BRENDAN RODGERS has warned Liverpool’s youngsters that they may have to get used to gracing League One grounds if lessons aren’t learned following the club’s FA Cup defeat to Oldham Athletic.
As the inquest continued into Sunday’s embarrassing debacle at Boundary Park, the Reds boss insisted he has no regrets about singling out his rookies for criticism.
Rodgers has put his faith in youth so far this term but felt let down by his side’s error-strewn performance against the League One strugglers.
The Northern Irishman says a lack of application simply won’t be tolerated if players want to have a future at Anfield.
“The young players know they have a manager here who is 150% behind them,” Rodgers said.
“They have had great support since the first day I walked in here, but you can’t be too nice to young players, especially the modern player.
“The modern player has been brought up differently to the likes of the Carraghers and the Gerrards. Being young doesn’t exempt you from criticism. But they know they have a manager who will be up in the room going through their mistakes with them individually.
“We never leave them hanging out to dry. We will look at where they need to improve. But they have to understand the responsibility to play for such a club.
“If they are bright enough, they will learn from a role model like Steven Gerrard and hopefully be here for a long time. But if they don’t they might find themselves playing in League One later on in their life and regretting the opportunity they missed at looking at a world class player every day and learning.
“Oldham was a rude awakening for some of our young players. Some have not had that experience of going to the Championship or League One on loan and doing the dirty work.
“I highlighted the young players because they’ve been given a great opportunity here. They have to understand that with that opportunity comes a responsibility that every game you have to perform.
“They have come in and done well but we don’t have world class young players who can just cruise through games. We need to have our foot to the floor in every single game. They have to come in with the intention of working hard with intensity every day. If they want to have a career here they need to be tougher.”
Rodgers’ anger appeared to be directed at teenagers Raheem Sterling, Jack Robinson and Andre Wisdom, but the likes of Fabio Borini, Sebastian Coates, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson also fall under the manager’s definition of ‘young players’.
“For me, it’s those aged 22 and under,” Rodgers explained.
“Give credit, I thought Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen did well.
“Jordan had to move position on to the right side to give us a threat. Those two came out of it with some credit but not too many others.”
Rodgers was particularly angered by the manner in which centre-backs Coates and Martin Skrtel allowed themselves to be bullied by the Latics’ two-goal hero Matt Smith.
The 6ft 6ins frontman was playing non-league football prior to joining Oldham 18 months ago.
“The boy Smith hadn’t scored a goal at home in two years,” Rodgers added.
“A boy who came out of universities football has come up against the two big units we’ve got playing centre-half and looked like Didier Drogba on Sunday.
“We’ve seen it before with Christian Benteke (when Aston Villa won 3-1 at Anfield in December), who after that game against us has disappeared.
“You need resilience and steel. When you go to places like Oldham, you know what you’re getting. It’s not a Premier League game. You need to roll your sleeves up and fight. It was too soft.”
It was Skrtel who also struggled against Benteke last month but Rodgers insists he wasn’t just pointing a finger at the Slovakian. The boss believes Liverpool failed in all departments on Sunday.
“I’m talking in general about the physicality around the team, not just Martin Skrtel,” he said.
“I expect all the players to react, not just him.
“This is very much about the group.
“For me the pressure starts higher up the pitch, that’s the first point.
“It was too easy for the ball to be played forward.
“There’s a problem when it comes forward but there’s always the root of the problem which for me was the pressure at the top end of the field. Can we stop the ball coming forwards?
“That’s not down to one player in particular, it’s the front three or four.
“I don’t want to single anyone out here as that’s not how I work.
“As a group we have to take a greater responsibility.
“I was bitterly disappointed because the FA Cup was a competition we had really focused on doing well in.”
Rodgers must now engineer a response when Liverpool head for the capital to face Arsenal in the Premier League tomorrow night.
It’s a crunch week with a trip to Manchester City on the horizon as the Reds look to banish the memory of their Cup exit and launch a challenge for a Champions League spot.
Pepe Reina will return in goal after overcoming a thigh problem, while Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing are all set to be restored to the startling line-up.
Left-back Jose Enrique could also make his return from injury after proving his fitness following a month out with a hamstring injury.
“It’s a very important game and one that we are capable of winning,” Rodgers said.
“When Arsenal played at Anfield earlier in the season we weren’t at our best and deserved to lose, but we have made improvements since then. When our intensity and focus is right, we’ve shown we have great quality.
“When I changed the team on Sunday it showed our lack of depth.
“But it made it pretty clear what group we go forward with for these remaining games to try to get some success.”