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The rise of Curtis Jones - Liverpool's newest Merseyside derby hero

18:00 SAST 2020/01/06
Curtis Jones Liverpool 2019-20
The 18-year-old grew up idolising Steven Gerrard and managed to emulate his hero with a stunning goal against Everton in the FA Cup on Sunday

The assembled media were to be left disappointed.

They had gathered in the Anfield mixed zone hoping to grab a word with the man of the moment. 

One by one, Liverpool’s young heroes had come through. First Neco Williams, off to one of the lounges for a meet and greet with sponsors. Then Pedro Chirivella, Rhian Brewster, Yasser Larouci, Harvey Elliott, each of them carrying a bag of food to take home. 

Curtis Jones, though, would not appear. 

At least he had a reason. “He’s lost his voice,” came the message from a member of the Reds’ press team. The hero of the hour would not be giving any more interviews.

He’s been a little under the weather recently, Jones, but he will be on top of the world today. He may only be five games into his professional career but if he experiences many bigger or better moments than this, he’ll be a very lucky boy indeed.

Jones’ first senior appearance at Anfield ended with him scoring a decisive penalty to win a shootout in front of the Kop, but his second topped even that. Eighteen years old, playing for your boyhood club against your biggest rivals in front of 54,000 fans, and a worldwide television audience? 

No sweat. 

You’ll have seen the goal by now. A quick glance, a touch to set. A devastating swish of the right foot. The most perfectly-executed curling effort you could wish for. Jordan Pickford, the England goalkeeper, left grasping at fresh air. Eight thousand Evertonians behind his goal, living their worst nightmare. 

One grinning Scouser leaping into the January sky, living his dream.

“I can’t sum up my emotions,” Jones said afterwards . “I think for me, being a young lad, a local lad and playing for the team that I love and the fans that I love, it’s massive.”

Jones was raised a stone’s throw from Liverpool city centre. He idolised Steven Gerrard and joined the Reds as a six-year-old. Later, he would snub offers from Manchester United and Manchester City.

He made his Under-18s debut for Liverpool as a 15-year-old, and appeared for the Under-23 side within 18 months. Alex Inglethorpe, Liverpool Academy director, saw bits of Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane in his game. Others have compared him to a young Philippe Coutinho. Certainly, the Brazilian would have approved of Sunday’s goal.

Jones thrived under Gerrard when the Kop legend returned as an Academy coach in 2018. “He was the perfect person at the perfect time to help me,” he has said. 

Gerrard sought to iron out the imperfections, the tendency to hold onto the ball too long, to over-elaborate when the game became too easy for him. He educated him on the importance of nutrition, recovery and professionalism. “I wasn’t always taking it as seriously as I should have,” Jones has admitted. 

He was drafted into the senior squad in the spring of 2018, when injuries bit as Liverpool edged towards the Champions League final. He was on the bench at Goodison Park for a Merseyside derby, and made a positive impression in training at Melwood. Often, though, he struggled when dropping back down to the Under-23s. It was, as one member of staff put it, as if he felt the level was beneath him.

It took a series of frank discussions, sometimes with Inglethorpe but usually with Neil Critchley, the Under-23s coach, for the penny to drop. Jones’ talent was clear, but he needed to show it more regularly, he needed to influence games with goals and assists rather than tricks and flicks.

He also needed to commit his future to Liverpool. He had entered the final year of his contract last summer, and had stalled over signing a new one.

It took a bit of tough love, and some sound advice, to convince him. He signed his contract in August, rejected the opportunity to go out on loan to the Football League and was promptly named captain of the Under-23s by Critchley. "He's already our technical leader," said the coach.

All the while, his development as a player was being noted. James Milner had been one of the more sceptical players when Jones had moved up to Melwood, but the vice-captain has become something of a mentor since. It was Milner who detailed Jones’ improvement, following a man-of-the-match display in the Carabao Cup at MK Dons in September.

“I’ve seen a massive difference in Curtis in the last year,” he said. “He’s always had that ability but he seems a bit more mature now.”

That’s not to say he’s lost his confidence, mind. “My next step should be a big one,” he said after signing his new contract in August. Later, he would speak of his desire not just to play for Liverpool, but to captain them. 

Talk about setting your sights high, but judging by his manager’s quotes after Sunday’s game , he’s on the right path again.

“Unbelievable player,” Klopp said. “He has made big steps. He will be a Liverpool player if nothing strange happens, 100 per cent.”

It remains to be seen whether Jones, like fellow prospect Rhian Brewster, is allowed to go out on loan this month. That looked a certainty three weeks ago, and there has been interest from pretty much the whole of the Championship, but with Liverpool’s injury list looking pretty large at present, those plans could well be revised.

One thing is for sure, we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from this gifted young Scouser over the coming weeks, months and years.