Curtis Jones on how he “pushed on to the next level” under Neil Critchley

Curtis Jones has paid tribute to Neil Critchley on his departure from Liverpool, explaining how the ex-U23s manager propelled his rise as “a player and a leader.”

Critchley is set to take charge of his first game as Blackpool manager on Saturday as they visit Fleetwood Town, having left his position at Kirkby on Monday.

It was a surprise move from the 41-year-old, but one Jurgen Klopp believes is the right step for a young coach who had proved himself over a number of years at Liverpool.

His most prominent work came this season as Critchley manned the dugout for two first-team fixtures, with Jones becoming the club’s youngest-ever captain in the 1-0 win over Shrewsbury in their FA Cup fourth-round replay.

Jones wears the armband for the U23s, and so far this season has scoring 17 goals and laid on 10 assists in just 20 games for the young Reds, along with his two goals and one assist in nine outings at senior level.

The 19-year-old clearly appreciated the confidence Critchley had in him, hailing his former manager for “pushing him on to the level.”

“He was massive for me, a great coach, a great character and a great person,” Jones explained.

“He has helped me so much and gave me the captaincy of his team. He pushed me on to the next level in terms of being a player and a leader.

“That is what you need now and I am grateful for what he has done.

“I wish him all the luck in the world and I know that he will be successful there.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 4, 2020: Liverpool's Adam Lewis (L) and Pedro Chirivella (R) celebrate with Under-23 manager Neil Critchley (C) after the FA Cup 4th Round Replay match between Liverpool FC and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Critchley’s influence at the academy is clear, with many of those in his U23s squad making the step up to first-team training this season—and, for the likes of Jones, Pedro Chirivella and Neco Williams, regular matchday involvement.

Chirivella was among those to mark Critchley’s exit with words of praise on social media, describing him as “one of the nicest people I’ve met in football”:

The progress of players from academy to first team is the primary focus for coaches in Critchley’s role, and the opportunities Jones, Williams and others are receiving is testament to his impact.

Giving Jones the captaincy has proved a masterstroke, and with the teenager arguably best-placed to establish himself as a long-term staple at Liverpool, it could as Critchley’s legacy on Merseyside.

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