Come 2.41pm last Saturday, it is possible Frank McParland and Rodolfo Borrell both felt a great sense of pride near the end of a bruising week for the pair. The Merseyside derby had just finished at Goodison Park, a frantic and fantastic 3-3 draw in which Jon Flanagan, a Liverpool youth product, excelled in an unfamiliar left-back role. It was a standout display and for McParland and Borrell, could not have been better timed coming only two days after they had been sacked as the club's respective academy director and academy technical director. Here, they were able to justifiably say, was proof of their good work.
It is now a week since the pair were dismissed and still no official explanation has been given for exactly why Liverpool's hierarchy decided to oust two respected and popular members of staff beyond a statement from Ian Ayre, the managing director, in which he spoke vaguely about the academy "moving in a new direction aligned to the overall aspirations of Liverpool Football Club". The void of information had led to rumours of a rift but those close to Anfield's inner-workings insist the departures are simply a case of Brendan Rodgers wanting his own men to have more influence over the youth structure.
As manager, Rodgers should look to organise Liverpool in a way that makes his ability to bring success to the club as easy and as likely as possible, and given his previous role as Chelsea's youth team manager, for which he received much praise, he obviously knows a thing or two about football at that level. With that mind, McParland and Borrell can reflect that the writing was probably on the wall when Rodgers brought in Alex Inglethorpe as the Under-21s manager in November 2012 and Neil Critchley as the Under-18s manager nine months later. Both are expected to be given greater authority as part of a restructuring of roles and responsibilities at Liverpool's academy, a state-of-the-art, sprawling complex located in Kirkby.
How that process transpires and bears fruit could ultimately be Rodgers' most significant legacy as Liverpool manager – he may not win any trophies or secure a return to the Champions League while in charge of the club, but should his changes at academy level prove successful then, long after he has left, Anfield regulars may witness one high-level homegrown product after another performing in red. Concern lies in the decision to get rid of McParland and Borrell at a time when Liverpool's youth setup appeared to be functioning better than had been the case for close to 20 years, when Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard were making the transition from prospects to superstars.
McParland, Borrell and former technical director Pep Segura themselves arrived at Liverpool's academy in 2009 as part of a major overhaul, instigated by the manager Rafael Benítez who, despite the club's success in the Youth Cup finals of 2006 and 2007, did not believe the youth setup was delivering the required results, seen by the fact that since Gerrard's first-team debut in November 1998, no other homegrown player had shown the necessary talent and temperament to establish themselves at that level.
With the former winger Steve Heighway nudged somewhat bitterly towards retirement in 2007 after nine years as academy director, and 17 of his fellow coaches also released, in came McParland, who had been chief scout under Benítez, and Segura and Borrell, both of whom had experience of working at Barcelona's much-lauded La Masia. "The programme introduced in 2009 is the Spanish way of playing," said McParland in an interview with the Guardian in September last year, "which is about pressing hard, keeping the ball and being very comfortable in possession. All the coaches work to that plan."
Those changes may not yet have delivered another bona fide star, but there can be little doubt they are having an effect given six academy players made their first-team debuts last season; with the impressive winger Jordon Ibe following in the footsteps of Suso, Andre Wisdom, Adam Morgan, Jerome Sinclair and Conor Coady. They themselves followed Martin Kelly, Jack Robinson, Flanagan and Raheem Sterling, who arrived at Kirkby from Queens Park Rangers aged 14 and under the guidance of McParland and his staff has developed into a full England international.
That Rogers has been willing to give so many academy players a chance at first-team level indicates he was happy with how the process was working in Kirkby (although some would suggest he had little choice given the paucity of talent in Liverpool's first-team squad on his arrival at Anfield in June 2012), with McParland certainly under the impression that the manager was content with the work being done behind the scenes.
"We have an established style in regards to how we play and fortunately it's not far away from what Brendan wants to do with the first team," said McParland last September. "I've had five or six meetings with him and he's always been positive about the players here. He is happy with our results and I am sure he will only want to influence that further."
Influence it he has but not in a manner McParland, who like Gerrard was raised in Huyton and has supported Liverpool since he was a child, would have envisaged 13 months ago. Then, he saw himself very much as a part of the club's long-term future. Now, alongside Borrell, he is a figure of the past.
Those of a critical nature could point to Sterling's general lack of progress in the past 12 months, alongside the fact that Robinson, Suso, Wisdom and Coady have all been sent on loan by Rodgers as proof that this current crop are falling short of the standard required at Premier League level.
Yet Flanagan's performance in last weekend's derby, Suso's consistently impressive displays for La Liga side Almería and last month's appearance by 16-year-old Harry Wilson for Wales in a World Cup qualifier against Belgium – making the Liverpool U18s midfielder his country's youngest player – would suggest Liverpool's academy are producing top-level talent and all they really need is time. That seems particularly the case with Sterling, who is undoubtedly a gifted player and, aged 18, is sure to get better and more consistent.
Rodgers wants change at youth level. That is his prerogative and during an era when Liverpool are struggling to compete for the very best talent at home and abroad due to their relative lack of financial might and total absence of Champions League football, it is appropriate that the manager takes a keen interest in the club's ability to produce its own stars.
Yet Rodgers is trying to fix something that was far from broken. It is a gamble, perhaps the riskiest move he will make during his Anfield reign. Seven days on from McParland and Borrell's departure, supporters, players and staff are still waiting to see exactly how he plans to shape a fundamental part of Liverpool's future, with some speculating he will appoint Tony Pennock, who has just left his role as head of youth at Swansea, Rodgers' former club. Whatever he does next, it is sure to form a significant part of his legacy as Liverpool manager.