Curtis Jones: Liverpool's 'streetwise' youngster with 'unusual belief'

By Emma SandersBBC Sport
Curtis Jones celebrating with Roberto Firmino in the victory over Sheffield United
Curtis Jones (right) celebrating with Roberto Firmino in the victory over Sheffield United on Sunday

When Curtis Jones scored in Liverpool's victory over Sheffield United, he could have been forgiven for adopting a celebratory tone in his post-match interview.

But his immediate thoughts were not about helping his team end their four-game losing run. Instead, he said his thoughts were with team-mate Alisson following the death of the Brazil goalkeeper's father.

It was the latest example of the growing maturity of 20-year-old Jones, who has developed into one of Liverpool's senior players during a season in which Jurgen Klopp's squad has been crippled by injuries.

While the loss of centre-backs Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez dealt a heavy blow to the Reds' title defence, Jones was given an opportunity to shine in midfield when regulars Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were forced to provide cover at the back.

Ex-Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock says Jones has "showcased what he can do", while former Under-23s assistant boss Gary O'Neil - recently departed for Bournemouth - believes he has "no real weaknesses in his game" and can go all the way to the top, following in the footsteps of club legend Steven Gerrard.

But what makes Liverpool-born Jones so special? How has he developed? And what is he like off the pitch?

'Streetwise' and the 'Gascoigne arm'

Steven Gerrard coaching Curtis Jones in Liverpool's U18s squad
Curtis Jones worked with Liverpool-born legend Steven Gerrard during his time in the U18s and academy

Jones' journey began in Liverpool's academy where he started to catch the eye as part of Gerrard's U18s side and Warnock says he "liked to beat people, had a trick and had pace".

But it was his ability and tactical awareness to play in multiple positions that really impressed - something Jones showcased in Liverpool's Champions League victory over RB Leipzig, where he picked up an assist.

"He understands the game, when to press, how to press and what angle to press from," Warnock told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He is stronger physically now and he has got tactical nous on the pitch. He is a little bit streetwise and has got an edge to him which I really like.

"His retention of the ball and his ability to hold players off is really impressive... I call it the 'Gascoigne arm', where the arm comes out and you protect yourself and the ball from the player coming in to close you down."

O'Neil admits "growing up there were some concerns" over Jones' size but his physical development and his "fantastic technical ability" mean he can "give the team what they need".

"He is so athletic in his running and you can play him anywhere - you could play him wide in this system, you can play him in midfield - and he is so comfortable on the ball. He can play off both feet," said O'Neil.

"It hasn't taken him long to learn how Klopp wants things done, how the system works and where he fits into that."

Curtis Jones against RB Leipzig
Jones and the 'Gascoigne arm' during the Champions League victory over RB Leipzig this season

'An unusual belief in himself'

It is perhaps off the pitch that Jones' stature has really grown.

Even before dedicating his goal to Alisson's family on Sunday, he had shown glimpses of his maturity, confidence and attention to detail.

And Warnock says he "feels he has got authority within the team" because he has the confidence to "get angry" with other players when they fail to maintain standards.

"That shows to me there is another edge to him. He has got a swagger about him and I hope people don't see it in the wrong way," added Warnock.

"It is just a confidence and it is what often takes a player to the next level. They have that swagger and arrogance about them because they believe they are good enough. Often players who don't step up to that next level are a little bit more reserved in themselves.

"He is a very intelligent lad when he speaks and talks to other players. I know from speaking to players in the changing room at Liverpool that he questions everything - which is great. It is him saying 'how do I learn, how do I get better?'"

O'Neil says that "unusual belief in himself" helped Jones make the step up from the U23s to the first team.

"He sort of knew he didn't need a loan spell. He knew that when he got [to the first team], he would be able to make an impact and would be able to take on board what Jurgen needed from him," said O'Neil.

"I've seen the video footage and I've spoken to all the coaches who worked with him... hours and hours of evenings after school, working on his left foot, working on his receiving, working on his speed of feet - there has been so much work that has gone into him."

'Everything a modern-day midfielder should be'

Alisson and Curtis Jones
Jones (right) celebrates winning the Champions League with goalkeeper Alisson in 2019

O'Neil says "it will be really interesting to see how far he can take his career", but the hope is Jones will go on to add to the Champions League and Premier League trophies he has already won with Liverpool.

"Obviously a very high bar has been set but he will have the belief that he can go on and impact this team for the next 10 years or whatever it may be - he is a real talent," said O'Neil.

But what about England?

Warnock says Jones is "everything that a modern-day midfielder should be" and he shares similar technical ability to rising stars such as Aston Villa's Jack Grealish, Chelsea's Mason Mount and Leicester's Harvey Barnes.

"Over the past 10 years, as an English culture, we have invested heavily in teaching our youngsters how to receive the ball with either the left or right foot - working on the technical aspect of their game. They have improved so much," said Warnock.

He has not yet been selected for the senior England side and faces stiff competition even to make the squad, but a strong end to the season would mean a place at the European Championship was not out of the question.

For now though, Jones is proving his worth in a Liverpool side packed with world-class talent and he does not look out of place.

Additional reporting by BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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