WELSH PREMIER FOOTBALL

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LIVERPOOL'S FA Youth Cup winning sides of 2006 and 2007 had the world at their feet.

They were a cocktail of power, pace, technique and finishing ability which inebriated Manchester City in the 2006 final and then beat Manchester United to retain the trophy the following year.

Yet, with the arrival of defender Michael Burns at Gap Connah's Quay last week, three members of that squad are now plying their trade a long way from their original field of dreams, in the Welsh Premier League.

Goalkeeper Dave Roberts played in the second leg defeat of City and then starred in the penalty shoot-out in front of 24,347 fans at Old Trafford a year later. Shortly afterwards, he was at Bangor City and, after a spell at Weymouth, joined Aberystwyth in August 2008.

He has gone on to make 155 Welsh Premier appearances with the Black & Greens, Newtown and his current club Prestatyn and played in the Seasiders' Europa League ties against Metalurgs and Rijeka.

Burns featured in both legs of the Reds' win over United but, like so many of his team mates, never made it into the first team, playing for Bolton Wanderers reserves before a brief Football League cameo with Carlisle United.

Ryan Wignall, who recently signed for Airbus UK Broughton, was one of the brightest talents at Anfield and also a member of the victorious Liverpool youth squad, although he did not appear in the finals. 

He was a regular in the reserve side before being released and, after spells with AFC Liverpool and Cammell Laird, signed a full-time contract with Belgian side Royal Racing FC Montegnee. Wignall also played for Wimborne Town and Burscough before joining Conwy Borough last summer.

It is an old adage that you can’t win anything at senior level with kids, but kids who have developed correctly over three years in the right environment are a different matter. 

Maybe Liverpool youth manager Steve Heighway did not really care about development, merely building a team capable of winning the FA Youth Cup.

Short term reward, long term risk

It was a short term reward, long term risk strategy and it's a lesson for academy coaches everywhere, because it’s a risk that did not pay off. 

It seems there was no plan for the class of 2006 and 2007 to develop into the stars of tomorrow; it seems there was not even a plan to make them decent squad players.

Blogger Kristian Walsh says: "It created a rip in the timeline, a gap in the squad that was filled by youngsters already developed at other clubs.

The idea that the shiny trophy in the club museum should be the legacy is what sees goalkeeper Dave Roberts at Prestatyn Town.

"The culture of the club was to blame: the idea that the shiny trophy in the club museum should be the legacy - not the development of the squad - is what sees goalkeeper Dave Roberts at Prestatyn Town and Paul Barratt coaching in Jakarta."

The most successful member of the youth ranks at Anfield was Jay Spearing, who appeared in the 2007 final victory over Manchester United and went on to make 55 appearances in all competitions for the Reds, before being loaned to Bolton.

The only other members of the squad to make it into the first team ranks at Anfield were Steven Irwin, who made only a handful of appearances before joining Finnish outfit FF Jaro, and captain and right back Stephen Darby, who made one appearance and is now at Bradford City. 

Jack Hobbs played twice in a Red shirt and has since carved a successful Football League career with Leicester City, Hull and Nottingham Forest while Adam Hammill (Huddersfield) and Paul Anderson (Ipswich) have also succeeded in the pro ranks.

Football destiny

But the football destiny of the remaining young Reds has been varied and, in one case, tragic.

Miki Roque sadly died of pelvic cancer in 2012 after returning to his native Spain via a brief spell at Oldham Athletic. Ryan Flynn went on the play for Wrexham, Ben Parsonage at AFC Liverpool, while Michael Nardiello is now at Tiverton Town and Craig Lindfield at Chester.

Josh Mimms' dreams seemed about to be realised when Liverpool officials suddenly arrived at Rotherham United asking about their 15-year-old youth team goalie.

Rafa Benitez and his staff liked what they saw and persuaded him that Anfield would be the football dynasty best suited to his athletic talents.

But, five years later, Mimms, whose father made 477 Premier League and Football League starts, was working in sales for the 02 mobile phone company and keeping goal for non-league minnows Retford United, a long way from the glamorous professional footballer's lifestyle that he, and the majority of his youthful Anfield colleagues, craved so much and failed to realise.

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27 July 2017

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