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Training Grounds: The AXA Training Centre, Liverpool

Training Grounds: The AXA Training Centre, Liverpool

Currently the Premier League's longest-serving manager, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has led an incredible renaissance during his seven-year spell on Merseyside. The club has moved from floundering outside the European positions to winning every club competition under the sun, including an iconic Champions League victory and a first league title in 30 years. Klopp has become a legend for anyone on the red half of the Merseyside divide, and those who run the club at a more senior level have been determined to give him the resources needed to maintain Liverpool's hot streak.

A big part of this effort pertains to training ground procedures. For any club to be able to compete at the highest level, it's crucial that they have excellent facilities and adequate space to go through the daily coaching work that readies players for the weekend's matches. Liverpool is no exception, which is why in this article, we'll be giving you a guide to the Liverpool training ground. We'll go through all the basics, describing the features available at the complex and explaining how the training centre has helped lead the club to some phenomenal recent seasons. Let's get started with a simple one: the name of the Liverpool training ground.

What is the name of the Liverpool training ground?

For a long time, Liverpool FC had one of the most instantly recognisable training grounds in the land. The base of operations for countless trophy-winning teams, from Bill Shankly's legendary sides of the 1960s and 70s to Rafa Benitez's Champions League-winning 2005 outfit, the Melwood Training Ground was where Liverpool players trained for over 60 years. It was located in West Derby, and had been modernised and built on extensively since its original 1959 acquisition, but that didn't stop the club from eventually outgrowing Melwood. After the decision was made to move, Liverpool transferred to a brand-new facility in November 2020.

Situated on Arbour Lane, around a 20 minute drive from the Reds' home ground Anfield, the new site is the home of the First Team, the Reserves, and the Academy. Informally, it's called the Academy, Kirkby, or otherwise the Kirkby Training Centre. However, right now, for sponsorship reasons, the base has the title of the AXA Training Centre (named after an insurance company that partnered with the club). 

Liverpool's reserve and youth teams had been operating at the AXA Centre since 2017, but it took until three years later for the first team to move in, after a great deal of expansion and renovation work was completed to create more space. After delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, all Liverpool's Men's teams began using the facility towards the end of 2020. A big factor in the switch from Melwood was the frustration caused by the 5-mile geographical distance between the first team and the club's younger sides, with sporting director Michael Edwards telling that "Since I have been at Liverpool there has been a desire for us to all be on the same site". Bringing each Reds side together on one site, the AXA Training Centre has finally fulfilled that mission.

How has the Liverpool training ground changed in recent years?

Opened in November 2020, just a month before the unveiling of another state-of-the-art complex in the UK, the Leicester City FC Training Centre, the AXA Training Centre is one of the newest training sites in the whole country. Construction on the brand-new £50 million main building that houses the first team (and adds to the pre-existing facilities for youth players) began in 2018 and was completed two years later. But in terms of overall changes, there's not much more that can be said, given that this is such a new facility. Before the AXA Training Centre was constructed, sporting director Edwards and Academy director Alex Inglethorpe visited Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur's training grounds (both designed by the same architects, KSS) to have a look at what would be possible for the new site. Having enlisted the London-based company, they then went about building a training ground fit for the 21st century. Let's take a look at some of the main features that make the AXA Training Centre so special.

The AXA Training Centre: Facilities, Size, and Dimensions

Designed by architects KSS, with input from key club personnel, the AXA Training Ground project was brought to life by constructors McLaughlin & Harvey. The £50 million facility that houses the first team represented the most crucial investment in the site, which contains a variety of other impressive features that allow Liverpool to train to the highest standards.

The Kirkby facility has three full-size pitches, which admittedly is a lot less than some of the club's biggest Premier League rivals (Chelsea's huge Cobham site boasts an incredible 33 pitches, for example). The main building is large, around 9,200 sqm, and the outdoor space, while not quite measuring up to some fellow Prem sides, is still sufficient, with the grounds coming in at around 56 acres. The three Desso Grassmaster pitches measure approximately 32,000 sqm, and are surrounded by large wind-screens (crucial given the notoriously windy nature of the coastal site - more on that later). Given that the centre isn't as big as some other Premier League facilities, training ground work has to be extremely targeted, although there are plenty of aspects of the facility that ensure high standards are being met. On top of the grass pitches, there are also dedicated goalkeeping and warm-up areas, two gyms, a beach volleyball court, a swimming pool, and hydrotherapy and specialist rehabilitation suites. The latter facilities are housed within a specific hydrotherapy complex that ensures enough time and effort is being dedicated to extensive rehab work.

At the centre of the Kirkby complex, there's a huge atrium that features an array of images of the club's history and fanatical support. There are also nutritional facilities and press rooms, on top of the management and staff offices, and many other facilities. Crucially, having moved every person at Liverpool to the same site for the first time, all players now have access to the pitches, the warm-up areas, the paddle tennis court and beach volleyball court, as well as dedicated TV studios and press facilities for media visitors.

But despite the access given to youth players, it's important to note that the facility is divided lengthwise into two halves, with the first team housed in the building's north side and the south side being devoted to the U23 team. Only a single corridor joins these two halves of the building together, which works as a symbolic reminder of the "pathway" to the first team.

How does the Liverpool training ground compare to other training centres at a similar level?

We've mentioned that Liverpool's training ground, at 56 acres and with three full-size grass pitches for first team use, doesn't quite have the scale of some other elite clubs. However, there's still more than enough room for some of the world's best players to strut their stuff on a daily basis. It's an extremely new state-of-the-art facility equipped with the best gym equipment, hydrotherapy provisions, and other gear designed to boost performance, recovery, and rehabilitation.

But despite all this, it has been reported that some players aren't particularly happy with the move, regardless of the evidently impressive facilities on offer at The AXA Training Centre. Melwood held a special place in the hearts of Liverpool fans, staff, and players, and there have been some teething problems in the early stages of the club's switch to Kirkby. One complaint may surprise you a little, though - according to reports in March 2021 by The Mirror and The Sun, Liverpool players "hate" the new site due to the fact that it's "too windy". It may seem trivial, but the area, nicknamed "Windy Harbour", is known for its blustery weather, and it seems as though some players are a little sick of the gales and breezes. 

Being by the coast might be nice for walks along the beach on a day off, but when compared with training grounds slap back in the middle of the country, like the Leicester City FC Training Ground, this windiness is perhaps one area that lets the site down a little. Either way, what no one can deny is that the facilities on offer are exactly what any top Premier League side would be looking for. It's early days, and once everyone at Liverpool is totally used to the new coaching location, any teething problems are likely to be forgotten.

What are the plans for the future?

Hailed as "essential" by manager Jurgen Klopp, the new training centre at Kirkby represented a vital step forward for Liverpool, with the Reds boss saying "It will improve the process, massively. The relationship with the Academy, it will be as close as ever and that's really good." With the focus on intertwining the first team with the youth teams that feed it so evident, it's fair to say that we probably won't notice the precise consequences of the move from Melwood to Kirkby for several years. The club has only been at the new site since the back end of 2020, but with the pathway from the youth team to the first team even clearer since the new facility's construction, don't be surprised to see more and more Academy graduates following in the footsteps of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones to grace the Liverpool first team. Key figures at the club believe that everything is now in place for this to become a reality, with no key plans in the work for renovating or renewing the AXA Training Centre. Given how recently the facility was built, this is hardly a surprise. It will be interested to see how this state-of-the-art training complex contributes to the club's success in the coming years.

If you're interested in finding out more about what goes on behind the scenes at the Premier League's most historic, celebrated clubs, we've got lots more content on the site that you're bound to enjoy. On the next step of your guide around the country's training grounds, why not check out our article on the Arsenal Training Centre (aka London Colney)? It's one of the biggest, most impressive training sites around.