Liverpool's sacked academy director, Frank McParland, is understood to have been told that the club's American owners decided he should be removed from his post, along with his head coach Rodolfo Borrell, in a move that strengthens Brendan Rodgers' control at the club.
Academy players were stunned to hear of the news of the dismissals of McParland and Borrell, who were appointed in 2009 in the Rafael Benitez era. Many of the players were huge enthusiasts for Borrell's coaching style, while McParland was also respected within the Kirkby training base as the individual who would enforce discipline when required.
McParland is understood to have had a growing sense of uncertainty about his job in recent days amid doubts about some aspects of the academy's future direction as it develops under the men Rodgers has wanted to see installed. Neil Critchley arrived from Crewe Alexandra to run the under-18s, after Steve Cooper's contract was not renewed at the end of last season, and Alex Inglethorpe, who is close to Rodgers, came from Tottenham Hotspur to become reserve-team manager, five months after Rodgers was appointed manager in 2012.
Though Rodgers initially insisted that Spaniard Borrell's thinking was "very similar to mine in the best way to educate and develop players" there does seem to have become a difference in philosophy, with the new arrivals possibly more attuned to Rodgers' ideas on player development. Borrell and McParland's perspective – dating from the Benitez era – is that player development requires physical and tactical dimensions, with more emphasis on winning games, as well as Rodgers' technical component.
Rodgers was unwilling to discuss the removal of McParland or Borrell at his press conference ahead of Saturday's Goodison derby. Asked if the removal of the two men demonstrated that he wanted a greater influence at the Kirkby establishment, he said: "I have been heavily involved [in the academy]. My first [priority] is with youth, whether it's players or staff. A lot of my life has been spent in youth development. I understand all facets of academy development. That's something that will never change."
There is no truth in rumours that Borrell, who coached at Barcelona before Benitez moved for him on the recommendation of his own trusted associate Pep Seguro, might be destined for Manchester City, which has a strong Spanish element under chief executive Ferran Soriano. The timing of the dismissals is surprising, with no apparent plan in place to restructure things. Borrell and McParland's departures leave managing director Ian Ayre as the sole remnant of the George Gillett/Tom Hicks era.
Benitez ascribes huge value to the coaching role Borrell has played at Kirkby and is also a huge enthusiast for McParland, who has remained in contact with the Spaniard since his departure from Anfield. Andre Wisdom, one of those who graduated from the academy to the first team last season, told The Independent then that Borrell was his mentor and that the Spaniard's low profile belied his huge role. He exhorted Wisdom, Conor Coady, Suso, Raheem Sterling and others to move the ball fast when they could, but to play a different, more physical way when required. Borrell "turned me from a boy to a man", Wisdom said.
The departures are the latest in a history of internal strife concerning the academy. Benitez and Gérard Houllier were both at odds with the former director Steve Heighway concerning who should have control over youth football at the club. Heighway left in 2007.
Rodgers said it had not been "ideal" that the England manager, Roy Hodgson, chose to play Daniel Sturridge, who had been struggling with a thigh injury, for 90 minutes against Germany on Tuesday, four days before Saturday's lunchtime fixture. "It's not ideal if you haven't trained. When you see Daniel – and I have worked with him for a number of months – I know when he's at his best: that's when he has been training regularly and playing games." Sturridge and the other England players did not train today.