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'A serious, serious player' - Is Curtis Jones a future Liverpool captain?

09:00 IST 05/09/2019
Curtis Jones Jurgen Klopp Liverpool
The midfielder is only 18 years of age but firmly believes himself capable of breaking into Jurgen Klopp's starting line-up in the coming years

As one young Scouser prepares for a new life away from Liverpool, for another the hard work is just getting started.

Bobby Duncan is off to Italy, having decided the route to the Reds first team was either too long, too arduous or simply non-existent. The teenage striker’s €2 million (£1.8m/$2.2m) switch to Fiorentina was confirmed on Monday.

Curtis Jones, meanwhile, is staying on Merseyside. With a new five-year contract signed, the midfielder is now ready to kick on.

The 18-year-old Jones is just five months older than Duncan, with both players born in 2001, but in terms of first-team prospects the two are on very different paths.

“My next step should be a big one,” Jones said upon penning his new Anfield deal last month. 

“Hopefully, I can get a [Premier League] debut and get a goal and give the fans what they deserve.

“Longer-term, my dreams are of being the captain of Liverpool Football Club, playing every week and winning a trophy.”

Big aims, you might say, given this is a player with just one senior appearance to date. That came in the FA Cup at Wolves in January, on a night when Rafa Camacho and Ki-Jana Hoever also made their professional bows.

Camacho has since moved on – like Duncan, unhappy with the pathway on offer on Merseyside – but hopes are high for both Jones and Hoever, who were part of the senior setup in pre-season but have started the campaign with Neil Critchley’s Under-23 team.

Jones, indeed, has taken on extra responsibility this term, handed the captain’s armband and challenged to burnish his natural talent with goals and assists. That has been identified as a key development area for some time.

In April, Critchley held what was described as “a full and frank” meeting with the player, in which he made clear that his physical and technical skills would only take him so far. He now needed to show he had the mindset, the desire and the hunger to go and influence games on a consistent basis. 

Critchley says: "The things that we speak to him about and the things he is exceptional at, such as running forward with and without the ball – if he does those things, then he has an impact on the game. 

“So, when he is in full flight and he is driving towards the opponents' goal, with and without the ball, he is a serious, serious player.”

Speak to those who have coached Jones, or even those who are close to him away from football, and they will tell you he lacks nothing in confidence.

As one source told  Goal  recently, he doesn’t view the likes of Naby Keita or Adam Lallana with any sense of fear; he sees them as competition he can overcome if he works hard and takes his chances. He relishes the challenge.

It is that belief which saw him decline the chance to depart on loan this summer.

Fleetwood, of League One, were among the clubs keen to give him a taste of senior football, but Jones’ opinion is that he will, at some point, be given an opportunity by Liverpool. The Reds’ Carabao Cup third-round tie, which will see them visit League One side MK Dons, could provide that opportunity later this month.

“I hope that our players would be looking at that draw and thinking that it is a possible opportunity for them,” says Critchley, who also suggests that Hoever, Rhian Brewster, Caoimhin Kelleher and Harvey Elliott could be in line for a first-team call.

"Obviously, the manager has numerous other players he can choose from too, but I would hope that our players would see that potential opportunity.”

Critchley believes Jones’ new contract has taken a weight off his shoulders. The player had entered the final year of his deal over the summer and had concerns over committing to a five-year deal at 18, but was reassured by those close to him, including his agent, that progress at Liverpool would be both encouraged and rewarded. 

The contrast with the advice given to Duncan, for example, appears clear.

"I think anyone, when they have no distractions and they can just concentrate on their football, I think that helps,” Critchley says. “It has definitely helped him.

“He seems a lot calmer about the situation. He now has a clear focus of where he wants to go and where he wants to be – and it's our job to help him get there.”

Whether he gets there, of course, only time will tell. But as others wonder if the grass might be greener elsewhere, Jones is ready to do everything to make his mark at Anfield.

His progress will be watched with great interest.