The world-famous Liverpool FC Academy is considered to be one of the best places for nurturing young footballing talent in the world. It has produced a vast number of players who have gone on to become legends of the game, including Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, and Jamie Carragher. Indeed, the players that came up through the club in the 1990s were an exceptional crop of footballers who went on to become huge stars at Anfield. But the following decade produced players that never made it for the Reds. In particular, there were some promising Spaniards who never got a chance. Here we take a look at what happened to those forgotten Spanish youth players of the 2000s.
When Suso joined Liverpool from Cadiz, he was initially signed to the youth academy of the Merseyside club. This was because he was only 16 at the time, and needed to wait until his seventeenth birthday in order to earn a permit to play for them professionally. The Spaniard’s skills weren’t honed in the academy for long, though, as he went straight into the reserves. Suso had to wait two years for his call-up to the senior side, and he started in the Europa League against Young Boys under the management of Jürgen Klopp’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers. The Northern Irishman was highly impressed with the silky skills of the youngster, and there was a time when he was being touted as the future of the club. However, Suso only made 14 appearances for the first team before being loaned out to Almeria in 2013 and then sold to Milan in 2015. Interestingly, some reports are suggesting that Klopp could look to bring the attacker back following his successful spell in Serie A. This may come to fruition if Liverpool fail to hold on to Philippe Coutinho in the January transfer window.
While Suso had to change country to find success, Daniel Ayala switched to a different division. Ayala had spent two years in the Liverpool youth academy between 2007 and 2009. He only went on to make five senior appearances for the club, though. After a few loan spells at various sides including Hull City, Ayala signed for Norwich City in 2011. His time with the Canaries was brief, and he ultimately joined Middlesbrough in 2014, where he became a key component of the backline at the Riverside Stadium. The Spaniard played a crucial role in Boro’s promotion success in the 2015-16 campaign, playing 34 games and scoring three goals. This season, however, Ayala has only played ten matches in the second tier under Garry Monk. After starting the season as one of the favourites to return to the Premier League, Boro aren’t threatening as fiercely as some had expected. As of December 15, Monk’s charges can be backed at 5/1 with Betway to win promotion. But perhaps by using Ayala’s experience more, the northeast club would stand a better chance. After all, the central-defender has helped Boro to promotion in the past under Aitor Karanka.
Miki Roque’s story is, without doubt, the saddest one of the Liverpool Spaniards from the noughties. Roque showed great promise when he joined Liverpool’s academy at the age of seventeen, and at the time his fellow countryman Rafa Benitez was in the hot seat at Anfield. Despite coming on for Xabi Alonso in Liverpool’s Champions League tie against Galatasaray in 2006, Roque failed to break into a Reds team, which was packed full of world-class talent at the time. His career began to get going in 2009 when he signed for the Real Betis reserve team, later moving up to the senior side. Tragically, the centre-back was diagnosed with pelvic cancer in 2011, and died at the age of 23 in 2012.
Liverpool fans are left wondering what could have been, had these players continued at the club and made names for themselves there. The fact of the matter is, though, that the academy produces a lot of players that never make it. While there have been some gems, the competitive nature of football means that some players will never reach the same heights as others like Gerrard and Owen.