A number of Liverpool players were named in FourFourTwo’s Top 100 Young Players of 2001 – but the list has not aged we’ll
Liverpool’s academy has produced some incredible players during the Premier League era.
Steven McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen, and Steven Gerrard famously all starred for the Reds after bursting onto the scene in the nineties, while the likes of Dominic Matteo and David Thompson also broke through at the same time.
Fast forward to the present day and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones, and Caoimhin Kelleher are vital members of Jurgen Klopp’s first team squad after graduating from the Academy, while the likes of Harvey Elliot and Stefan Bajcetic snapped up for the youth ranks during their mid-teens.
And the Academy conveyor belt is showing no signs of slowing down, with the likes of Ben Doak, Bobby Clark, Conor Bradley, and Jarell Quansah all hoping to be the next players to take decisive first team steps.
However, the Reds’ academy hasn’t always been the ‘gold mine’ it is today. Throughout the noughties, it was regularly rued how Gerrard remained the last graduate to become a key first team player.
Considering how fruitful the nineties had been, mentioned alongside Manchester United’s class of ‘92, onlookers were baffled at Liverpool’s failure to unearth the next Gerrard, Owen, or Carragher. In the end it took multiple changes behind the scenes, overseen by the likes of Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers, before the Reds truly got back on path under Klopp.
But that didn’t prevent Liverpool from boasting a number of highly-rated youngsters that ultimately didn’t quite live up to expectations during their barren run. And FourFourTwo’s list of the 100 best players in world football in 2001 demonstrates this extremely well.
Six Reds players featured in the list, with all placing in the top 40 and two in the top 10. Meanwhile, three future Liverpool players would make up the top five, with one future academy signing taking their overall contingent to 10. Yet, looking back, only one of those can actually claim to have actually been one of the best stars of their generation.
A number of the greatest players of the 21st century feature among the list. But when you consider 2007 Ballon d’Or winner Kaka, who lifted both the World Cup and Champions League during his illustrious playing career, only placed 95th, you have an idea about the direction we’re about to take.
Congratulations, Kaka! Back in 2001, you were rated higher than Alexander Hleb, David Prutton, Erdal Kilicaslan, Daniyel Cimen, and Benjamin Auer! Don’t worry, we can’t recall that latter trio either. Alas, Shaun Maloney and Kieran Richardson both placed higher than the legendary Brazilian in places 100-91.
Breaking into the eighties, we have our first future Liverpool player. Ramon Calliste. Then of Manchester United, he won the FA Youth Cup with the club in 2003 but left the Red Devils for the Reds in 2005 and was the reserves’ top goalscorer in 2005/06.
The Welshman joined Scunthorpe United after just one season, on the advice of national team manager John Toshack, but badly dislocated his ankle in his first pre-season. That injury ensured he could never live up to his early potential and forced him to walk away from the game.
Working our way down the list, you can spot the recognisable names of Dimitar Berbatov at 82nd, Michael Essien at 78th, and Championship Manager legend Cherno Samba at 71st!
Liverpool were actually once in talks to sign the striker from Millwall, even tabling a £1.5m bid only to fail to agree a deal with the Lions. The move fell through and Samba never lived up to his potential, with that collapsed transfer to Anfield ultimately sending him on a downward spiral.
Samba would eventually move to Spanish side Cadiz, later spending time with Malaga B, Plymouth Argyle, Wrexham, Haka, Panetolikos and FK Tonsberg before injury forced a premature retirement when just 29 years old in July 2015.
Moving on and Matteo Brighi, then of Juventus, is next on the list in 70th. Another video game legend, he was bizarrely the highest-rated player in FIFA 2003 with an incredible rating of 97. Ronaldo (Brazilian, not Cristiano), is the only player in the history of the game to ever be rated higher than EA. Curiously, not in 2002/03 though, despite just starring at the World Cup and winning that year’s Ballon d’Or.
That’s right, Lionel Messi and Ronaldo (Cristiano, not Brazilian) are ‘worse’ than Brighi, from a certain point of virtual view. Anyway, Juventus would sell the midfielder to Parma that same summer as injuries ensured he never lived up to his potential. Spotting a recurring theme here? Anyway, we digress…
There are a few recognisable names between 70th and 40th, with Joaquin of Real Betis in 42nd easily the most successful, but you can check out the full list at the bottom of the article if you want the full yesteryear experience.
Which brings us to our first then Liverpool player! Chris Kirkland placed 38th! Not bad for a goalkeeper who was tipped to be a future England number one.
Signing from Coventry City in a £6m deal in September 2001, he became the most expensive goalkeeper in British transfer history, at only 20 years old. However, injuries would ultimately derail his time at Anfield.
Making 45 appearances in five years, he was part of the side that won the Champions League in 2005 and had actually ousted Jerzy Dudek as first-choice under Benitez earlier that season. Yet a back injury ensured he missed the second half of that campaign and missed the final.
Permanent moves to Wigan Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday, Preston North End, and Bury followed before he retired in 2016 after a four-year battle with depression. Thankfully, Kirkland is in a better place these days, is a regular in the Anfield press box and works closely with the LFC Foundation.
Strikers Dean Ashton and Zlatan Ibrahimovic placed 36th and 35th respectively, with Gareth Barry 31st. If not for a stubborn Martin O’Neill and Aston Villa, we’d have another Liverpool representative.
But then edging in ahead of Jermain Defoe, we have the Reds’ next then-player to make the cut in defender Gregory Vignal. The Frenchman made 20 appearances for the Reds after joining the club in September 2000, and enjoyed an extended run in the starting XI at the beginning of the 2001/02 season.
However, a fractured foot derailed his progress and ruled him out of the season. After a number of loan moves, he joined Portsmouth in 2005, and had stints with Lens, Birmingham City, Atromitos, Dundee United, and AS Beziers before retiring in 2013. Now a coach, he was appointed assistant manager at FC Versailles earlier this summer.
Skimming over the likes Arjen Robben, Maicon, and Ricardo Quaresma, Milan Baros takes 21st in FourFourTwo’s list. Signed from Banik Ostrava for £3.2m in 2002, the striker burst onto the scene at Anfield in the 2002/03 season as he scored a respectable 12 goals.
Recovering from a broken ankle suffered in September 2003, he won the Golden Boot at Euro 2004 as Czech Republic reached the semi-finals, before finishing as Liverpool’s leading goalscorer in the 2004/05 season with 13 goals as they won the Champions League.
That wasn’t enough to retain his place in Benitez’s plans though, as he was sold to Aston Villa in a £6.5m deal. Moves to Lyon and Galatasaray, and Antalyaspor followed, before injury forced his retirement in 2020 after a number of stints back in his native Czech Republic.
Into the top 20 now. The big leagues, and what a start with Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta placed 20th. Six places ahead of him we have our next Liverpool entrant – John Welsh.
Once tipped to be a ‘next Gerrard’, Welsh never lived up to such hype. He made just 10 appearances for the Reds before being traded with Hull City for young winger Paul Anderson in January 2006.
Permanent stints with Tranmere Rovers, Preston North End, and Grimsby Town followed, with Welsh spending the majority of his playing career as a League One midfielder, before he dropped into non-league with Atherton Collieries and Stafford Rangers. He is now a professional development phase (U18 and U16) coach back at Preston North End.
Into the top 10 and French cousins Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama-Pongolle are ranked ninth and seventh respectively. In 2001 they had already been signed by Liverpool after starring at the FIFA Under-17s World Cup, but remained on loan at Le Havre for two more years.
Officially moving to Anfield in 2003, both would play their part in the Reds’ run to winning the Champions League in 2005 but ultimately never lived up to early expectations. Le Tallec made 32 appearances for the club, scoring once, before returning to France permanently with Le Mans in 2008 after a number of loan moves away.
Stints with Auxerre and Valenciennes followed, suffering relegation with both, before moves to Greece and Romania with Atromitos and Astra Giurgiu. He’d then return to France with Orleans, before finishing his career with Annecy in 2021.
As for Pongolle, he fared slightly better. Scoring nine goals in 65 appearances for Liverpool, the one-time France international left for La Liga in 2006 and impressed with Recreativo de Huelva and Atletico Madrid. However, his fortunes flailed after an unsuccessful move to Sporting Lisbon.
Consequently, he’d take in Russia, USA, Scotland and Thailand with spells at Rostov, Chicago Fire, Dundee United, and Chainat Hornbill, before finishing his career back in France with Saint-Pierroise in 2019.
Stepping over Rafael van der Vaart in sixth, we’re now into the top five with three future Liverpool players still to feature! Imagine the excitement now if FourFourTwo did a 2023 version of the list, and you were told three of the top five would move to Anfield within the next six years?!
Anyway, Jermaine Pennant takes fifth spot. Then of Arsenal, the troubled winger, joined Liverpool from relegated Birmingham City in a £6.7m deal in July 2006, little over a year after serving 30 days in prison for drink-driving, driving while disqualified and driving without insurance.
Making 81 appearances, recording three goals and 17 assists, in two and a half seasons, he initially impressed at Anfield and was the Reds’ star player when they lost the 2007 Champions League final to AC Milan. But then he eventually fell out with Benitez.
He was loaned to Portsmouth in January 2009 after a switch to Real Madrid collapsed, and then joined Real Zaragoza on a free transfer the following summer. Returning to the Premier League with Stoke City, stints with Pune City, Wigan Athletic, Tampines Rovers, and Bury followed before he finished his career with non-league Billericay Town.
Now for the highest-placed genuinely world class player who won the Champions League, World Cup, and European Championships. It’s Liverpool cult hero Fernando Torres!
The Spaniard became the Reds’ record signing when bought for £20m from Atletico Madrid in 2007, and for three years was the best striker on the planet as he scored an incredible 81 goals from 142 appearances. But then injuries took hold, and he controversially left for Chelsea in a £50m deal in January 2011.
Unable to recover his best form at Stamford Bridge, despite winning a number of trophies, he rejoined Atletico Madrid in January 2015 after a brief stint with AC Milan. And after a respectable enough time back in Spain with his boyhood club, reaching the Champions League final in 2016 and winning the Europa League in 2018, he retired in 2019 after two seasons with Japanese side Sagan Tosu.
Brazilian Leandro Bonfim, then of PSV Eindhoven, takes third spot. Nope, us neither. And Andres D’Alessandro of River Plate finished second. Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth once had him on loan back in 2006, but most of his career was spent in South America.
Which brings us to first spot on this 100-man list and FourFourTwo’s best young player in 2001. For those keeping track, you’ll have realised it’s a future Liverpool player too.
And a Reds record signing too, no less. Lord of the Manor of Frodsham, it’s the one and only Djibril Cisse!
Liverpool signed the Frenchman for a club-record £14m from Auxerre in 2004. But while he’d win the Champions League, FA Cup, and European Super Cup with the Reds, having been signed by Gerard Houllier, he struggled to ever fully convince Benitez, with his first of two broken legs, suffered against Blackburn Rovers in October 2004, derailing him before he’d even had a chance to truly begin at Anfield.
Recovering in time to score in the penalty shoot-out win against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final, he also scored in the FA Cup final win over West Ham United to take his Reds total to 24 goals from 82 games. But it proved to be his last game for the club as he was offloaded to Marseille, initially on loan, in the summer of 2006.
Returning to the Premier League with Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers, either side of stints with Panathinaikos and Lazio, he finished his senior career in Switzerland with Yverdon-Sport after spells with Kuban Krasnodar, Bastia, and Saint-Pierroise.
He has attempted to come out of retirement with AC Vicenza and Panathinaikos Chicago, but despite a number of pleas to top-flight French sides to sign him up so he can try to score the four goals he needs to record 100 goals in Ligue 1, the 42-year-old is yet to enjoy one last hurrah.
Another not to live up to FourFourTwo’s high hopes, maybe it would have been different for Cisse if not for those two horrific broken legs?
So, at the end of an ultimately pointless exercise as we head into the September international break, what have we learned? Essentially, take nothing for granted. Just because a player is highly-rated as a youngster, that is by no means a guarantee they will enjoy a career as a world-beater.
Fortunately for Liverpool though, their Academy is a little more accomplished these days than compared to the early-noughties when these former starlets were being tipped for greatness.
FourFourTwo’s Top 100 Young Players of 2001
100. Alexander Hleb (VfB Stuttgart)
99. David Prutton (Nottingham Forest)
98. Erdal Kilicaslan (Bayern Munich)
97. Daniyel Cimen (Eintracht Frankfurt)
96. Benjamin Auer (Borussia Monchengladbach)
95. Kaka (Sao Paulo)
94. Azar Karadas (SK Brann)
93. Shaun Maloney (Celtic)
92. Leonardo Santiago (Feyenoord)
91. Kieran Richardson (Manchester United)
90. Aldo Jara (Cerro Porteno)
89. Keith Kelly (Paris Saint-Germain)
88. Christoph Preuss (Eintracht Frankfurt)
87. Ramon Calliste (Manchester United)
86. Mika Vayrynen (Jokerit)
85. Michael Zepek (Bayer Leverkusen)
84. Labinot Harbuzi (Malmo)
83. Thijs Houwing (Twente)
82. Dimitar Berbatov (Bayer Leverkusen)
81. Tuomas Aho (MYPA)
80. Candido Costa (Porto)
79. Andres Oliveira (Perth Glory)
78. Michael Essien (Bastia)
77. Fernando Macedo Nano (Barcelona)
76. Dulee Johnson (BK Hacken)
75. Mauro Rosales (Newell’s Old Boys)
74. Derek Boateng (Panathinaikos)
73. Theo Janssen (Vitesse)
72. Hassan Ahamada (Nantes)
71. Cherno Samba (Millwall)
70. Matteo Brighi (Juventus)
69. Bojan Djordjic (Manchester United)
68. Andreas Hinkel (VfB Stuttgart)
67. Santino Quaranta (DC United)
66. Jhon van Beukering (Vitesse)
65. Eddie Johnson (FC Dallas)
64. Michael Chopra (Newcastle United)
63. Rubinho (Corinthians)
62. Mark Fotheringham (Celtic)
61. Johnnier Montano (Parma/Hellas Verona)
60. Serhat Akin (Fenerbahce)
59. Carlos Martins (Sporting CP)
58. Filip Trojan (Schalke 04)
57. Ricardo Costa (Porto)
56. Landon Donovan (San Jose Earthquakes)
55. Alexander Ludwig (Werder Bremen)
54. Lourenco da Silva (Sporting CP)
53. Francesco Tarantino (Athletic Bilbao)
52. Jeremie Aliadiere (Arsenal)
51. Gatti Ribeiro (Blooming)
50. Massimo Donati (AC Milan)
49. Francesco Lodi (Empoli/Parma)
48. Gael Givet (Monaco)
47. Ewerthon (Borussia Dortmund)
46. Christian Petereit (Schalke 04)
45. Niko Kranjcar (Dinamo Zagreb)
44. Jay Lucas (Southampton)
43. Diego Ribas (Santos)
42. Joaquin Sanchez (Real Betis)
41. Ahmed ‘Mido’ Hossam (Ajax)
40. Helder Postiga (Porto)
39. Emiliano Dudar (Velez Sarsfield)
38. Chris Kirkland (Liverpool)
37. Ednilson (Benfica)
36. Dean Ashton (Crewe Alexandra)
35. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Ajax)
34. Leandro Romagnoli (San Lorenzo)
33. Hassan Yebda (Auxerre)
32. Marat Izmailov (Lokomotiv Moscow)
31. Gareth Barry (Aston Villa)
30. Jermain Defoe (West Ham United)
29. Gregory Vignal (Liverpool)
28. Julio Colombo (Montpellier)
27. Arjen Robben (Groningen/PSV Eindhoven)
26. Hugo Viana (Sporting CP)
25. Maicon (Cruzeiro)
24. Ricardo Quaresma (Sporting CP)
23. Fabricio Coloccini (AC Milan/Alaves)
22. Marius Niculae (Sporting CP)
21. Milan Baros (Liverpool)
20. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
19. Baldo di Gregorio (Eintracht Frankfurt)
18. Juan Andreu Melli (Real Betis)
17. Johnny Heitinga (Ajax)
16. Philippe Mexes (Auxerre)
15. Kim Kallstrom (BK Hacken)
14. John Welsh (Liverpool)
13. Darren Fletcher (Manchester United)
12. David Odonkor (Borussia Dortmund)
11. Pedro Mantorras (Benfica)
10. Mourad Meghni (Bologna)
9. Anthony Le Tallec (Le Havre/Liverpool)
8. Piotr Trochowski (Bayern Munich)
7. Florent Sinama-Pongolle (Le Havre/Liverpool)
6. Rafael van der Vaart (Ajax)
5. Jermaine Pennant (Arsenal)
4. Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid)