TWO years ago this month Frank McParland was handed the sizeable challenge of coming up with a plan to kick-start Liverpool’s production line.
The dearth of talent emerging from the state of the art Academy in Kirkby was a major concern and sweeping changes were required.
The Reds’ former chief scout delivered his report to then manager Rafa Benitez, who was so impressed he asked McParland to take on the role of Academy director.
Since then McParland, along with technical director Pep Segura and coach Rodolfo Borrell, has overseen a remarkable transformation of the club’s youth base.
Now rather than fans bemoaning the fact that over a decade has passed since home grown stars like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher burst on to the scene, there is genuine excitement about what’s happening at Kirkby.
Teenage right-back John Flanagan made an accomplished first team debut against Manchester City on Monday night, while left-back Jack Robinson – the youngest player in the club’s history – was sat on the bench. Fellow FA Youth Cup starlets Conor Coady and Raheem Sterling have also been involved with the senior squad.
The blueprint McParland put in place is bearing fruit.
“I’ve been back pretty much two years on the dot,” he said.
“I came back to do a study in April 2009 when Rafa asked me to take a look at the Academy and make some recommendations.
“I stayed to carry the project on and it’s still a work in progress. It was initially Rafa’s project and over the past year we have taken it on again.
“The coaching philosophy has completely changed. Pep and Rodolfo have worked really hard to bring the Spanish and Barcelona philosophy in. Both were involved in producing a lot of the current Barcelona team.
“As technical director Pep teaches the coaches the way he wants the kids to work. It has worked very well. The style of play now is 4-2-3-1 and we keep the ball. We play the same way right throughout the club.
“We are building the philosophy from the Academy up until it hits the reserves. The under-16s and under-18s are both doing very well.”
McParland believes the club owes a huge debt of gratitude to Kenny Dalglish for the role he has played in the Academy’s revival.
The Scot worked with the youngsters at Kirkby for 18 months in his role as an ambassador prior to being appointed manager in January.
Dalglish has proved he’s willing to put his faith in youth and that is inspiring the next generation.
“Kenny has had a massive influence,” he said. “He is very supportive and very knowledgeable about the youngsters. He knows every player involved in the reserves, under-18s and under-16s by name and a lot of the younger ones as well.
“The boss still comes down at least once a week. If the first team have a day off he comes down to watch training and wants to join in. With everything he has achieved in the game it’s amazing for the lads.”
The days when Liverpool were hampered by mistrust and friction between Melwood and Kirkby are thankfully long gone.
McParland, who is also now responsible for overseeing the reserves, knows he has the full backing of Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli.
He added: “There was a division there before, it has to be said. That’s why Rafa asked me to come back as he was very keen to get the added resource of the Academy helping the first team.
“It’s great knowing I’ve got the support of the manager who I’ve worked with for the past two years. I’ve also got the support of the board more than ever because Damien has come in and is very committed to the youth.
“He is very keen on getting players at the right age and making them Liverpool players.
“Damien hasn’t just come and supported us, he has given us ideas as well. He has said ‘maybe you could do this or that’ and his input has been great.
“Damien, the boss and I talk all the time. Between us there is a lot of experience and it’s a really good mix. I oversee the reserves and the Academy and we have a really good link with the first team.
“That ensures the messages are the same all the way through. With the fitness and medical staff starting to tie in, we are making it one club. There is a real co-operation between both sites.”
Liverpool now boast 31 youth internationals. It’s a source of great pride but McParland’s goal is to produce players capable of nailing down a first team spot at Anfield.
“From under-21s down, we have 17 England internationals and when they get picked for their country it just reinforces the job that you are doing,” he added.
“Four of them – Raheem Sterling, Adam Morgan, Brad Smith and Matty Regan – recently helped England qualify for the European Championships by beating Spain.
“I had a call from Noel Blake who does England Under-19s and he’s talking about taking six or seven of our players. We’re certainly helping England out a lot but what me, the staff, the manager and Damien are desperate for is to get a Liverpool player through.
“We want someone who was born here and has come through our system playing in our first team regularly. That’s our ultimate aim. That will certainly give me more enjoyment than spending millions of pounds on players.
“If we can get a few Scouse lads in the team, that’s what we want. I’m sure that will happen in the next couple of years.
“Sometimes when you work in youth you say you have a five-year plan but we have a plan in the next two years to be feeding players into the first team. That’s our job. If we don’t do that, the club won’t be happy and I won’t be happy either.”