BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, March 2, 2011
After a difficult winter, US midfielder Jermaine Jones is enjoying a career rebound in the English Premier League with Blackburn Rovers where he is excited for his future.
Jones, 29, joined Blackburn on January 18th for a season-long loan from Bundesliga club Schalke 04 where he had not played since November after a dispute with head coach Felix Magath.
Now having been at Blackburn for more than month, Jones is happy with his club situation in England.
"It's very good," Jones told YA. "When I got here, the first few days and weeks my teammates made it very easy for me. The club made it an easy transition."
The move to England was significant for Jones in that it was the first time he has left Germany to play professionally. He began his Bundesliga career in 2001 with Eintract Frankfurt then moved to Bayer Leverkusen in 2004 but returned to Frankfurt in 2005. In 2007, he joined Schalke 04 where he played until January.
Leaving Germany, however, was something that he had wanted to do for quite some time.
"It was not that hard," Jones said of departing Germany. "I have [been open to] leaving Germany for awhile. This gave me the chance to go. My wife and I had been talking about it at home. We said that when we had the chance to go, we wanted to go. We wanted to see something different and have new lifestyle."
Jones' departure from Schalke 04 came after a widely publicized fallout with Magath who dropped Jones and other players in November. For Jones, it is a matter he does not want dwell on and instead he simply wants to focus on Blackburn.
"When I made the decision to go, I went," Jones said of his departure from Schalke. "Now I don't want to talk about that. To me it's over and I want to do everything I can to maybe stay in England. I have a long contract with Schalke but for now I am focused on my season with Blackburn. After the season, I will focus on the Gold Cup. All the other stuff with Schalke and Blackburn will be with my agent."
At Blackburn, he finds himself with a club that has been trying to stay in the top half of the Premier League standings while undergoing a coaching change just before the opening of the January transfer window.
In mid-December, Sam Allardyce was fired in surprising fashion and Steve Kean was appointed as the interim coach. In January, Kean was given the permanent job and a contract until 2013.
Jones has enjoyed playing under Kean since his arrival at the Lancashire club and feels that he is a good fit for Kean's system.
"I enjoy playing under him 100 percent," Jones said of Kean. "He's a really good coach. My teammates told me how they played before [Kean] got there. It was really difference than how we try to play now. I like how he plays right now. The whole club responded and right now he wants to try to play good [soccer] in the league."
Jones has now been at Blackburn for more than a month and it has given him a chance to compare playing in the Bundesliga versus playing in the Premier League. While both leagues are considered to be among the best in the world, Jones is impressed with the speed and the power of the English game.
"The differences are that [in the EPL] you have a lot of players that are really, really fast," Jones compared. "They have power from fitness. I think the Bundesliga is a very good league but I think in England you have more power. When I was playing in Germany, I was one of the players that ran a lot. Now in England you have 90 minutes where everyone runs up and down then up and down again. There aren't many breaks in the game like in Germany."
Also in the future for Jones is more time with the United States national team where he is expected to take part in two high profile friendlies in March against Argentina and Paraguay.
Jones made his long-awaited debut with the US back in October after he missed more than a year with a shin injury. His games against Poland and Colombia were times that he enjoyed and he looks forward to being part of Bob Bradley's plans in the future.
"When I played my first game against Poland, it was really, really positive," Jones recalled. "I was happy to play. The teammates were good to me the whole time. We had a lot of fun. At the time, things in Germany with Schalke were not so good but when I played for the national team, I was happy."
In his early days, Jones had played for Germany's youth teams in official competitions along with the senior team in friendlies. Under previous rules, he was cap-tied to Germany due to his official appearances with Germany's youth teams.
In 2009, FIFA altered the rules for players over the age of 21 who were cap-tied by youth national team appearances, and Jones was free to use his one-time switch to play for the US. He filed for his switch almost immediately and wished he could have played with the US the whole time.
"When I had the chance to switch, I switched right away," Jones discussed. "If I could go back in time, I would have played for them sooner. When I met Bob [Bradley] the first time, he came to Germany to see me. He talked to me about the US team and how he wanted to play. It was before the World Cup. I knew I wanted to play for the United States."
After filing for his switch to play for the US, Jones had to wait more than a year before making his US debut because of a shin injury that kept him out more than a year. During the time of his injury, he suffered many setbacks.
Jones would finally turn the corner in 2010 when US national team doctors began to treat him and put him on the road to full recovery. While his leg no longer gives him any pain, he was forced to miss the 2010 FIFA World Cup. While it was difficult for him not to take part on soccer's biggest stage, he took comfort in the birth of his twin sons at the time.
"It was a hard time for me [missing the World Cup,]" Jones disclosed. "I am not the youngest player. When I was watching all the games on TV it was difficult. The best thing though at the time is that my wife was pregnant [with twins] and my two sons have given me what I missed at the World Cup."
Jones insists that he isn't looking back on his missed time but instead happy now to finally have an international future even if he will be 32 at the time of the next World Cup. He has seen improvement in the US team and the improvement is apparent in that many of the players are now in the best leagues.
"When you look at where all the US players play, most play in England," Jones pointed out. "Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Spector, Stuart Holden all play in the Premier League. For me England is the best league. The national team has really gone up the last two or three years. We aren't scared when we have to play any other national team."
Jones also refuses to talk about the next World Cup and the team's potential since he said more important games lie ahead in the near future to even begin to think about a tournament still more than three years away.
"We know in the summer that we play in an important tournament in the Gold Cup and we want to win it," Jones confidently stated. "All the other stuff, we have to take from game to game. We can concentrate on the next World Cup after the Gold Cup. It's too far to talk about the World Cup."
Jones' background as a dual citizen, his American father served in the US military, is nothing new in the history of the US national team. Top former players such as Thomas Dooley and Ernie Stewart were both born in similar circumstances and both enjoyed playing for the US national team.
Jones is the latest player in this line of American players while Frankfurt-born Nurnberg prospect Timothy Chandler could become yet another. Jones, who is good friends with the younger Bradley said it was very easy to assimilate and feel at home with the US team despite never living for a significant time in the US. If Chandler does join him, Jones knows he will have the same experience.
"It was easy," Jones said of fitting into the US team. "The team made it really easy for me. I can only say that if a new player comes along, we will all make it easy for him when he comes."
In the long term future, Jones is also open to the idea of playing in the US when his days in Europe are finished. He, along with his family, want to eventually live on this side of the Atlantic.
"When I say [in the future] that I am finished with Europe or that I don't want to play here anymore, when I am older I want to go back to the United States." Jones concluded. "I want to live there."
Jones and Blackburn Rovers will travel to London this Saturday to take on Fulham and US teammate Clint Dempsey at Craven Cottage.