For Vitezslav Jaros, this weekend is about more than just football.
“It’ll be the first time I’ve worn a suit as well!” the Liverpool goalkeeper laughs, as he looks ahead to the biggest game of his young career.
On Sunday, Jaros will play for St Patrick’s Athletic against Bohemians in the Irish Cup final at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. The chance, he says, to ensure a fine loan spell ends in perfect fashion.
“I’m not nervous, I’m excited,” the 20-year-old Czech Republic youth international tells GOAL. “It’s the best way to finish the season, isn’t it? Both for me personally and for the team.
“It’s a proper game, a proper occasion in a proper stadium. As a player that’s everything you want. Everyone is really looking forward to it.”
It is fair to say that Jaros has made a big impression at St Pat’s since joining back in February. He has played 36 times in all competitions, and earlier this month he picked up the club’s player of the year award. His first taste of senior football could hardly have gone better.
“It’s been a brilliant experience,” he says. “I was able to settle in quickly, which was probably the thing I was most scared of before I came out here. You don’t know how easy it’s going to be to fit in, do you? But right from the start everyone made me feel welcome in the changing room, and that made it so much easier.
“And yeah, to win player of the year is not bad either! It gives you a lot of confidence, especially as a loan player, to pick up an award like that. Goalkeeping is about consistency, doing it every day, every week, so it means a lot to be recognised.”
Jaros joined Liverpool as a 16-year-old, spotted playing for Slavia Prague and signed after impressing during two trial periods.Getty/GOAL
“I remember sitting down with my agent,” he says. “I was getting ready to start sixth form, and he told me Liverpool wanted me.
“It was like ‘wow’, and then a few days later he rings me and he’s got a date for me to go over for my trial. I was buzzing. You’re not going to say no to that, are you? A club like Liverpool? Amazing!”
Jaros’ first coach at U18s level was Steven Gerrard, and he joined a squad which included the likes of Curtis Jones and Neco Williams, both of whom have been able to establish themselves as first-teamers under Jurgen Klopp.
“Curtis was one of those players you look at straight away and think ‘yeah he’s going to do something big’,” Jaros says.
“As long as he kept his head on his shoulders he was always going to make it, and he’s done that, credit to him. He was a nightmare as a goalkeeper because his shooting is a joke, he loves those long-rangers into the top corner, with either foot!”
And what about Gerrard, GOAL wonders? What was he like as a coach?
“Yeah, coming to Liverpool and being managed by Stevie G – it doesn’t get any better than that!” Jaros laughs.
“He’s just a leader. He’s got so much experience and he was such an incredible player that you can’t help but learn from him. When he says something, you know it’s right! All you need to do is listen to him and follow him.
“He used to step in during training. There’d be a passing drill where the lads would be trying to ping it into the small goal from 40 yards, and he’d just do it with no warm up, first time, put the ball down and zip it in! His technique was unreal.”Getty/GOAL
Jaros was a member of Liverpool’s FA Youth Cup-winning side in 2019, beating a Manchester City team which included Eric Garcia and Cole Palmer, and last season he was given a taste of first-team action. He trained regularly with Klopp’s senior squad, and was on the bench for three Champions League group matches.
“It was brilliant making the step up,” he says. “You can see the improvement in yourself. You’re training with the best players in the world every day, and that brings out another level in you. The pace, the tempo, the quality; it’s so high, you just keep improving, improving, improving, and that gives you a good feeling.
“To be on the bench for the Champions League games, it’s like a present, you know? A reward for the work you put in. It was really enjoyable.”
Jaros says Alisson Becker, the Reds’ No.1, was one of the first players to make him feel welcome with the seniors.
“Ali has no ego whatsoever,” he says. "That’s the first thing that struck me about him.
“I remember my first session with him, and he was just sound! He came straight over, asked me how I was doing, where I was from, all that. It puts you at ease straight away.
“The goalkeeping group at Liverpool is great. John [Achterberg] and Jack [Robinson] are brilliant, they help you with anything you need. And then with Ali, Caoimhin [Kelleher] and Adrian, it’s just a case of ‘watch and learn’! You can’t go wrong if you follow those three.”
What about the standard of player he was facing on a daily basis at Kirkby, then? Who stood out in those high-quality training sessions?
“Ali was definitely one,” Jaros says. “He’s just an all-round great keeper. You watch him and there’s no weakness, he’s got everything. His shot-stopping, the way he plays out, his calmness and his positioning.
“But if I had to pick just one, I’d say Virgil [Van Dijk]. He just makes the game look so easy. He hardly breaks sweat, but he’s always in control.
“It’s like he’s got this extra gear for emergencies, and if he needs to he just uses it. He just cruises through games. Incredible player.”
As for Jaros himself, the future looks bright. He had been keen to get out on loan, and is thankful that Liverpool chose the right move for him with St Pat’s.
He will have a two-week break after Sunday’s cup final before returning to training at Kirkby, and after that has his eye on another potential loan move in January. Liverpool expect there will be plenty of suitors.
“I guess it depends what offers come in and what the club needs,” Jaros says. “But I’m cool with it. I don’t want to just go on loan for the sake of it, it has to be the right move.
“But first let’s get the final out of the way - and hopefully win it!”