Ki-Jana Hoever, Curtis Jones and Rafael Camacho: The next teenagers to break through at Liverpool?
Three teenagers made their Liverpool debuts during Monday night's defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup. While Curtis Jones and Rafael Camacho, 17 and 18, respectively, had time to mentally prepares themselves to be starters, 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever was thrown into the deep end after just five minutes of the third-round tie following Dejan Lovren's injury.
They are the first players born after the millennium to play for the club, and ESPN FC provides the lowdown on the young trio at the start of their Liverpool careers.
Ki-Jana Hoever: On the first-team fast track
Hoever, by his own estimation, is making up for lost time. It was only in the middle of September that the Dutch player was given approval from FIFA to play for Liverpool, having agreed a move well before. Sources have told ESPN FC that Ajax were devastated to lose the prospect as Liverpool fended off competition from fierce rivals for his signature.
The defender, who can operate as a centre-half or right-back, has already represented the club at under-18s, U19s, U23s and first-team level in the opening months of his Liverpool career. He's also left a lasting impression on each team, but U23s manager Neil Critchley is not one to get carried away.
Having coached Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn on their routes to the first team, Critchley has always been quick to play down heightened expectations. But even he was taken aback by Hoever's display against Everton at Goodison Park in November. "Unbelievable," Critchley said. "16 years old? Just ... wow, really?"
Injuries often open the door for youngsters. With Joel Matip and Joe Gomez sidelined, Hoever was drafted up to take part in first-team training at Melwood in December. "It's just a joy to watch him," Jurgen Klopp said.
Hoever, now Liverpool's third-youngest player in club history, turns 17 on Jan. 18. Two sources have told ESPN FC that they would be amazed if he does not sign a first professional contract on the day of his 17th birthday.
Curtis Jones: A fearless local talent
Steven Gerrard, manager of Liverpool's U18s last season, is an admirer of the scouser, who has been at the club since U9 level.
"This team is built around him," Gerrard said at the time. "It's important he gets on the ball as much as he can because he makes us play. He's got that quality to create something out of nothing."
While often on the periphery against Wolves, Jones has shown he can cut it at this level. It was in July when he lit up a dour friendly with Manchester City at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The dynamic midfielder would readily display the ability and self-confidence that can see him dominate games.
"He's not shy to say a few things and that's probably a surprise for one or two players," Klopp said ahead of last summer's U.S. tour.
Jones would give an interview to the Liverpool Echo after that City match in July but cringed watching it back, believing he had been awkward and nervous. Undeterred, he would speak to the media at Molineux after his debut. Persistence and fearlessness are traits of Jones as a player and person.
"As a 17-year-old boy coming from Liverpool, it's every kid's dream being a footballer and going out there and playing for Liverpool," Jones told reporters. "I was more excited than anything."
Rafael Camacho: Versatile for whatever Liverpool need
After getting a taste of competitive senior football for the first time, more might be in store for Camacho. Sources have told ESPN FC that Sporting Lisbon are interested in taking the Portuguese youth international on loan this month. Yet Nathaniel Clyne's departure does leave Liverpool short of options at right-back, which could require Camacho to stick around.
Camacho joined Liverpool from Manchester City in 2016. Out of the three young players, his emergence is most surprising, although his regular exposure to Melwood did begin partway through last season. His performance at right-back away to Premier League opposition is worthy of further credit given that it's not his natural position.
More of a winger comfortable on both flanks, Camacho has also played as a No. 9 for Portugal's youth sides. Barry Lewtas, Liverpool's coach in the UEFA Youth League, the youth equivalent of the Champions League, hasn't even used him as a full-back before.
"Not in my team, not yet," Lewtas told ESPN FC recently. "You talk about versatility but obviously, when he trains up at Melwood he shows that he's got qualities for different positions."