Sunday, October 21, 2012

Shelvey, Suso and Sterling: Liverpool's future

Liverpool's three years of struggle has been not only documented but celebrated. In fact, their primacy over much of English football's history means that the rebuilding efforts of 2012-13 are providing not only column inches, but also the can't-look-away-car-wreck Hard Knocks clone, Being: Liverpool.

The stilted attempt at a fly's-view series has attempted several times to conjur interest where, simply, there is none. The result is that the combination is mildly irritating and yet another rod with which to beat the Reds. Downplayed so far in the farcical docudrama has been the role that the three youngest members of Liverpool's first-team squad (Suso, Shelvey and Sterling) have to play in the rebuilding and rebranding of Liverpool led by the confusing psyche of Brendan Rodgers.

Raheem Sterling is perhaps the best youngster to emerge from the Liverpool youth ranks since poster boy Steven Gerrard. The Jamaica-born tyro has been the brightest of Red spots since being thrust into the starting lineup; it was his goal that earned the Reds a 1-0 win against promoted Reading on Saturday. Shelvey has emerged alongside Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin as the future of a three-man midfield, while Suso adds bite to a lineup that last year seemed very one-paced.

After a start to the season best described as a disheveled, the alliterative trio have been the semi-precious stones – if not diamonds – in Rodgers' rough. The plastic quality that comes with youth has meant that the younger Liverpool players have adapted best to Rodgers' multiform gameplan. There's nothing (much) to be unlearnt. If Rodgers is given time – and indications are that he will be – then this trio should be the offensive trident around which the Reds are based.

The most appealing story around this Liverpool team has been their combative youth and how it has manifested organically into positive steps. Suso, Sterling and Shelvey all came to the club in their teens and have had the opportunity to grow into potential superstars. This is in direct contrast to the modus operandi employed by Rodgers' predecessor Kenny Dalglish, who flung money at flops Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and, most notably, Andy Carroll.

Just as amateur gardeners tell you that their own produce always tastes better, there's something instinctively pleasant about a club emerging behind home-grown youth. You could argue many of the world's most attractive and successful teams developed naturally and without artifice: Borussia Dortmund, Fergie's Fledglings, Barcelona and ultimately Spain have all benefited from prudent investment that didn't overrun youth development.

Time to develop and instinctively problem-solving the optimal expressions of their gifts in a system placed above the player develops a gestalt creation of interoperability, a unit where understanding evolves naturally rather than being inserted by screaming coaches. It's early days, but the promise of Sterling, Suso and Shelvey offers this chance to the red half of Merseyside.

It's also fortunate that we've got the artificial opposite brewing in West London. QPR boast more talent than anyone outside the top six yet the whole has never felt even the sum of its gifted parts; they're a concoction of tantalising ingredients (and Armand Traore) that hasn't even approached the sum of its parts. The components grind uneasily against one another and the club looks to be staring down at an embarrassing relegation.

There are – of course – exceptions. Real Madrid features two (ish) players who played for the club's youth setup and it's common knowledge that only Micah Richards, Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart pre-date Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City. Both teams won their respective leagues last season; the construct that is Paris Saint-Germain looks likely to do the same in Ligue 1 this term. That said, however, both City and PSG have struggled to create a definite identity, while strength of will alone has prevented similar grumblings in the Spanish capital.

We reside in the time of the Team of Champions; but this doesn't mean the end of the Champion Team. In part because of their need to rely on their fledglings, Liverpool are highly unlikely to finish in the top four this year; but that doesn't mean that they won't be worth watching.

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