30 Mar 2009

Liverpool FC squad farce: Taylor is 100% right

With 62 contracted players on the books at Anfield, UEFA Secretary David Taylor is undoubtedly right when he refers to the situation as ‘ridiculous’.

Upon discovering the full extent of Rafael Benitez's first team squad, Taylor did not mince his words:

"Ridiculous. 62? You can only field 11 at one time. You could have two full-size practice games. Training would be interesting with all these guys ¬running about looking for 11 jerseys – you could have two full-size practise games.”.

And I have to agree. I touched on this in a previous article but what exactly is the point of having so many players? As far as I can see, there are many negative consequences in having so many players fighting to get on the pitch, and very few positives:


1. Salary costs – with Liverpool still trying to service a £350m debt, is it wise to have so many players eating into the wage bill?

2. Limited opportunities – there is just no way all these players can make it into the first eleven! Going to Liverpool is, I’m sure, a dream come true for many of the young players who sign for the club. However, the reality is they will either end up being loaned out to the lower leagues, and/or be moved on in a year or two.

3. Too much competition for places – Competition is generally a positive thing, but when it comes to competing with 7 or 8 other players for a place in the team, it just becomes counter-productive and breeds resentment and disappointment.

4. No consistent development or progression of youth players - It’s been 10 years since the likes of Gerrard, Carragher and Owen broke into the first team. Since that time, not one young reserve/academy player has established themselves in the first team. This does not bode well for the future.

5. Failure to grant opportunities – Young players filling out the squad are just not given a fair chance to make it. Benitez may grant players like Jay Spearing and Jack Hobbs the odd appearance here and there, but we all know that based on past experience, they will not be given a fair chance to establish themselves.

Picking up the point about stunted progression of young players, let’s take Godwin Antwi, the 20 year old Ghanaian defender, as an example. As part of the a very successful youth team that won successive FA Youth Cups, he is understandably disillusioned after being loaned out 4 times since arriving at Anfield in 2005:

"There's no chance of me accepting a new deal as I won't play in the first team at Liverpool. I don't know why. When I signed, Rafa and Paco Herrera told me, 'Do your best.' But I can't remember the last time I spoke with Rafa, not properly anyway."

He added: "When we won the FA Youth Cup...City's team had Micah Richards, Michael Johnson, Ched Evans and Daniel Sturridge, all first-team players now. But Liverpool signed Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel in my position."

Antwi’s experience is indicative of the abject failure of Liverpool’s youth policy, something that is clearly exacerbated by the laughably large squad size.

Craig Lindfield is another talented young player who has become a victim of Benitez’s huge squad: “It’s a massive squad. At Melwood...there's about 50 players in total. There's only about nine or 10 English lads so that speaks for itself, doesn't it?”.

21 year old Adam Hammill is similarly disillusioned: "At 18 you'd be naive to think you're going to break into Liverpool's first team. You'd have to be a Gerrard, Owen or Rooney.

Despite being farmed out loan like so many other youngsters, Hamill remains optimistic: “if I do well I might get my chance. I'm a Liverpool player and want my future there”.

Admirable sentiments, but like so many others, Hammill is heading for heartbreak, something he concedes is a possibility: If I don’t get my chance, well, the only way is down but you can try and work your way back up that ladder."

So – what are the positives of having such an inflated squad?

I can’t think of one.

It would be a different story if there were a few success stories along the way, but even the young players who Benitez buys to go straight into the first team struggle to make an impact.

Some may argue that having so many players means Liverpool can increase their sales profit in the future. Is that what the club is all about these days? Buying to sell instead of buying to *improve* the team?

In any event, if you take into account transfer fees and salaries, hardly any money at all has been made on selling young players during Benitez's tenure.

As we have seen, there is sometimes method to Benitez’s madness, but when it comes to building the squad, there is no method, just madness.

There is simply no justification for having such a large squad, and in my view, the following things need to happen:

1. Cut the squad by at least 10-15 players. Whatever happened to the ideal of having 2 players for every position? Has it now become 5 players for every position?!

2. End the scattershot ‘buy everything in sight and hope for the best’ approach to buying young players. Focus on quality over quantity

3. Instead of filling out the squad with players like Andrei Voronin, Philip Degen, Andrea Dossena, Josemi, Jan Kromkamp etc, promote young players and give them their chance. Could they do any worse?!

4. Use the Carling Cup to blood young players. By that, I mean every place in the team should go to reserve/academy players. Such a policy would also provide senior players with much needed rest.

5. If the club qualify for the CL second stage with a game to spare, fill the team with reserve academy players for the meaningless remaining game.

As we all know, Benitez doesn’t like to take risks – he ‘prefers to be sure’, but bringing through players from the academy and reserve team is *not* taking risks – it is laying the foundation for Liverpool FC’s future.

Just imagine if Benitez was manager in the mid-90s – it’s probable that the likes of Fowler, Redknapp, McManaman, Owen, Carragher and Gerrard would never have made it.

Imagine what the club and the fans would’ve missed out on!

The fact is the failure of Liverpool’s youth system is inextricably linked to ever-increasing size of Rafa Benitez’s squad.

This specific aspect of the club needs a complete rethink, and with former Chief Scout Frank McParland back at the club to conduct a review of the Academy, perhaps there’s hope that the squad size/youth development disparity will be addressed.

Of course, the Benitez apologists will try and spin all this in a positive light, but to realise the extent of the problem, just consider the following questions:

1. How many players from Liverpool's youth set-up have become established in the first team over the last 10 years?

2. Realistically, how many young players in the current set-up will be given the chance to establish themselves in the first team?

3. How many of Benitez's youth buys have been a success?

4. How many of Benitez's young player purchases for the first team (Babel, Leiva etc) have been a success? How many look like they'll be a success or be *given the chance* to become a success?

5. Taking everything into consideration and regardless of who is to blame, has Benitez's preference for a massively inflated squad had a positive or detrimental effect on the progress of young players at Liverpool?


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  1. Yet again you compile an article specifically to slag Benitez off. If you look at the other top 4 teams, Liverpool's 62 is only slightly more than Arsenal's 59 contracted players. Manchester United also have 51 and Chelsea 46.
    There is obviously a general debate to be had about squad sizes, but to use it just to slag off Benitez is ridiculous. Why don't you just rename your site "Benitez Out", or go and join your friends at Republic of Mancunia, you have far more in common with them.

  2. Sorry - links to Paul Tomkins' site are not welcome here. I posted a question in the comments section of his site recently and he deleted it and in a completely unprovoked attack, slagged off this site. He is not interested in opposing views or people questioning his views, so I am not interested in his site.

  3. Nonsense - how have I 'slagged off' Benitez? Is he on such a deified plain that he is not allowed to be criticised?

    It just so happens that certain issues I want to explore at the moment involved Benitez.

    I'm not interested in Arsenal, Man U etc - I'm interested in Liverpool's ridiculous squad size and the detrimental impact it has on youth progression.

    And your comparisons are moot anyway, considering *far more* young players are given *consistent* chances at Arsenal and Man U.

  4. Abusive comments are deleted automatically, so knocke yourself out!

  5. Is Johhny Evans more of a prospect than Kelly or Darby? Is Wellbeck better than Nemeth or Pacheco? Arsenal's young players that they have bought or farmed you've heard of playing in the first team. Walcott, Denilson, Gilbert, Ramsey, Wilkshire, Vela, etc. But ask a Man U or Arsenal fan to name our youngsters and they will struggle...They may say Babel, but for me he doesn't count learnt his trade at Ajax, and then Lucas..Oh dear, and the knowledgeable might say Insua or Ngog (learnt his trade at PSG). Although in terms of developing players at least we're miles ahead of Chelsea. For me Darby, Spearing, Pacheco, Nemeth, San Jose, Kelly and Plessis are the most promising I've seen so far, hopefully Rafa will give them a chance in the near future.


  6. wasn`t your last "article" saying that Liverpool should be buying more experienced players? Wouldnt that give the youngsters even less chance to break through? Didnt you argue that you couldnt understand why the noexperienced Ngog played instead of Keene a few times? Make your mind up mate .
    How many 20 yrs olds and under do you want to play in Liverpools 1st team?
    This year, as other people already pointed out in the comments of your last piece, has seen Insua, Spearing, Ngog, Lucas, Babel etc. all play for varying amounts of time through out the season. You cant fill a team with youngsters , even in the cups, as Rafa would be slaughtered by the press and some "fans" for disrespecting the competition.
    You cant just dismiss the other teams squad squad sizes as irrelevant either, as we would then not be competing on a level playing field.
    You cant hold Rafa responsible for the last 10 yrs of youth developement as he has only been there for 5. In that 5 the kids have won the youth cup twice and the reserves won the league last year. So even if none of them become good enough to establish themselves ahead of any of the current , excellent, 1st team, we should still be able to make a profit selling them on. But if even only two or three can make it ,ie. Insua it could save the club millions.

  7. Anonymous - Thanks for your comments.

    I did indeed say those things but you have to consider the context. My point is that RB has brought in *too many* young players to the extent that now they're all pretty much just langushing in the reserves/out on loan, with no real prospect of making it into the team.

    The policy needs to change: stop buying so many young players and buy a couple of *quality* experienced players a season instead. Let the young players we do have progress and give them more chances instead of buying more and more each year, which creates untenable competition.

    If we had has this policy for the last 10 years, I'm sure the club would be better off. Instead, we've had (and have) a revolving door of youngsters coming in and coming out and no one making an impression.

    Another part of the problem is Benitez keeps buying/acquiring dross like Voronin, Kromkamp, Degen, Dossena et al, when he should just be bringing players from the reserves into the team who play the same positions.

    This would save money and give players like, Darby, Spearing etc a better chance.

    Unfortunately, the system is out of control at the moment and drastically needs changing, but this will take time, and in the meantime, lots of promising players who have not been given the chance to progress will fall b y the wayside.

    You mention Spearing, Babel, Ngog etc, but let's be realistic here, none of them are played consistently. £11m Babel is in his second season and still can't get a run of games! What hope does Spearing have?!

    Ultimately, it's about quality over quantity:

    1. Buy a couple of quality experienced players every season to complement the first team.

    2. Fill out the squad with players promoted from the reserves.

    3. don't waste money on cheap imports to fill slots that youn reserve players could take.

    re Keane and Ngog - I'm all for Ngog being given a chance, but not at the expense of a £20m striker in must-win games.

    I don't want to see a team filled with 20 year olds - I just want to see our yojng players given a proper chance, developed properly, played more regularly and not forced to compete with 100 other players for their shot at the first team.

  8. Hey, don't know about your history against Benitez or something, but you're spot on. I'm a big fan of our manager but have always been critical of his youth policies. Had he played Insua more often last year we wouldn't need to spend all that money on Dossena. I can't believe Adam Hammill still haven't played for us! Not a single game... And we are ALWAYS short of wingers. There are so many examples... and it's not like we were playing awesome first team players at times. We've seen players like Insua, Plessis, El Zhar given chances and not failing that horribly to justify not risking it again. And Plessis has never shown the potential of Spearing or Nemeth.
    Not criticizing Benitez for his mistakes is the worst thing we can do as supporters. We're on his side, I am, but I will always point out anything stupid that he, as a human being, is bound to make. Why must we treat him like some kind of God? Or always criticize him regardless of his achievements? For us, Liverpool supporters, there seems to be two kind of people in the world: Those that kiss Rafa's feet no matter what and those who want him out of Liverpool as quickly as possible. Can't we be any more reasonable than that?????


  9. Your article assumes that Benitez has been presented with a number of potentially great players by the Youth academy and has deliberately ignored or undermined them.

    However, which of the players that Benitez has discarded, went on to greater things elsewhere? In fact only Sinana Pongolle looks even remotely like having been prematurely rejected.

    Benitez must be ruthless and try and fill the first 16 with the best possible player in that position for the system that he has. And on any objective measure you would have to say he has done a stunning job.

  10. Remember that experience costs a lot of money. We asked about Silva last week and was quoted 30mill! That would be our entire budget gone on one player. Rafa has never had the luxury of being able to buy just a couple of experienced players every year. He has had to completely rebuild an aging ( Hamman etc.) and frankly not good enough ( Biscan, Troure etc.) squad to one that is only now good enough to be challenging for the title, on less transfer budget than the other big teams. He has had to wheel and deal, take chances, and trade up. It is only now, having built most of the squad on the back of continued champ league success, that he may have that luxury at last. A luxury that Ferguson has had for many years having most of the squad there before Rafa was even in charge.
    You cant really expect to fill out a squad with reserve players and then compete week in week out. What is wrong with loaning out some players to get experience instead of risking playing them in our must win games? Especially when our 1st team is so strong. And lets face it nearly every game is must win if you want to be challenging for the top prizes.
    Wenger has earned the right, winning leagues etc, to do what he wants at Arsenal and never seems to get any criticism. But Rafa would have been out the door if we hadnt won anything in 4 years. Wenger didnt win all his trophys with kids either, its only the last few years ,when they havent been winning, that he has predominatly played the youngsters. They will probably come good but it has been 4 long years.
    How are the Liverpool young players not being developed properly anyway? Surely winning the cups and leagues show that they are doing well against their peers from other clubs? And , as Ive already pointed out, several of them have been given little runs in the team to test the waters. We both mentioned Babel and he has started 13 times and come on as sub 20 times this season, several in big champ league games or , for instance , against Manu at home where he scored the winner. How many more games would you want this developing player to play?
    Degen, Voronin and a couple of others where free transfers for established international players. Its not Rafas fault Degen has been continually injured (I suppose you will blame his training regime for this though) and Voronin is now banging them in again in Germany which is pushing his transfer value up as we speak. Again players that were free that he has had to take a chance on and will , in Voronins case at least, make a profit on.
    As I said we are nearly in a position where we can spend our entire budget on one or two players and thats what I think will be happening. He couldnt risk the kids too much in our must win games before because we desperatly needed the champs league money to get where we are now.

  11. Real Madrid 0 V Liverpool F.C 1
    Liverpool F.C 4 v Real Madrid 0

    Number of Spanish players in the Madrid side = 3
    Number of Spanish players in the Liverpool side = 5

    Madrid have a 1st team squad of 28 players. 18 of which are foreign.

    Madrid 'B' have a squad of 26 of which only 9 are foreign.
    From this squad 10 players have been included in their CL squad. 9 of which are Spanish.

    Madrid 'C' which is effectively a reserve option for the 'B' team have provided 9 players, all of whom are Spanish.

    So their first team squad is 54 which contains 27 Spaniards. Thats half the squad. Yet we played them and had more Spanish players than they did.

    England play Spain and get a football lesson.
    The following day the traditional inquest takes place about resources, our lack of technical ability,quality of coaching etc.

    Which begs the questions. Why doesn't U.E.F.A run the rule over Madrid and their youth policy?
    Who is doing the better job with Spanish players. Liverpool F.C or Real Madrid?

  12. Jaimie Kanwar - You havent addresed any of the points made in the previous comments

  13. I will do soon - it's just a time issue. Cheers.

  14. Red Hatter - Is it not part of Benitez's job to ensure that the right people are in place to find good young talent and develop them properly? If the youth system is repeatedly failing to present Benitez with 'great' players, then surely he has to take some of the blame?

    Furthermore, is it not possible that if Benitez spends more time giving the younger players who *are* presented to him a more consistent chance in the team, they might rise to the challenge and show their worth.

    In any event, I disagree with the idea that the players are not good enough; and if they are, in fact, not good enough, then the Liverpool academy/scouting system is failing on a grand scale. and that needs to be addressed.

  15. Anonymous - I'm not suggesting that the squad be filled with young players, merely questioning why reserve players are:

    1. Ignored in favour of squad fillers like Voronin, Degen, Dossena et al

    2. Not given more chances in the first team (i.e. Carling Cup, FA Cup, when we're winning comfortably, meaningless CL games etc)

    3. Given one game and then don't play again for 6 months.

    4. Repeatedly sent on loan year after year but despite acquiring experience, still not given a chance in the first team.

    Yes, Babel has started a few games, but he's an £11m signing in his second season - surely with such a large outlay, we should be using Babel more effectively instead of as a bit part player?

    We don't need to spend our entire budget on one player - we should spend the £30 or so on one top quality player (£20m or so) and another quality, experienced player in the £10-£15 bracket.

    Money made from sales will top up the transfer pot and promising young players like Darby, Nemeth, Pacheco, insua etc can fill out the sqaud.

  16. You continue to ignore people when they come up with different conclusions to yourself.
    How is the youth policy failing exactly?
    Rafa cant be giving kids extended runs in the team as we cant risk losing too many games and not qualifying for the champs league ( or being knocked out of cups too early as we would again be slaughtered by everone and his cat). Look what happens everytime he plays someone like Lucas and the team doesnt perform. He gets slaughtered for not playing his strongest team. Johny Evans at Manu only plays when either Rio or Vidic is injured, he probably wouldnt have played even then if Wes Brown had been fit. We have excellent cover in nearly every position, making it harder for the kids to break through.
    Rafa has only just got full control of the youth system so you cant fully blame him for lack of talent coming through. Anyway, how many kids do you think exactly exist that can walk into the 1st team and hold down a place ahead of someone like Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano? They are the types of player someone like Spearing has to better to hold down a REGULAR ( as you keep insisting they should) starting spot. Its not necessarily that the kids arent good enough its just that they arent as good ( and at 20 yrs old shouldnt be expected to be) as the many excellent internationals that fill our team. But ,as has been said over and over again ( and you continue to ignore), if only a couple of the kids manage to break through after being bedded in slowly , ie. Insua, then the process is far from being a failure.
    And to your points above -
    Didnt you say a few comments above -
    2. Fill out the squad with players promoted from the reserves
    and then
    Anonymous - I'm not suggesting that the squad be filled with young players,
    I love the way you contradict yourself all the time to try and twist the arguement slightly.
    Are there really any "meaningless" champs league games? Didnt Spearing come on against Real anyway , or did I imagine that?
    If Silva is being quoted at £30mill who , in your opinion , can we get for £20mill that is better than what we already have? And ditto for 10-15? We were lucky to get Torres for 20 odd mill ,cant see many players of his quality going for such a price now.
    Nemeth would have broken through this year but has been struggling with injuries ( do a little research please)The other players you listed , and other young players, all have featured in squads throughout the year but you conviently forget that.

  17. What exactly have I ignored? Nothing. Clearly it is you who has not read my replies properly.

    How is the youth sytem failing?

    1. No young players established in the team in the last 10 years.

    2. Too many young players at the club, therefore creating unfair competition.

    3. No young players given a fair chance to establish themselves.

    4. Young players brought in for first team duty becoming bit-part players.

    5. Young players repeatedly being loaned out, gaining experience but *still* not getting a real chance.

    6. Squad fillers (Degen, Vorinin, Kromkamp etc) being acquired instead of promoting players from the reserve team to fill those places. This is clearly demotivating for youngsters.

    Rafa has only just gotten control of the youth team.

    What an utter cop-out! Rafa has been the manager for 5 years now - if her wanted to, he could've influenced the development of the club's young players in a far more positive way.

    Young players making the first team

    It's not a case of youngsters not being good enough to displace established internationals - it's about *giving youngters a consistent chance to make a breakthrough*. Using Insua is a poor example - is he established in the first team?! No. Is Spearing? Plessis? Nemeth? Do any of these players get regular pitch time under Benitez? NO.

    Is it possible they *could* be played more? YES.

    I'm not going to repeat myself any further. I accept your points but I don't see how Liverpool's youth policy can be considered to be anything but a failure.

    If it's been a success, please provide a list of examples why.

    Thanks :-)

  18. POST DELETED. This site is not set-up to make money. Do you see loads of ads everywhere?! Any money that does get generated from the ads that *are* on here will be donated to worthy LFC related causes, of which there are many.

  19. You do just keep repeating yourself and you do continue to ignore holes in your arguement. Nearly all of your points are the same - the fact that the youngsters arent getting a run in the team and a chance to establish themselves, even after going on loan.Does that sum it up or am I missing something?
    How can you give youngsters a CONSISTENT chance without displacing the current international playing in his position? And you continue to ignore the point that if we should lose many of the games the youngsters play in Liverpool would slip down the league missing out on champs league money ( which we need to spend on the experienced players that would then be taking up places that you want the youngsters to fill!!, see the flaws in your arguement yet?)
    You cant blame rafa for the last 10 yrs he has only been there for 5. Ok he may have been able to do something more in the 5 yrs he has been there but I dont know what was going on behind the scenes ( and neither do you), but why would he want full control if he was completely happy with how it was being run?
    Every big club is the same ( apart from Arsenal who havent won anything in 4 years), they play youngsters when they can or in Johny Evans case when they have no choice.
    I fail to see how Rafa has done any differently. He has had several youngsters in several squads throughout the year playing bit part roles to slowly build experience - how is that any different to any other big club? How many youngsters regularly ( because that is what you want to happen at Liverpool) play in the Manu or Chelsea 1st team? Nani cost 17mill ( nearly as much as Masch our 3rd most expensive signing ever!) he has only started 19 times and come on as a sub 5 times ,surley , using your logic, he should have played much more that this. At chelsea the situation is even worse.
    Could YOU provide me a list of where the other big clubs have done a better job of bringing through youngsters and playing them week in week out in the last 5 years ( so dont bring up Beckham and giggs which was over 10 years ago)
    You keep bringing up players like Kromkamp who we got in the 1st or second season in a swap deal for Josemi who was one of Rafas 1st signings. You cant seriously expect Rafa to play some yougsters from a reserve squad he knew little about and had had no hand in building?
    Every fan wants results now that is why every pundit insist that rafa plays his best team week in week out. That doesnt fit with playing kids regularly, you have to play the best players you can afford and if any kids happen to turn out to be world beaters ( which they have to be to compete in the top clubs) then that is just a bonus not the norm.
    I`m glad you are not going to repeat yourself any further ( bit of a cop out though) even though as far as i am concerned you still havent managed to convince me that rafa has done anything differently than any other big club.

  20. Anonymous - You need to try and see the difference between trying to convince someone and merely stating an alternate view. I am not trying to convince you of anything! You asked me questions, I answered.

    You keep saying I'm ignoring points, but you just go on and on without specifying WHAT. I've answered every point you've raised, either in this thread or in the other thread on the youth sitation.

    If I haven't, kindly do the following: List the points I've supposedly ignored in a numbered, easy to read list, like I did above.

  21. Yes but when you answer those questions you ignore pertinent information
    -You have ignored the fact Rafa hasnt had the luxury of buying one or two expensive, experienced players every year he has been there.
    -You gloss over that rafa has included in his squad and played as many youngsters as the other big clubs this season ( more in chelseas case). You make out as if no youngsters have appeared at all and all the other clubs are awash with kids.
    -you ignore that every fickle fan/pundit wants instant success and wont except anything but the best team playing week in week out.
    -you ignore the fact it took fergie 5 years to bring through giggs and 7 for the likes of Beckham and scholes to appear. Why then should Rafa be supposed to make it happen quicker when he has had less control than Fergie?
    -You gloss over the fact we have some really good players playing in every position. Youth coming through isnt something the big clubs necesarily have to rely on. They can buy the best young players to play in every position by, in our case, continued success in the champs league. If we dont do the same we will just slip further behind.So if anyone breaks through its a bonus.There arent that many top, top, quality youngsters anyway, that is why Manu have just spent 17odd mill on two youngsters from abroad , Fergie obviously wasnt happy with what he was seeing in his own setup.

  22. sorry one more you gloss over -
    How is the Liverpool youth system any more a failure than most other big clubs? Could YOU provide me a list of where the other big clubs have done a better job of bringing through youngsters and playing them week in week out in the last 5 years ( even 5 years is not really a fair comparison because they could have signed some kids 6 ,7, 8 years ago that have only just come through in the last five.)

  23. http://www.goal.com/en/news/9/england/2009/03/31/1184456/david-ngog-liverpool-switch-is-good-for-my-career

    Just trying to balance some of the negative quotes you took from young players who havent quite made it with some who are probably going to.
    I know you will say they are sucking up to Rafa or something but why should you dissmiss their comments and just except the others? Because they are negative?

  24. No answers to the comments above?

  25. hmmm still no reply

  26. I dont know, he asks for a list of points that he ignores, gets said list and .... ignores it!

  27. Anonymous - who is my target audience? Maybe you should ask the 10,000 people a day who visit the site? I really don't have time to go through this issue again - I've outlined thi same point repeatedly. Having said that, there will be an FAQ on the site soon that answers all these questions I keep getting asked.