The 17-year-old can already count Jurgen Klopp and Steven Gerrard among his fans – and the best is yet to come
What Curtis Jones lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in confidence.
It took a little more than five minutes for the young Scouser – born and raised on the outskirts of the city centre – to announce himself to Liverpool supporters.
Jones was just 15 years old when he was called up by Neil Critchley, then the club’s Under-18s coach, for an FA Youth Cup tie with Crystal Palace at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park ground in December 2016. He’d played for the 18s before, against Middlesbrough in a league match, but this was different. A big game for the Reds, for sure. In the team that night were the likes of Rhian Brewster, Adam Lewis, Yan Dhanda and Kamil Grabara.
Nervous? Not Jones. His first notable action in the game was to make what fans will now recognise as a trademark run down the left channel, bamboozle a defender and then produce a Rabona-style cross into the danger area. The crowd, a healthy one for a game of its type, purred in appreciation.
Jones would score later in the game, and Liverpool would eventually progress after a penalty shootout. The teenager’s progress has accelerated since.
He doesn’t turn 18 until January 30, but he’s already a part of Jurgen Klopp’s first-team squad, training at Melwood while picking up game-time (and experience) with Critchley’s Under-23s and playing in the UEFA Youth League for Barry Lewtas’ Under-19 side. He’s a precocious talent.
And in the FA Cup third round Jones got his first chance with the senior side, being named to the XI to face Wolves at the Molineux Stadium.
He’s been close to a senior run-out for some time, appearing on the bench for the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park last April and again in the Carabao Cup clash with Chelsea at Anfield in September. On Liverpool’s tour of the USA in pre-season, he was one of the standout performers.
“He’s pretty good, eh?” Klopp told Goal when we sat down for an exclusive interview on that tour. The Reds boss knows he has, potentially, something special on his hands in Jones.
“Curtis is a proper Scouser,” he said, offering an insight into the inner confidence and belief which sets the attacking midfielder apart from many of his peers. “I don’t know if I have the right words, but he is not shy to say a few things and probably that’s a surprise for one or two players!”
In terms of talent, Jones’ is obvious. Steven Gerrard talked about building his Under-18s team around him last season, and Jones flourished under the guidance of the Reds legend. Versatile enough to play in a number of positions across the midfield and forward line, his control, skill and dribbling ability stands out a mile. There are similarities with a young Philippe Coutinho in the way Jones drifts out to the left-hand side and the manner in which he can glide past defenders with a swivel of the hips and a sharp change of pace. Like Coutinho, though, the big development to come is in terms of decision making and end product.
“He is a tall boy but still very mobile, good at dribbling and stuff like that,” Klopp says. “But now we need to make sure he finds the right moment to pass the ball – and dribbling is not for dribbling, it’s to change the situation in a better way and then to pass the ball.
“But it’s easier to train that than to show somebody how to dribble, which is quite natural. It’s cool. Physical-wise he is good and has talent as well, but there is a long way to go.”
This season, Jones has moved from Under-18s football to Under-23s. It has not been an easy transition – Critchley’s side lack a goalscorer and have generally been underwhelming so far. Even Jones has struggled at times. Liverpool currently sit seventh in the Premier League 2 table having won just five of their 13 league games
As for the longer term, we can expect to see much, much more from this assured, hugely-talented youngster. At 17, he’s had a taste of what could lie ahead if his application is correct.
“Every young lad’s dream is to break into the first team,” he said back in August. “But saying that, if I want to catch the eye of the manager as an attacking player, I definitely think I’ll need a lot more goals and a lot more assists.
“You see with Mane, Salah, Firmino, they’re causing teams a big problem and scoring a lot of goals. If I want to get the breakthrough and catch his eye, I need to be matching that.”
Wise words from one so young. Now, the challenge is to back them up with actions.