By David Lynch
Frank McParland represents a rare beacon of consistency at a club which has undergone a host of changes in recent years.
Four different managers have led Liverpool since the 53-year-old was appointed to his role as Academy director back in May 2008, the sort of statistic which does not usually tally with stability at any level. Yet, despite this regular upheaval elsewhere, the Reds’ Academy has cemented its growing reputation through the graduation of several of its prospects to the first team over the last year.
There is, it could be argued, no truer measure of any youth setup’s success.
That impressive conversion rate ensured Liverpool’s Academy achieved Category One status during a recent FA review, but McParland accepts that simply producing talent is not enough. The Liverpool native believes that working under a manager who trusts young players implicitly is of the utmost importance, and cannot speak highly enough of Brendan Rodgers in that regard.
“It’s important that the manager has a major influence on the Academy,” he told Goal.com. “We’re lucky enough to have a young manager like Brendan Rodgers who has worked at every level. He’s got a real empathy with what we’re trying to do and he loves working with young players.
“For us, it’s a dream to have a manager who wants to play young players because when you’re trying to sell the club to kids you can tell them there’s a massive pathway for them. We worked out the other day that we played in a Youth Cup game two years ago and seven players – Robinson, Flanagan, Wisdom, Sterling, Suso, Coady and Morgan – have all played in the first team.
“Out of one generation the manager and previous managers have given seven the chance to play in the first team.”
McParland spoke to Goal.com at an event held at the club’s Kirkby-based Academy in support of Seeing is Believing, a charity aimed at eliminating preventable blindness in poorer countries which is partnered by Liverpool’s main sponsor, Standard Chartered.
The day involved four of the club’s brightest talents at Under-18 level – Daniel Trickett-Smith, Ryan Fulton, Lloyd Jones and Alex O’Hanlon – engaging with visually impaired children through blind football.
And to McParland, the personal development of youth prospects through community work is just as significant as their education in any footballing philosophy.
“A few years ago all the kids did was clean boots and clean baths and if the first team players wanted a cup of tea they did that,” he said. “Nowadays, this is more important for me. Our job is to teach them football and to teach them to be good kids as well and responsible adults in the end.
“We used to go to Alder Hey [children’s hospital] once every Christmas and now we go once every month because it’s important that we have really strong relationships with good organisations like that. This keeps the kids grounded, it lets them see the other side of life and people who are not as fortunate as they are so it’s really important they do this.”
Indeed the club understand fully the significance of character building in the talents they view not only as young footballers, but individuals. And commitment to these admirable ideals has its rewards, as McParland explained.
“Sometimes the kids will come with good character or bad character. We’d always take a kid with good character if we can but if there’s a kid who needs a little bit of help we’ll always work with them and work really hard on that side,” he continued.
“Two weeks ago when Andre Wisdom signed his second pro contract – and he didn’t sign it with me this time, he signed it with Ian Ayre – and he came to see me straight after it and the other staff to thank everyone for helping him get through his career. And that’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had being at the club, it was a really special occasion for me. I was absolutely delighted with it.
“The kid is a normal kid, we’ve had him for five years. He’s pretty much a local kid even though he was born in Leeds but he’s one of us now, he’s one of our family.”
Though McParland’s delight over the achievement that players such as Andre Wisdom represent is clear, the desire to ensure that he is not the last of a growing number of success stories – both on and off the field – is unstinting.
The find out more information about the Seeing is Believing initiative, please visit www.seeingisbelieving.org.
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