by Richard Buxton. Published Thu 20 Jan 2011 13:36
Kenny Dalglish today paid tribute to Rafael Benitez for his part in reviving Liverpool's youth academy.
Conor Coady and Suso, two mainstays of the current under-17 squad, were being familiarised with Melwood, the club's training ground, this week as part of plans to blood more youngsters, from the previously ailing centre of excellence in Kirkby, into the senior ranks in the long-term
Kirkby underwent a significant transformation in the summer of 2009 when Benitez, then manager of the Reds, enlisted the services of Rodolfo Borrell and Pep Segura - key figures in Barcelona's La Masia academy set-up.
In addition to recruiting his compatriots, the Spaniard also brought one-time chief scout Frank McParland back to his former club to oversee the progression of Liverpool's rising stars.
And Dalglish has hailed Benitez, who left the club acrimoniously last summer, for his efforts in restoring the Anfield production line following more than a decade of decline.
He said: "I wouldn't go and say there are any kids who played in the Youth Cup against Crystal Palace are going to be first team [yet] but the progress at the Academy in the last year and a half has been absolutely fantastic.
"That's great credit to Rafa who brought in Pep Segura, Rodolfo Borrell and Frank McParland. He reorganised the whole Academy and you can see the benefit in the kids now. It's fantastic to see.
"The reserve team's average age has been drastically reduced. Whether we get them through or not, we'd never put that pressure on them, but we're clearly encouraged by the work that's being done there and it's a work in progress."