Jurgen Klopp’s eyes light up as he sees the topic coming.
After talking about the Champions League final, after discussing his club’s recruitment drive and going through his hopes and dreams for the new season, we have landed on a subject that gets the Liverpool manager’s ears pricked.
We are midway through the Reds’ eight-day, three-city tour of the USA. It’s not all been plain sailing – Borussia Dortmund beat them in Charlotte and plane issues delayed their arrival in New Jersey – but observing Klopp’s squad at close quarters Stateside, one thing is abundantly clear.
This club has some very gifted young footballers emerging.
Later that evening, against Manchester City at East Rutherford’s MetLife Stadium, we will see Ben Woodburn, 18 but already a goalscorer for club and country. We will see Rafa Camacho, a winger playing full-back and doing so with distinction. We will watch Nat Phillips and Caoimhin Kelleher, Dom Solanke and Sheyi Ojo and Marko Grujic. All of them 22 or under, all of them making strides under Klopp.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, 19 years of age, missed the tour because he spent the summer at the World Cup with England. But in America, another young Scouser has stepped up to the plate. Curtis Jones, at 17, is the youngest of the lot, born in 2001, just a month before Klopp began his managerial career with Mainz.
That’s enough to make anyone feel old, surely?
“Crazy! 2001!” Klopp smiles. “But he’s not too bad, eh?”
It may be pre-season but Jones, a silky, confident attacking midfielder from Liverpool’s city centre, already looks very much at home among the Reds’ senior squad. He walks with a swagger and he plays with one. Team-mates, staff and Klopp himself have all been taken by his emergence.
Liverpool, of course, is a club whose history has been built upon home-grown excellence. From Tommy Smith to Phil Thompson, Jamie Carragher to Steven Gerrard through Terry McDermott, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Ian Callaghan, Chris Lawler and Ronnie Moran - Scousers have long provided the heartbeat of one of English football’s most decorated clubs.
Alexander-Arnold and Jones, potentially, can continue the tradition for years to come. Local lads representing their club, something Klopp is desperate to see.
“I love it, I love it!” he tells Goal. “It’s important for this club.
“If you have the chance, then you should do it. How many people live in Liverpool? 500,000? Iceland has 330,000, I think, so Liverpool should have enough people to create our own team!
“But of course, the more the better. With Stevie and Carra, it was great to have those kind of boys come through, really cool. We will see with Curtis, there is still a long way to go but the first signs are really positive. He’s a good player, he can be very good, we will see.
“It’s always this little plus if they come from Liverpool. If I have two players, same quality, but one speaks proper English and the other one speaks Scouse, the Scouser is in! That’s why we are Liverpool.”
These are not empty words. Since his arrival at Anfield in October 2015, Klopp has repeatedly shown a willingness to trust and to blood young players. He has given debuts to no fewer than 13 players aged 22 or under.
Not all of them will make it at Liverpool, of course. Some have already departed while others are out on loan. Only Alexander-Arnold and Solanke have made more than 25 appearances.
That is the challenge clubs face, striking the balance between trusting their Academy products and maintaining a competitive, experienced first-team. Liverpool, who aim to challenge for the Premier League and Champions League this season, require exceptional players to do so.
Still, Klopp is enthused by what he sees coming out of his U-23 and U-18 sides, even if some may take time to find their true level, be it at Anfield or elsewhere.
“I’m excited, of course,” he says. “But it’s getting more and more difficult for young boys at a club like Liverpool, to be honest. On one side we are buying players for 50 or 60 million, and on the other we are getting players for free from the youth team. But they need time and opportunity to play.
“They play in the U-23s, which is fine, but then they don’t like it that much. They train the whole week with the first team and then they go to play with the U-23s and the dressing room is as big as this table and there are no supporters! It’s not the same.
“You need to find a moment, but Trent came through without going on loan. That will not be possible for all of them, but we will see. If you have these kind of players, and you can get one through every two or three years, it’s massive. Massive!”
Massive, too, will be the changes to come at the club off the field. The Reds confirmed this summer their plans to leave their historic Melwood training base in order to combine its first-team and Academy operations at a redeveloped centre in Kirkby, a few miles outside of the city. Work on the project is expected to be completed in 2020.
“It will help us, for sure,” Klopp says.
“Look, Melwood is a really great place, historic. I love it. The problem is we are really separated. It’s not far from Melwood to Kirkby but it’s too far, and so I cannot watch youth games. And I’m 10 or 12 hours a day at Melwood, so I have time to do that if I could. Between meetings, I could easily go and watch a game or a session, and then I would see the players earlier. Not only me, but the other staff as well.
“Melwood is perfect for now, but with its size we cannot do one thing more. If we want one new office, we need to build a new floor! In the moment it is OK, but in the future it will be too small, so we will build and we go together.
“It will be the football headquarter of Merseyside. The ones who go through that Academy, at all steps, must be brilliant footballers. That’s the goal. I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s good for the Academy as well. If you go to U-18 games there, you know what the wind is like, yeah? When we go there we will sort it, we will build things around it that can help the young players.
“Building things is always good for the future of a club. That will be massive, and I know [Reds co-owner] Mike Gordon is really excited about the project. It will be outstanding.”
No wonder his eyes lit up. The here and now may be what really matters for Liverpool, but with Klopp at the helm and big plans afoot, the future at Anfield looks very bright indeed.