy which continues against Chelsea at Wembley in Sunday’s League Cup final

There is an image adorning one of the walls at the youth training center in Kirkby that gives me as much pride as any of my footballing achievements.

In 1999, the club commissioned a photograph of the seven indigenous youngsters who were fully established first team players; myself, Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Steve McManaman, Dominic Matteo, David Thompson and Steven Gerrard who was a recent delegate.

(Top, from left): Steve McManaman Jamie Carragher, Dominic Matteo and Steven Gerrard.  (bottom, from left): Michael Owen, David Thompson and Robbie Fowler(Top, from left): Steve McManaman Jamie Carragher, Dominic Matteo and Steven Gerrard.  (bottom, from left): Michael Owen, David Thompson and Robbie Fowler

(Top, from left): Steve McManaman, Jamie Carragher, Dominic Matteo and Steven Gerrard. (Bottom, from left): Michael Owen, David Thompson and Robbie Fowler – Jon Super

Between us we won 31 major trophies for the club. I hear that the club hopes to replicate that picture for the class of 2020; Alexander-Arnold, Jones, Caoimhin Kelleher, Jarell Quansah and Conor Bradley the stands.

On Wednesday night against Luton Town, six former or current academy players aged 21 or under played.

“It’s fair to say without them, Liverpool wouldn’t be in the Carabao Cup final this weekend or going for four trophies,” I say.

“Credit to them all, but Jurgen is the difference,” says Inglethorpe.

Harvey Elliott celebrates scoring Liverpool's fourth goal with Jayden DannsHarvey Elliott celebrates scoring Liverpool's fourth goal with Jayden Danns

Six former or former Liverpool academy players have joined Luton – Reuters/Molly Darlington

“There are a lot of good academies out there, but not every club has a manager who has the courage to play youngsters at big moments. He only gives 10 minutes here and there with the teams 4-0 up. There are so many examples where he played almost the entire academy team. There have been times when I’ve looked at the starting XI and thought, ‘Wow, I’m not even sure I’d do that’.

“Jurgen hasn’t just talked about youth development, he’s actually done it. Caoimhin (Kelleher) playing in the 2022 League Cup final is the prime example. It would be so easy to pick Alisson in the final. He believes in these players.

“The academy has a proud tradition of producing first team players at Liverpool – you are obviously part of that. But I always said it has to be more than just getting started. That can happen to a lot of players, especially with the schedule and so many games nowadays. What I want is for the academy to play its part to win the club’s trophies and fight on every side.”

As well as the more established first-teamers, Ben Doak, Bobby Clark and James McConnell have featured regularly in Klopp’s youth policy this campaign. Like Harvey Elliott, they joined Liverpool’s youth group after starting their careers elsewhere, academy policies across the country evolving to look beyond city limits.

“I wanted to win the battle in our own backyard first, getting the best on Merseyside – and then look further afield,” says Inglethorpe.

“There was a period when there were too many middle-class white boys in the academy. We had a 10 percent variation at one point and we had to work to improve that. Now, we have players from different cultures and backgrounds and we are better because of it.”

Alex Inglethorpe leads Liverpool academy players out for the Hillsborough 25th Anniversary Memorial Service at Anfield on April 15, 2014Alex Inglethorpe leads Liverpool academy players out for the Hillsborough 25th Anniversary Memorial Service at Anfield on April 15, 2014

Inglethorpe leads Liverpool academy players for the 25th Hillsborough Memorial Service at Anfield in 2014 – Getty Images

Liverpool’s union between the first team and the youth team was strengthened when the training grounds were amalgamated two years ago. The rewards on and off the field are self-evident.

“We are aligned in that people under 21 and under 18 will try to do good [tactical] first team understanding – accepting the unassignable. From under 16s we will prioritize different skills at different age groups, with more technical work,” says Inglethorpe.

“There is always an understandable emphasis on the number of academic players present, but from a purely business point of view, nobody talks about the expenditure.

“Some academies are spending £40 million a year. We are closer to £13 million. If you think about £130 million over 10 years, what is the return on that investment? We have sold around £160 million worth of academy talent.

“We’re studying it and we estimate there’s around £300 million worth of academy talent in this building. That can fluctuate, of course, but if you look at Jarell [Quansah], is our fourth choice centre-back this season. He ensured the club didn’t have to sign another goalkeeper last summer. What value do you place on that?

“A Premier League squad player earns between £15 million and £25 million, while the average wage in the Premier League is £60,000 a week. So having three academy boys on the bench could save around £70 million a year.”

Jarell Quansah from Liverpool and Wilson Odobert Burnley battle for the ballJarell Quansah from Liverpool and Wilson Odobert Burnley battle for the ball

Big things are expected from Jarell Quansah – PA/Peter Byrne

As well as players, Inglethorpe boasts a conveyor belt of coaching talent; Gary O’Neil Wolves and Tim Jenkins and Neil Critchley from Blackpool are former teammates. Michael Beale may have had a tough spell, but he is expected to enjoy a long coaching career, along with Steven Gerrard.

But the greatest pride is always to see players who came in as school children on the threshold of becoming superstars.

“It’s like watching them watch your own son. You only see their mistakes,” admits Inglethorpe.

“There are some players who have won the gold medal – you know straight away that they are going to make it. I’m told Michael Owen was like that when he was here.”

“There was another Carragher called that name,” I added.

“I heard he wasn’t on the podium and he came through much later,” laughed Inglethorpe.

“I’m used to working with the silver or bronze medalists who come down the rails. Even Harry Kane, who I worked with as a youth coach at Tottenham, was like that. Maybe I’m blindsided by the gold medalists.

“There are different ways to get there. Some players take the lift, others take the stairs.”

Win or lose, many of the latest academy class will surely be taking to the steps of Wembley this weekend.

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