- Premier League
Academy products a top priority for Liverpool
Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has declared it vital that the club continue to bring through local youngsters in the manner of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.
Carragher, 35, brought his 16-year Anfield first-team career to an end when he retired following the final Premier League game of the season against Queens Park Rangers on May 19, while club captain Gerrard, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday, is still going strong for Liverpool 15 years after making his debut.
Both graduated through the club's youth set-up to become England internationals, and Ayre sees that local link as a key part of the Reds' future.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has given first-team debuts to five former youth teamers this season - Conor Coady, Andre Wisdom, Jerome Sinclair, Adam Morgan and Jordon Ibe - along with talented foreign signings like Suso and Samed Yesil.
Of those seven, Coady and Morgan are Liverpool born and bred, with the remaining five players brought in from other clubs' youth programmes to finish their development on Merseyside.
Spaniard Suso came in from home-town club Cadiz, Dusseldorf-born Yesil from Bayer Leverkusen, South Londoner Ibe from Wycombe, Birmingham-born Sinclair from West Brom and Leeds-born Wisdom from Bradford City.
Ayre sees finding the best young talent from around the world as an important part of the Liverpool youth set-up's work under academy director Frank McParland, but is keen to see local players make the breakthrough too.
He told the Liverpool Echo: "Jamie epitomises what we're trying to achieve at the academy. He came all the way through the system from the age of nine and was a wonderful servant to the club. Jamie and Steven are the two best examples of what Frank turns up for work for every day.
"We've seen the likes of Martin Kelly, Jon Flanagan and Jack Robinson come through in recent years and we want other local lads to carry that on.
"I've been watching Liverpool since about 1965 and I can't remember a Liverpool team which didn't have a Scouser in it. I hope that never happens. They have to be good enough but hopefully there will always be local players in there."
Ayre says that the academy, which costs between £6 million and £7 million a year to run, is central to the plans of owners Fenway Sports Group to make Liverpool title contenders again.
"It's a big investment but it's money well spent," Ayre said. "Both John Henry and Tom Werner have been to the academy and they see it as a pipeline to success.
"You can't really put a price on it. How do you put a price on the contribution we've had over the years from Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher?
"The owers are hugely supportive and see great value in the work that's done at the academy."