In recent years, Liverpool have made major structural changes to ensure a smooth pathway from academy to first team, and the appointment of Jurgen Klopp in 2015 provided the Reds with a perfect figurehead.
They cut the numbers at Kirkby by 15% in 2015 to ensure quality over quantity, and aimed to instil a measure of realism within their top-level prospects with a salary cap of £40,000-a-year for first-year scholars in 2016.
Their patience will be rewarded, in theory, by a £50 million redevelopment of the club’s academy ground to accommodate both first team and youth in one complex, with Klopp insisting: “We’re all desperate to get young Scousers through.”
The work began in 2018, with a view to completion by the summer of 2020, which provides a realistic timeline for the breakthrough of many youngsters currently on Merseyside.
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Despite Klopp’s reputation as a manager eager to give youth every opportunity, the German hasn’t debuted an academy player since Harry Wilson’s first and only appearance for the club at the start of 2017. Of the 11 to debut under Klopp, only Trent Alexander-Arnold has become a regular at first-team level, with four already having left the club and six starting the 2018/19 campaign away on loan.
However, the aim remains to follow Alexander-Arnold by starring in front of the Kop on a weekly basis – so which players have the best chance of making inroads under Klopp in 2019?
Rhian Brewster (18, striker)
Brewster spent much of 2018 on the shelf, having undergone surgery on ankle and knee injuries early in the year, but he has completed his rehabilitation at the first-team training ground as a show of Klopp’s faith.
Such is the manager’s belief in the 18-year-old, whose character is widely lauded within the dressing room, that he dismissed the opportunity to sign another striker in the summer transfer window.
An expert finisher whose all-round game developed rapidly with the under-23s, Brewster is primed for a big step up once he returns to full fitness.
Curtis Jones (17, attacking midfielder)
While doubts remain over the long-term role of Rafa Camacho, Jones looks poised to cement himself as a staple figure at Anfield.
“We see his potential and want to help him to be the best he can be,” Klopp told the club’s official website midway through pre-season, in which Jones starred. “As long as he is ready for that, the future is bright.”
The manager suggested that, so long as he ignored outside distractions, the tall, pacy, skilful and versatile midfielder has the potential to become a key man. The evidence so far suggests he he certainly does.
Adam Lewis (19, left-back)
Amid an academy coaching shakeup during which both Steven Gerrard and Michael Beale departed, and Barry Lewtas and Neil Critchley were promoted, Lewis has risen through the ranks and impressed them all.
The left-back – captain for the under-18s last term – has seemingly caught the attention of Klopp too, having been involved in first-team training towards the end of 2018.
With Alberto Moreno primed to depart in the summer, there is a strong likelihood that Klopp could look to promote from within and employ the tenacious, cultured Scouser as backup to Andy Robertson.
Herbie Kane (20, central midfielder)
Though both Wilson and Ben Woodburn are omitted from this list having already made their debuts, another loanee makes the cut in Kane.
After overcoming injury to establish himself as a key man for the under-23s last season, Kane has excelled in his first experience of competitive senior football with Doncaster Rovers.
An accomplished all-round midfielder, Kane has the confidence, quality and – importantly – industry to have proven himself a class apart in League One at just 20, and will be looking to impress Klopp in pre-season.
Bobby Duncan (17, striker)
After a dream return to Liverpool from Manchester City in the summer, 19 goals in 23 games for predatory striker Duncan have only boosted hopes that he can follow his cousin Steven Gerrard into the first team.
There is still a long way to go for the 17-year-old, with his off-ball work and hold-up play in need of refining, but he has already made his debut for the under-23s and trained with the first team.
Duncan will need to stay grounded, and already faces major competition in the form of Brewster, but if his goalscoring exploits continue it will be hard to ignore him.
Neco Williams (17, right-back)
Though Martin Keown believes Alexander-Arnold is playing out of position as a right-back, there is no suggestion that Klopp will move him into midfield any time soon.
But beyond the local lad, there could soon be a paucity of options: Joe Gomez’s future is as a centre-back partner to Virgil van Dijk, and Nathaniel Clyne is seeking regular first-team football elsewhere.
If Klopp looks to the academy, he could find a ready-made alternative. While Williams is still very young and needs to find more consistency in his game, he looks to have the balance required to step up in future.
Jake Cain (17, attacking midfielder)
Such is the nature of youth football, prospects can emerge and fade within the space of a season. By the same token, a justified lack of exposure for age groups below under-18 level allows high-potential youngsters to break through undetected – and one such player at Liverpool is Cain.
He made the step up from Liverpool’s under-16s in the summer and laid on 10 assists in 17 games in the first half of the season. Klopp will no doubt be interested in his relentless creativity and work rate.
Ki-Jana Hoever (16, centre-back)
Just like Alisson, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri in the first team, teenage defender Hoever – a summer signing from Ajax – has swiftly taken up an influential role in the academy.
After receiving international clearance and debuting for the under-18s in September, the Dutchman has reached a new milestone every month: an U19 debut in October, U23 debut in November and promotion to first-team training in December.
He is still very young, but Hoever is now working with Klopp’s squad on a regular basis and looks to have the full package as a young centre-back. The ability to also play at right-back could work in his favour.
Rhys Williams (17, centre-back)
Focus on the likes of Nat Phillips, George Johnston and Conor Masterson as potential academy graduates at centre-back has dimmed in recent months, but Williams’s progress has continued.
While only 17, he boasts the physicality of a senior professional and blends composure on the ball with defensive strength that makes for bone-crunching challenges which reverberate around open-air youth stadiums.
There is a faint similarity to Van Dijk in the Preston native, and though such a comparison is ludicrous at this stage, even a measure of the Dutchman’s talent could give him a shot under Klopp.
Paul Glatzel (17, striker)
While Duncan was the Reds’ top scorer throughout the age groups in the first half of the season, his U18s strike partner Glatzel wasn’t far behind – and arguably, his all-round game was even more impressive.
Glatzel scored 17 goals in 19 games in all competitions, captaining the U18s and serving as vice-captain behind Lewis in the UEFA Youth League... all before his 18th birthday.
His impact is quantified by goals, but Glatzel’s quality is in his creativity and industry. It can’t be long before Klopp and his backroom staff are forced to take notice.
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