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‘The Liverpool Littler’: How Jayden Danns became football’s next teenage sensation

The 18-year-old and boyhood Liverpool fan completed a remarkable week by scoring two goals in front of the Kop, living out his childhood dream by knocking Southampton out of the FA Cup

Richard Jolly
Senior Football Correspondent
Thursday 29 February 2024 13:44 GMT
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Jurgen Klopp compares Liverpool’s young players to ‘darts sensation’ Luke Littler

Where Jayden Danns saw a movie, Jurgen Klopp saw a darts championship. Both revolved around a teenager, thrust from obscurity to prominence at a speed that defied logic. Danns has become Liverpool’s overnight sensation: or over a week, anyway, bringing a debut, a trophy and then his first two goals, both scored in front of the Kop. As he, and his fellow 18-year-old Lewis Koumas, joined an illustrious group to score for Liverpool in their teens, the comparison his manager reached for was not with Robbie Fowler or Michael Owen, Raheem Sterling or Trent Alexander-Arnold, but Luke Littler, who reached the final of the World Darts Championship at 16.

Eight days earlier, Danns had not even been the most famous footballer in his own family. The speed of his rise will generate intrigue and attention. Klopp’s hope is that others can share his patience. “I understand it 100 per cent but it is a little bit like the new darts sensation, it is fine for tonight,” the Liverpool manager said. “But from tomorrow, leave the boys in the corner, please. And don’t ask: ‘Where are they now? Where are they now? Where are they now?’”

They are not questions Klopp is used to fielding, being quizzed about omitting Danns and Koumas, Bobby Clark and James McConnell. But then the Liverpool supporter who was supposed to see himself on the big screen was Daniel Craig. For Danns, a double against Southampton seemed an out-of-body experience.

Danns supported Liverpool as a boy and is now living out his childhood dream (Getty)

“It is a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve supported the club since birth. To come on and score at the Kop End is amazing, it doesn’t feel true. It feels like I’m in a film.” The script may have been rejected; it could have been too implausible to be commissioned. Danns started the season with the Under-18s. He was not even training with Liverpool’s first team until 26 January. He won silverware within a month. He exceeded his own expectations, and said of his two goals: “The second one was just pure joy, it didn’t feel like it could come to me, I was happy with one.”

The second showed the predatory sense to react first when Joe Lumley parried Conor Bradley’s shot into his path. The first felt still more of a revelation, with nonchalant excellence to dink the ball over the goalkeeper.

“They are exceptional talents but of course it is not natural that a boy, 18, is calm as you like and just chipped the ball there,” Klopp said. “The second goal I would have expected him to be there because he saw when Conor shot that the goalie cannot take it. He really arrives in these moments and he was hoping the keeper couldn’t hold it.”

It was, though, an illustration of Danns’ ability to sniff out an opening. “Proof of his nose,” said Klopp. Danns has been prolific at lower levels. His brief first-team career, spanning barely an hour on the pitch, has shown he has a capacity to find space in the box, a magnetism that the ball gravitates towards him. They are traits Diogo Jota shares.

“He has striking instincts, I have no doubt about that,” Klopp said, noting that Danns had almost opened his account at Wembley. “There is no youth level where you don’t have that. He showed in the final he arrives in the right moment, he was there three times; in a final; in his second outing for his boyhood club and with a longer toe he probably scores in the final.”

‘I feel like I’m in a film’: Jayden Danns reacts as Liverpool ‘dream comes true’
Jurgen Klopp reacts Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Southampton (Getty)

Instead, he struck on the first day when two 18-year-olds scored in the same game for Liverpool. It felt typical of Klopp’s Liverpool and their capacity for the improbable: it would have been a lesser story had Cody Gakpo converted either of the chances he dragged wide.

As Danns demonstrated the depth of talent in Liverpool’s academy, he also showed that Klopp’s legacy may be still richer than it seemed. Perhaps the German had some advice for his successor, certainly for the outsiders with an obsession with transfers.

“We’ve said it a few times that the future does not look too bad but maybe the people don’t forget it when the transfer window opens,” he said. “We have a couple of pretty promising players already, so don’t close the door for them with 12 signings.” The next Liverpool manager may have the opposite problem: when everyone is fit, how does he accommodate Danns and Koumas and Ben Doak and Kaide Gordon, four young forwards, or Clark and McConnell and Stefan Bajcectic and Trey Nyoni, a quartet of emerging midfielders?

Before then, there may come a time soon, when Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez are fit, when Klopp has to close a door to Danns; perhaps then he will be left in the corner. Or maybe his ability to slot straight into a game and carry an immediate menace could make him Liverpool’s latest super-sub. For now, though, Danns is the surprise star of his own movie, darting to the top of the bill.

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