Liverpool’s head of development analysis, Tim Jenkins, has offered a fascinating insight into how the club is attempting to inspire a new crop of young stars, by teaching them to copy Cristiano Ronaldo and Philippe Coutinho.
Jenkins says Academy players at Liverpool are regularly shown specific clips of certain technically gifted individuals. The idea is for them to add specific elements to their own game.
Jordon Ibe, a 17-year-old winger who has already played in Brendan Rodgers’ first team, is currently paying much attention to Ronaldo. Jenkins explains the process to the club’s official website:
[An] example of how we try and help the youngsters improve is by showing them videos of other players. So with Jordon, we would show him a video of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Kyle Wiffen, who is our U18s performance analyst, put together a really powerful analysis video which analysed how Ronaldo scored so many goals, what type of goals he scored, what type of runs he made and summarised all this in a clip, which we were then able to give to Jordon.
We do this so that the likes of Jordon can see just how successful Ronaldo has been and then he can try and emulate that.
The example of Ronaldo is a suitable one for Ibe who, like the Portuguese, favours his right foot despite playing off the left flank.
Ibe possesses incredible pace and is a powerful runner, but understandably requires much coaching about the decision-making side of the game.
Ronaldo was the same when he arrived at Manchester United as an 18-year-old. Full of tricks and confidence, the Real Madrid superstar needed much nurturing by Sir Alex Ferguson and his coaching staff.
Nowadays Ronaldo has reined in his showboating, using his skills to unbalance defenders. He is also one of Europe’s best at attacking the far post—something Liverpool are trying to teach Ibe according to Jenkins:
One of the targets that we set Jordon was for him to try and attack the back post more often when he played as a wide man - and also to use his speed more to run in behind the defence.
We identified those areas as ones he needed to improve and then the next step in the process was to collate clips of him in games.
Liverpool fans will be delighted to hear that the club’s Academy is also putting Coutinho on a pedestal as the type of player the club wants to develop.
Arguably the most technically gifted footballer at Anfield, Coutinho’s control, vision and timing of the pass make him a key part of Rodgers’ vision at Liverpool.
Since losing the Brazilian to injury, Liverpool have struggled to link midfield to attack, dropping points against Southampton and Newcastle. Victor Moses looks uncomfortable and incapable of providing the supply line offered by Coutinho.
Jenkins said of the playmaker’s influence at the club:
Philippe Coutinho is one player who we often hold up as an example to boys here at the Academy - his quality and his ability to manipulate the ball is a fantastic standard for our younger age groups to aspire to.
The revelations of Jenkins act as yet more evidence that Rodgers is taking Liverpool in the right direction, encouraging a style of football based on technical excellence.
Under former managers like Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez, Liverpool enjoyed some unforgettable successes in cup competitions but rarely looked like league winners. Both managers threatened a Premier League triumph only once—Houllier in 2002 and Benitez in 2009—and both saw their tactics criticised for being negative.
Rodgers favours a more pleasing brand of football, just as he did at Swansea where Joe Allen and Leon Britton often passed teams off the pitch. Coutinho is the archetypal style of player Rodgers wants, and Liverpool fans can expect to see more like the Brazilian in the future.