Youth players at Liverpool were today stunned to be told that Academy head coach Rodolfo Borrell has been sacked, along with director Frank McParland, in what appears to be a strengthening of Brendan Rodgers’ position at the club.
Borrell, who was appointed in 2009 towards the Rafael Benitez era, is held in huge esteem by the Academy players, many of whom consider him to be a supremely good coach. McParland was also respected within the Kirkby training base as the individual who would enforce discipline when required.
But the two men’s departures after four years at the club, seems to have stemmed from their doubts about some aspects of the academy’s future direction, as it develops under Rodgers. Rodgers has influenced appointments to the Academy in the past six months, with Neil Critchley arriving from Crewe Alexandra to run the under-18s, after Steve Cooper’s contract was not renewed at the end of last season.
The deepening sense of division about the future direction led Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre to call McParland and Borrell into his office yesterday and tell them they were to be dismissed. The vacuum the decision creates potentially delivers more control to Rodgers’ to shape the culture and personnel of the Academy, which delivered no fewer than seven youngsters to their first team debuts last season. But that raises the question of how much control the manager actually ought to have over that side of the club.
Benitez famously sought to assume control of the academy, amid his own frustrations about its capacity to deliver first team players. But handing that type of control to the manager creates a problem about continuity if he then leaves. Rodgers’ was unwilling to take on the Liverpool job under a director of football, whose role would have been to provide a bridge between first team and Academy.
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 last season 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 was the one who "turned me from a boy to a man", Wisdom said.
The latest departures are the latest in a history of internal strife concerning the Academy. Benitez and Gerard Houllier were both at odds with former director Steve Heighway, concerning who should have control over youth football at the club. Heighway left in 2007.