Curtis Jones‘ self-belief was the subject of praise as Neil Critchley confirmed he is likely to become Liverpool’s youngest-ever captain.
It has been an excellent season for Jones so far, after initial concerns as he left the first-team squad before the end of pre-season to rejoin the under-23s.
After proving himself with the armband at academy level, the 19-year-old has been given a host of opportunities in the senior squad—and has largely excelled.
Goals against both Everton and Shrewsbury in the FA Cup followed a Man of the Match performance in the 2-0 win at MK Dons in September, while he has also played twice in the Premier League.
Though the circumstances are certainly exceptional, Jones is also set to become the youngest player to ever take the captaincy for Liverpool as Critchley leads the U23s into the third round replay against Shrewsbury on Tuesday night.
He told reporters on Monday afternoon that he would “toss a coin” to decide if Jones or Pedro Chirivella will lead his side out, before he was informed of the significance of the Scouser doing so.
“He might give me a double-headed coin to flip, then!” he joked.
Earlier in the press conference, Critchley was asked about how Jones has coped with the added responsibility given to him this season, explaining that “he gave a good answer to that in the game against Everton.”
“Self-belief is probably not one of his weaknesses, but that is also why he is who he is,” he continued.
“So he’ll be looking forward to the game tomorrow, make no doubt about that; I think a few of the other players will be as well.
“Because they’ve had some experience of these types of game this season: Arsenal, Everton, Aston Villa.
“So I think that little bit of experience in and around the team [will help], even though it’s ridiculous to talk about experience when Curtis has only just turned 19 and we’re going to have players who are eligible to play in the under-18s.
“People say [it will be] an under-23 team, but we’re not. We’re going to be under-19, under-20 at best.
“There’s always a lot of people speaking about young players not getting opportunity in this country—well they’re going to get an opportunity tomorrow night and they already have this season, because that’s what the manager does.”
There is no concern over whether the likes of Jones and Harvey Elliott will underestimate Shrewsbury due to their experience with the first team so far, with Critchley attesting to the influence of the senior players on their attitude.
But he was questioned on whether he has attempted to temper Jones’ confidence, and in response dismissed the suggestion he would need to.
“He’s a young player who wants to prove himself, I don’t see any problem with that,” he said.
“He’s got belief in himself, and he’ll learn through experience of when to show that on the pitch, when not to show it.
“He couldn’t be learning off better people here, the senior players around him and the manager and the staff.
“He is who he is, and we’re here to support him and guide him. That’s my job, that’s our job; it’s not just me, it’s a collective.
“You’ve got to let Curtis have a certain amount of freedom when he plays, because that’s when he’s at his best.
“But he also knows that he has to do some other things in his game, otherwise he won’t be part of the team.”