THEY say patience is a virtue, but it is one that is in increasingly short supply when it comes to modern football.
Whether it is a product of a materialistic society, where instant fulfilment is demanded rather than preferred, or a representation of the high-stakes world in which sport now operates, the need for quick success is as much a part of the game as rolling news coverage or awkwardly-adjusted kick-off times.
And when it comes to developing, nurturing and integrating talented young footballers, patience – or lack of it – can often be the difference between success and failure.
The sheer demands placed upon those involved with top-level clubs across Europe mean that time is a priceless commodity. Clubs do not have time to wait while a 17-year-old defender grows into his body, or a 19-year-old midfielder adds composure to his talent.
There are exceptions, of course. Steven Gerrard was destined for great things from the moment he took his first tentative steps on the Anfield turf as an 18-year-old. Wayne Rooney arrived on the Premier League scene like a whirlwind; a boy in a man’s body with a genius touch.
But, generally, talented young players take time before they are ready to, or able to, make a significant impact at the top level. As such, a patient approach is required.
It has been a criticism often levelled at Liverpool in recent years that they do not provide first-team opportunities for young players. It is easy to lose count of the number of gifted teenagers to have served their apprenticeship at Kirkby, before being sent down the leagues to make a living.
Former coaches, such as Steve Heighway and the late Gary Ablett, were of the belief that the club HAS been producing players with the talent to make it at first-team level.
Heighway guided the Reds to successive FA Youth Cup triumphs in 2006 and 2007, but saw very few of those players establish themselves – only Jay Spearing, of that batch, has managed more than a handful of senior appearances.
The problem Heighway found was that Liverpool is a club that has an obligation to compete for every honour available. Hence, the pressures placed upon the shoulders of its managers is huge.
Rafa Benitez, contrary to popular belief, was a manager desperate to turn Liverpool’s Academy into a conveyor belt, capable of churning out first-team ready players on a yearly basis.
The problem he found, and it is a problem that Brendan Rodgers may also encounter over the next few months, is that the transition from raw teen to seasoned pro is a slow process. Experience can only be gained through time. Maintaining results whilst blooding youth is a balancing act, and a tough one to perform.
Fortunately for Liverpool, they would appear to have, in Rodgers, a manager with patience required to nurture young talents, and possess a crop of players with the ability to go far.
Raheem Sterling is perhaps the jewel in the young Reds’ crown, having made his first-team debut at the back end of last season after weeks of clamouring among supporters. The current paucity of game-changing wide players in the Reds squad mean the teenager is likely to feature highly in fans’ thoughts over the coming season.
The 17-year-old revealed Rodgers had tried to sign him on loan at Swansea last season, and it is easy to see why.
His pace, balance and individual skill would have found a natural habitat at the Liberty Stadium, and Rodgers could well be the ideal man to add tactical discipline and game awareness to the former QPR man’s game over the next year or two. There are others, too, who could make the step up over the next 12 months or so.
Jack Robinson, currently on international duty with England’s U19 squad, appears to have all the tools to be a high-class left back. Key will be keeping the youngster focused on improving his game.
Spanish midfielder Jesus ‘Suso’ Fernandez is another who could well catch the eye. The 18-year-old has a silky touch and 360 degree vision. Rodgers likes his sides to pass the ball; few teenagers do it as sweetly as he.
There are others – Joao Carlos Teixeira, Andre Wisdom, Jordan Ibe – with bags of potential. Ahead of them are the more developed, such as Jonjo Shelvey, Jon Flanagan and Martin Kelly, all of whom are under the age of 21.
It bodes well for a bright future at Anfield, though of course a lot can happen over the course of a season.
The most important thing, however, will be patience. And Liverpool supporters may well need to summon some extra reserves of that particular commodity over the next few months.