Dave Davis interviewed former Liverpool U23s coach Michael Beale and current Sao Paolo assistant manager and asked him some great questions.
Under Jürgen Klopp, youth development has been a notable priotity and the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Woodburn and Ovie Ejaria have all excelled. The German manager was well-known for placing a lot of emphasis on promoting the youth at Borussia Dortmund and it’s no different at Liverpool.
While Klopp is rightly praised for his progressive coaching philosophies, his work is only made possible by being surrounded by talented coaching staff.
One such man is former U23 coach Michael Beale, who spent the 2016/17 season as Sao Paolo’s assistant manager, working under Rogerio Ceni in Brazil.
Rousing the Kop’s Dave Davis contacted Beale and organised the interview, which the former Liverpool coach graciously agreed to.
It’s been a big 12 months for yourself and some change of scenery. What does an average day at Sao Paolo involve?
A typical day in São Paulo would see me leaving home around 6.30am to arrive at the training ground before 7.15am. The staff will have breakfast together and then a short meeting to re-confirm the day’s player availability and training. Our training will start at 9am until 11am. I will then have a shower and take lunch.
The afternoons are organised depending on our schedule for the next game and can consist of video meetings, individual player meetings, coaching meetings about players or tactics etc. Usually, I will arrive home around 6pm and then still have time to play with my two children or go as a family to a local restaurant. The lifestyle is very relaxed and we are very comfortable in São Paulo.
We know you met on a coaching course, but how did Rogério Ceni sell the role to you?
Rogerio actually visited Liverpool academy and watched me coach. We began a friendship from this original trip and it was a few months later that he offered me the opportunity to come to São Paulo.
He didn’t need to sell the football club to me or the experience of living and coaching in Brazil. It was more the vision he had for the club and the role he wanted me to play on a daily basis. This was a very short and simple meeting. We agreed very quickly and I am happy I made the choice to come here.
What would you say the biggest difference between working in England and Brazil is?
In regards to training, there is very little difference. We work in a similar way and with the same intensity on the training field. One big difference has been the volume of games (one every three days) and that has been difficult for the players and staff to maintain the levels that we are capable of. For Rogerio, in his first job as a head coach, he is learning fast.
You know Alex Inglethorpe well. He’s extended his contract at Liverpool and we often see him and Jürgen Klopp in discussion at Kirby. What’s their working relationship like?
A very strong relationship with Alex and his staff focused on the young players’ development. The club has a strong reputation for the youth philosophy and as the boys get to the U18s and U23s then this method is modified a little to include some ideas from the manager. This is healthy for the long term future of Liverpool.
Alex is outstanding at what he does and has overseen a number of exciting changes at the academy with the return of Steve Heighway and Steven Gerrard. This ensures that the Academy is developing strongly and also keeping close links to the local area and examples of the past.
Will the manager make any demands of coaches or is he ‘hands off’?
It’s difficult for me to comment now as I left 6 months ago. But, Jürgen and his extended staff were always very supportive of the academy and have shown this with how the boys have been given opportunities to train at Melwood and make debuts
He is a very good manager for an academy to have.
As an U23 coach, I tried hard to implement his style with the U23 players as they were the players closest to the first team squad. But alongside this, we also had to continue with each player’s individual development areas in order to try and get them to the level of the Melwood players. So we had two key focuses in our work.
With your experience, you’re better placed than most to answer: is there a shortage of British talent as suggested?
No – there is a shortage of opportunities for players to progress at the last stage of their development from the U23 to the first team. I have been very fortunate to work at Chelsea and Liverpool for over 15 years and visited many international tournaments and seen the best players across the world in youth football.
In England, we actually have very good talent. Just a very difficult pathway to the Premier League. It’s harder here in England than anywhere in the world. We must create a solution to this problem – when I say “we”, I mean the adults as we have to open more doors for the young players and give them a platform to shine.
How does the coaching of players differ between that U18s and U23 age group?
The age is a big factor as the U18s can often have 16-year-olds playing in the team while the U23 can have senior players dropping in from time to time.
The U18s is really about learning how to become a full-time player, getting used to training each day, developing your body in the gym, your understanding of becoming a professional footballer. Basically a trainee like in any industry.
By the time you are an U23, you are at the next stage and now very close to the first team training, demands and expectations. At this stage, we often have to manage a players pathway and make decisions on loans, first team training and integration from Kirkby to Melwood.
Your good friend Pep Lijnders is now first-team development coach, having previously worked at the academy. Have you talked to him about how it differs?
Not really, if I’m honest. We are very close friends but we just spent our time together talking about players and how we could help them. We are both very obsessive and live football 24/7. We are both very positive people and we try to be a guide for the young players.
Our job was to provide a smooth bridge between Kirkby and Melwood. We would talk about key areas or personality traits that Jürgen Klopp likes to see in young players and how we could develop this more in the ones that didn’t have it. Pepijn is very important to Liverpool in this aspect. He has a big future ahead and I am proud of him.
Do you think he’ll look to go into management in the future?
I think so – but only when the time is right and with a club that matches his beliefs. He has time, he is learning a lot with Jürgen and his staff and I know that he is enjoying this very much.
Steven Gerrard now has a confirmed role for next season in the youth set-up. Has he spoken to you for any tips?
No – I had left before Steven came into the club. That was a disappointment for me personally as I would have really enjoyed the experience of listening to his advice on my coaching and helping him in any way with his development. I have heard very good things from the staff at the academy about how he has approached his work. It’s exciting to see how it develops for him.
Stevie picked out Trent Alexander-Arnold and Herbie Kane as ones to watch in his autobiography. Who do you think could eventually become a regular first team player?
Well, Trent has already made his debut and continues to impress. Herbie has had a tough year with injury but – he is a player that I really like and a boy that has a great character and never say die attitude on the pitch. It’s a big year for him next year to step forward and show his talent.
Chelsea, Liverpool, Sao Paolo. Everything goes to plan exactly as you want, where are you in five years?
Who knows! I have to continue developing every day and being the best I can be. I’m determined to not sit in a comfort zone and to challenge myself by learning more about coaching, cultures and people each day. I have a plan – but it’s more linked to learning experiences than specific jobs.
In the past, I have turned down opportunities to be a manager in the football league as I didn’t think it was a right fit for me and my vision on the game. For me, to become a manager, it must be at a club that has a solid vision and is also linked to development. Otherwise, I will stay as a youth coach.
Final question, you can change any one thing about youth football. What would it be?
I would like to see some rules placed on the number of foreign players at each club. I don’t think it will ever happen, but I would restrict each club to just 12 overseas players in the PL squad of 25. A dream that may never come true. But, I believe strongly in young people and think this drastic change will give us a chance to redefine ourselves as a football nation.