Sam Curtis – the versatile prospect from a new era of Irish football by Ryan Kilbane
Historically the path for elite young Irish players would be to join academies in the UK at 15 or 16. However since Brexit, rules around travel have changed and top prospects are now having a bigger portion of their developmental years at home, playing in the League of Ireland at senior level before bigger clubs snatch them up.
While this new system for developing players is in somewhat of its infancy there have been some standout performers over the last year or two. None more so than St Patrick’s Athletic defender Sam Curtis (2005).The 17-year-old has been an ever present for the Saints in the league starting all 25 games rotating between center-back and right-back.
Along with being first-choice domestically league he recently made his first European start against F91 Dudelange in UEFA Europa Conference League. The Saints were defeated 2-1 but Curtis looked comfortable at center and then at right back in the game, while Harry Brockbank (24 ex-Bolton Wanderers) who started at right full struggled.
Curtis has generally been fast tracked throughout his career. In October 2020 he became the youngest player to appear in League of Ireland football when he made his debut for Shamrock Rovers II in a 3–1 win over Athlone Town at age 14.
Then on 13 August 2021, in injury time of a 2–1 win over Waterford at Richmond Park, he became St Pats youngest ever player to play in the League of Ireland (a record that was recently broken by another young prospect, 15-Year-Old Mason Melia).
Curtis also received his first call up to the Republic of Ireland U21 sidee in March 2023, for a friendly against Iceland U21, having just turned 17 3 months previously.
The County Meath native has been linked with Man United, Man City, Feyenoord and Chelsea over the past 12 months, so what can those clubs expect. Well he is a strong, versatile all-round defender who seems equally comfortable at center-back as full-back. His passing is adequate and generally looks to play forward quickly. Looks at home physically in men’s football and has no obvious tactical deficiencies.
A good example of Curtis’s rounded profile is that he is ranked 2nd of all players in the League of Ireland Premier Division this season in Defensive Duels with 193, One behind teammate Jamie Lennon.
While not the tallest he is adept in the air. Curtis is dangerous in both boxes and is also often used as an aerial outlet for cross field balls when playing in an advanced right-back position.
Having played predominantly as a centre back as a kid he is still developing some skills as a full-back. While his attacking attributes related to that position (dribbling, crossing) haven’t hit as high numbers in terms of volume, he’s shown he can be adept at senior level.
Curtis may not be ready to fit into a strong first team as a teenager like his compatriots Evan Ferguson, Nathan Collins and Gavin Bazunu but he would be a really smart pick up for almost any club in Europe, for what would most likely be a relatively small fee now or potentially just compensation in the next 12 months or so.
Further proof of his all-round skill set, the St Pats man is 2nd in Wyscout’s index for best lateral defenders and is ranked as the best right back in the League of Ireland Premier Division. This index is based on a combination of metrics, for Full-backs they are: accelerations, crosses, defensive duels won, sliding tackles, key passes, clearances, pressing attempts, interceptions, loose ball duels won, dribbles won.
When ranked against other full/wing backs in the Premier Division in 2023 Curtis generally scores well, below are a selection of some:
7th in Shots – 13
4th in Recoveries per 90 – 11.67
5th in Counter pressing recoveries per 90 – 5.47
These become slightly more impressive when we filter out players that have played less than half the available minutes:
3th in Defensive duels per 90 – 7.39 (Minimum 50% of total minute played)
4th in Successful Defensive actions per 90 – 10.26 (Minimum 50% of total minute played)
4th in Aerial duels per 90 – 5.36 (Minimum 50% of total minute played)
4th in Interceptions per 90 – 4.82 (Minimum 50% of total minute played)
And below are some ranking for where he fits in with all players in this year’s Premier Division:
14th in Shot Assists
16th in Ariel duels – 140
2nd in Defensive Duels – 193
5TH in Interceptions – 126
13th in Progressive passes – 20410th in Progressive Runs – 42
10th in Crossing – 65
15th in Dribbles – 80
If you take the UEFA Country Coefficients table for 2023/2024 and look at similarly ranked leagues like Finland – Sweden – Slovenia – Bulgaria – NI – Moldova – Bosnia. There are no players who fit Curtis’ profile (in terms of being first choice). Across those leagues there are no 2005 defenders who are regulars in their respected first team. There aren’t even any 2006 fullbacks getting the majority of minutes. When you factor in that Curtis is born in December 05 it’s slightly more impressive again.
Speaking in March, St Pat’s manager Jon Daly (Ex Ranger and Hearts player) had this to say about the defender. “He’s 17-years-old and could probably play 90 minutes every day. He’s fit and he’s available for selection which is a positive after international duty.
“I’d imagine there have been enquiries already. He’s just got to keep focused on playing his football for us. The most important thing for people his age is to play first-team football at a good level and play against men. It’s massive for him that he’s in the first team environment on a daily basis.
“When he turns 18, the club will deal with that when it happens.
Curtis’ exact contract situation is unclear but it doesn’t seem that he is on a long-term deal. Irish players generally don’t get themselves tied down so he should be on the radar for top European and UK clubs. As previously mentioned he might not be ready-made for a first-team just yet but Curtis has good basics, has played senior football and posses a wide range of skills that could be molded into an excellent player at center or right back. It would be a low-risk, low-cost option with potentially high reward for a side like Feyenoord, who have shown interest. If Curtis wanted to go to England someone like Brighton could do a lot worse than picking him up. The Seagulls have had success in the Irish market and generally with progressing young players into their first team squad.