The 40-year-old Liverpool manager has made no secret of his desire to involve legends from the club’s decorated past in the ongoing process of developing the next Jamie Carragher or Steven Gerrard at Melwood Academy.
Whilst Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler were perhaps obvious picks, former Liverpool right-back Rob Jones was something of a forgotten member of the Reds fraternity since the England defender hung up his boots 15 years ago.
Jones was established as the club’s first-choice right-back and a serious rival to Gary Neville for the same role in the England set-up before his blossoming career was cut cruelly short due to a long-standing knee injury.
But despite forging a promising career outside of football, the 42-year-old jumped at the chance to seal a return to his boyhood club and play a part in helping the young promise at Melwood realise their talent.
“It was about April time that he just called me in and asked if I could have a meeting with him,” said Jones.
“I went in there and he just mentioned to me that at his former clubs, there had been a lot of ex-players around the club and around training. But when he came to Liverpool, he noticed there was nothing really like that.
“He just wanted to know if I would get involved.
“He didn’t want me to get into a coaching role as he already has a lot of great coaches already at the academy. He just wanted me to go in and work with the youngsters and see if I could pass any of experience on to them.
“I’ve been in quite a few times, met the lads and had training sessions with them. It’s gone really well. I’m enjoying it and when I’ve been around and the things I’ve been passing on, they’ve been taking it on board.”
Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj has been one of the week’s big talking points after his brace at Sunderland led to talk of the Belgian-born winger lining up in an England shirt when the 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia.
The 18-year-old was a rare example of a youngster being handed a chance to shine at one of the Premier League’s big clubs as the likes of Chelsea, and United too, send their promising talents out on loan – Romelu Lukaku’s Everton move being a shining example.
However, Rodgers has been willing to give the club’s products a chance to impress in the first-team with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Jordan Ibe all seeing Premier League action over the past 12 months.
And Jones buys into the current manager’s philosophy.
“If you’re at a club since you’re 18 or 19 and playing really well for the Under-21s but the manager isn’t giving you a go, you can be down,” he said.
“But Brendan now and again will pick two or three of the younger lads and they’ll train with the first-team just to give them a little bit of experience before coming back to train in the academy.
“Brendan is definitely doing it the right way, looking after the future of Liverpool Football Club.”
He added: “Liverpool has asked us to come in and get them into the first-team. Rodgers has given Sterling, Ibe, Martin Kelly and John Flanagan a go. He’s putting them in the team.
“Some of the other clubs, like Chelsea and Manchester City, won’t be looking for that. But Brendan Rodgers is looking at the future and looking at trying to get them up.
“When I mention that to them, you can see their faces light up – they know they’ve got a chance if they work hard.”
While the likes of Ibe and Sterling have been widely tipped as Liverpool stars for the future, Jones has also had the opportunity to evaluate the other up-and-coming prospects who can become the foundation on which the club builds its future.
Jones was a keen observer on Monday night as Liverpool’s Under-21 side ran out comfortable 5-0 winners against Tottenham Hotspur, with plenty of the club’s young prospects on show at Langtree Park.
In particular, Ryan McLaughlin has caught the eye of the Wrexham-born defender – perhaps unsurprising considering the Liverpool Under-21 is also a right-back with a similar playing style to Jones – as well as Jordan Rossiter.
“You’d have put the majority of the lads into the first-team, he said. “I look at Ryan McLaughlin because he’s the next right-back coming up. He played at left midfield and did really well.
“You’ve got Jordan Rossiter, who is only 16, but is playing for the Under-21s. So there’s definitely some good potential there, it’s just nurturing them at the right time.”
Despite being best-known as a Liverpool player in the 1990s, Jones was actually brought to club aged 20 by former Reds boss Graeme Souness after spending his initial years under the tutelage of famed Crewe Alexandra manager Dario Gradi.
Although Jones, who won eight England caps, has taken his first steps into the coaching world, he has no desire to emulate the legendary Crewe manager – with he and his wife owning a successful nursery empire in the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates.
“I’m not really into the coaching,” he said. “I’ve got a successful business in the nursery industry. So the job fitted in perfectly with me. Brendan wants me to give as much time as I can.
“There’s no pressure to come in every day, and at the moment, I’m mixing the work from the nursery schools and coming in and mentoring the academy lads and a bit of five-a-side – which has been great for me!”
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