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Talent is Not Enough

Unknown Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Remember Wayne Harrison? Or Richie Partridge? What about John Welsh? The likelihood is that some, if not all, of those names will sound familiar but certainly not as much as had been expected.

In their youth - and we're talking about when they were just out of school here - all three had been considered certainties to make it. Harrison became the highest paid for English teenager when he signed for Liverpool. After a tournament in Holland, approaches were made by Ajax and Feyenoord to sign Partridge and such was his reputation that Welsh had been earmarked as being as good enough as Steven Gerrard. Yet, for varying reasons, none of the three went on to fulfill what many had predicted to be their future.

And it is those reasons - luck, injuries, physical strength, mental resilience, tactical awareness - that always have to be kept in the forefront of any discussion about young players. It is far too easy to talk about the potential of these players and the temptation to build them up as potential stars is often hard to resist. In reality, sad and cynical though this might seem, it takes much more than talent to be able to get a chance in the game.

The nineties witnessed the largest number of home grown players in the modern history of the club – Mike Marsh, Dominic Matteo, Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, David Thompson, Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. Yet this was also the worst decade in the modern history of the club as far as results were concerned something that played a factor in all of those players getting their opportunities as early as they did.

Of course, most of those players were fantastically talented individuals who would have made it in any case. Then again, the injuries that plagued Gerrard early on in the first team could have easily ruined his career. It was Carragher’s mental strength rather than his playing talent that saw him carve out a space for him in the team despite the number of supposedly better players brought in.

Such factors are often overlooked, yet they are what really makes a difference. There is, for instance, the belief that it was the political in-fighting that has prevented any of Liverpool’s double FA Youth Cup winners from 2006 and 2007 from getting an opportunity. But when one looks at the Manchester United team that was beaten in the second of those finals, only Danny Welbeck has got a look-in and even he doesn’t seem to be developing as well as had been anticipated.

As for the City team that was beaten a year earlier – a club that, until recently, had limited funds and therefore youth was more likely to be given a chance – the only player that got through was Micah Richards.

Indeed, that City team provides another case in point: Michael Johnson. The midfielder was said to have the dynamism of Steven Gerrard after making an impression in the Premier League as an eighteen year old. Four years down the line, however, and injuries have limited him to just four appearances in the past two seasons.

There is arguably more talent in the current Liverpool youth set-up then there was in those FA Youth Cup winning sides. The Under 16 have lost only once this season whilst an Under 18 side made largely of first year scholars has put together an excellent string of results in the second half of the season.

Lauri Della Valle, Andre Wisdom, Jack Robinson, Connor Coady, Jack Flannagan, Tony Silva, Raheem Sterling, Michael Ngoo and Tom Ince have either played for the reserves or will be doing so in the coming months. And all have the talent to keep on progressing.

Yet it will take more than talent if any of those is to be wearing the Liverpool shirt in the Premiership any time soon.

This piece originally appeared on the Tomkins Times.

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer