Julian Ward and Kenny Dalglish take closer look at talented youngsters as Liverpool plans pay off and Harvey Davies proves it.
With the great and the good of Liverpool watching on, Barry Lewtas’ Under-19s picked the right time for their most complete performance of the season this week.
The young Reds made it back-to-back victories in the UEFA Youth League with a 4-0 win over Ajax at the Kirkby Academy on Tuesday to build on a different type of success six days earlier at Napoli.
Where the win in Naples showcased the strong character of the team as they ground out a narrow 2-1 triumph against the backdrop of a relatively hostile environment and soaring temperatures, Tuesday’s performance was a convincing one.
A hat-trick from Oakley Cannonier took his tally to four goals in European action this season. The striker was clinical with the opportunities that presented themselves as he continued to build on his burgeoning reputation as a dyed-in-the-wool No.9. His replacement, Lewis Koumas, sealed the points late on as Lewtas’ youngsters put themselves in firm control of Group A.
Watching on from the balcony was a certain Sir Kenny Dalglish, who turned up to get a closer glimpse of the next generation against a club whose reputation for youth development is legendary.
Sporting director Julian Ward, head of loan pathways David Woodfine and goalkeeping coach Jack Robinson were also in attendance as important figures from the senior set-up turned out to watch Cannonier and co swat aside their Dutch counterparts.
It is elite development coach Vitor Matos who has Klopp’s ear when it comes to relaying information about the progress of certain up-and-comers within the youth ranks and the Portuguese was at the game too as Lewtas men moved on to six points in Group A of the Youth League.
It will be two years in November since Liverpool officially left their iconic Melwood base. It was a decision that was taken with a heavy heart given the status with which their West Derby complex held within football but it has made things easier from a logistical and practical point of view.
Before the move to the £50m AXA Training Centre was made in November of 2020, players from the academy ranks would need to be ferried across from Kirkby to Melwood in a 10-mile round journey. It made ad-hoc call-ups to senior training as rewards and for emergencies less flexible.
Now, though, with all age-groups on the same site on Simonswood Lane, it allows the likes of Stefan Bajcetic, Bobby Clark and Isaac Mabaya to move fluidly around the complex for wherever they are required, while also offering the chance for vaunted figures like Dalglish to get an up-close view of those who are aiming to follow in his footsteps.
“It’s great for us with these types of games to see the likes of Sir Kenny here,” says Lewtas. “Vitor and Jack were here from the first team coaching staff, Julian Ward and Dave Woodfine were also here with a few others as well, so it’s great isn’t it?
“It’s all right for us to talk about it but there is a real connection between the two sites now and there is that one-club mentality, so it is fantastic when you get people down and the pressure is on us to perform. I think we did today because it was a proper game. They put us under pressure for 20 minutes in the first half and we did really well.”
Someone who has benefited most from the “one-club” ethos of late is goalkeeper Harvey Davies. The Childwall-born shot-stopper kept a clean sheet and pulled off an outstanding first-half tip on to the crossbar before helping keep his backline in their shape with a vocal performance full of instructions from his goalline in the second period.
Later that day, Davies was whisked up to Anfield to take part in the pre-match warm-up alongside Alisson Becker and Adrian before taking his place on the substitutes’ bench of the senior side’s 2-1 win.
“He’s definitely working overtime!” joked Lewtas in a post-match chat with the ECHO. “I thought Harvey was unbelievable today. That save in the first half on to the bar was high level and he was good with his feet. Again, you need a reminder of how young he is. He is very vocal and I am very pleased for him.
He is another one [benefiting] and I think we spoke around this idea about the move to Kirkby. The communication and the way we work means Harvey is able to play here and then go to Anfield and be involved there. And that communication and how we’re all working together does allow for that.”
A good week for the Academy was capped off on Friday when Cannonier, Mabaya, Lee Jonas and Luke Chambers – who all started Tuesday’s win – were all called up to the England U19 squad for Euro Qualifiers against Georgia, Denmark and Montenegro.