Hull City defender Alfie Jones reveals inspiration from Virgil van Dijk and James Ward-Prowse after moving on from Southampton

WHEN he was let go for free by Southampton three summers ago, Hull City defender Alfie Jones's pride was bruised.

He will certainly not be short regarding personal motivation when the Tigers play the relegated Saints in 2023-24 - and has spoken about possessing 'fire in his belly' to prove the south coast club wrong in that regard.

But while he might draw a big red circle around the two dates when both clubs meet next season – the Championship fixtures are released in eight days time - his spell in Hampshire was far from wasted.

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Jones may have never made the first-team grade by the Solent, despite being under-23s captain, but rubbing shoulders with some esteemed players on a daily basis as a young player gave him an insight into what it takes to be a top professional. His departure gave him the requisite hunger to succeed.

Alfie Jones holds off Jordan Rhodes in Hull City's match with Huddersfield Town in January. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.Alfie Jones holds off Jordan Rhodes in Hull City's match with Huddersfield Town in January. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Alfie Jones holds off Jordan Rhodes in Hull City's match with Huddersfield Town in January. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

When players like Virgil van Dijk and James Ward-Prowse are in the building; footballers who set the example in their profession, players who have a thirst for knowledge should be observant.

Jones, who has rebuilt his career impressively in East Yorkshire, told The Yorkshire Post: “In the first team at the time when I was a bit younger, the centre-halves we had (at Southampton) were unbelievable.

"The likes of van Dijk and (Jose) Fonte - watching them training as you walk past, you just pick up lots of things from alongside top professionals such as James Ward-Prowse.

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"He is the most dedicated and professional player I have seen. From watching him day in and day out training, it makes you want to follow that and be like him.

“I trained quite a bit with them (first-teamers), which was helpful for my development and we were in the same building as well, which helped in seeing them every day. If there was ever a time to speak to you, they would and that is massive for a young person’s development.

“Although is quite hard to learn from van Dijk as he is so big and physical that he makes it look so easy! Watching him day in, day out, you could see the quality and no wonder he is playing at the top of the game."

Jones's time at Hull has represented a finishing school, with the Bristolian, now 25, having established himself as a safe, consistent and trusted figure under the tutelage of Liam Rosenior, since his arrival at the club last autumn.

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Rosenior, of course, was a pretty adept defender in his playing days and his ability to get Hull organised and make them harder to beat at a fair rate of knots is backed up by the numbers.

In 28 league games in charge, City kept 13 clean sheets and conceded 26 goals.

By contrast, in the 18 second-tier matches before Rosenior's arrival, the club recorded just one shut-out and let in 35 goals.

While Rosenior's input was a key factor in instigating the turn-around, the establishment of a reliable central-defensive axis in Jones and Sean McLoughlin was another big reason.

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Testament to Rosenior's belief in them was vindicated in the spring by virtue of new deals for the pair.

Jones commented: "Technically and tactically, with the way we play now, we have to be better and he (Rosenior) has helped us with that.

"Tactically, the results have spoken for themselves with more clean sheets and we are a lot more solid and more of a structure and that was down to the way he came in and helped us on the training pitch."

On his burgeoning partnership with McLoughlin, he continued: “It’s been body position, distances and working off each other. One goes up and one covers and then also looking at positioning in the box to stop crosses. The manager has been a massive help and given us that foundation to build on.

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“We just work well together and I think we are quite similar personalities. We just know what we expect of each other.

"We are not afraid to tell each other when one or the other has done something wrong which helps.

"We have always worked well together and had that good relationship where we will come back if we have a little shout at one and other. We just know how each other works.

"We will always go for a coffee and we have a lot in common. He’s a top lad and a pleasure to play with."

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Rosenior's work has provided City with a firm platform to build upon. Last summer's recruitment was extensive, but this time around, the club will be more strategic.

Rosenior is a single-minded individual who plainly knows what he wants. Shouting from the rooftops regarding Hull's ambitions in 2023-24 is not his style, but if their development continues, there should be quiet confidence internally that a play-off tilt is not out of the equation.

Jones commented: “This year, we have built a really good platform to build on. I am excited for next year as I feel like we can kick on.

"We just need to keep grounded and working hard and have a really good pre-season ready to hit the season running."