The Youth Academy at Liverpool was set up to help bring the youngters on Liverpools books through to the first team. In the past Liverpool have produced a few youngsters but in todays modern game the onus is very much on the clubs to produce their own players rather than pay hugely inflated transfer prices for new players. In the past, players such as Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Dominic Matteo have all progressed through the setup at Anfield. Today though with the aid of the academy the club can nurture youngsters on even better with the hope that even more youngsters can go all the way to the first team. In the past few years three players from the 1996 youth cup winning side became regulars for the Liverpool first team. These three were Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and David Thompson. They were then followed through the ranks by Steven Gerrard. There are big hopes for the youth sides at Anfield and the state of the art facilities at the academy let the coaching staff pick out the best players. The big carrot now is to follow in their footsteps and make it to the first team on a regular basis. Since Gerrard progressed a few players have made the step to the first team without cementing a first team place for any massive period. Stephen Warnock was the last player to play more than a few games in a first team shirt.
The academy is housed in the Kirkby area of North Liverpool and not only has it got outdoor pitches but it now has state of the art indoor pitches where the surface is designed to act exactly as grass. So good is the surface, that for the first time slide challenges can be made, safe in the knowledge that injury will not be produced by the surface. The academy first opened its doors in late 1998 and had been well supported all the way by people like Steve Heighway, who became the first Director of Youth at Liverpool. The academy area now allows the main training ground at Melwood to be kept solely for the first team squad and reserves and allows all the areas there to be kept in tip top condition. What it also provides is a stepping stone for youngsters to strive for. Their initial aim is always to leave the facilities in Kirkby to train at Melwood as this means they are progressing. The main pitch where the U18 side play their match is accessible for all people with full diabled access to the pitch area.
The facility in Kirkby has a total of twelve pitches, four of which are full size. The reds have a large number of scouts operating within a short distance of the academy now to find the best youngsters. With a ruling meaning that all young players must live within a certain distance of the ground as well this becomes particularly important. As well as scouting trips the coaches operate in schools around the Liverpool area to help the young children in the community to develop their footballing skills. Such is Liverpool's training into mental toughness and ability they try and make players equally comfortable in multiple positions to make them more valuable at later dates. This has been demonstrated of late with two of the recent graduates, Jamie Carragher a midfielder adapting to being a centre back and Steven Gerrard having played at right back as well as his natural central midfield role. The academy though isn't all about football and education is forced on players to ensure that whatever happens to them they can become better educated. This is important whether the player makes the grade or not. As football is such a short career many players will have to adapt to something else once they leave the game.
The academy has to produce players for a separate league each week. The FA Premier Academy league operate at under 18 level. The academy as a whole helps with around 200 young players in total with the U18 team being the main route through to the reserves and first team. The Reds also play U16 matches at the time when the U18 matches are played but these are not strictly on a league basis. All the players have an aim to to play for the first team and they can all see that the aim can come true given a lot of effort.