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Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – explaining Jermaine Jones

Dec 4, 2012, 12:00 PM EDT

Jermaine Jones

I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast late last week with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Jermaine Jones

I have written these words before: “What Jurgen Klinsmann continues to see in Jermaine Jones, only he can say.”

Well now Klinsmann has said. And his explanation makes pretty good sense.

Where we see the imprecise passes and a combustible type who is a yellow card waiting to happen, Klinsmann sees the cumulative effect of a midfield cop on the beat – the guy you want on your side when the you-know-what comes down.

Said Klinsmann: “I know that a lot of people here look differently at Jermaine Jones … but his presence is a big plus for us …. It’s just a different type of player than you are used to seeing here in the U.S., that’s why some people struggle to kind of evaluate Jermaine Jones. Which is fine. That’s no problem.”

The bottom line on Jones, the hard-tackling central midfielder from Germany’s FC Schalke 04, is that whatever technical deficiencies drag down his game, Jones makes up in presence, infectious professional approach, chemistry and a certain intimidation factor the team misses otherwise.

“If it looks nice, or not, it doesn’t really matter,” Klinsmann said. “Job accomplished.”

Klinsmann, like many coaches, is big on establishing a positive group dynamic – not one bit surprising considering that Klinsmann is such a positive fellow.  He knows that any group – your peers at work or your Wednesday poker game or whatever – has leaders and followers and a certain collective psychology.

Everything Jones does, from his attitude at the team hotel (“He’s comes here with a big smile, and he’s ready to work. ‘What is this [camp] about? Who are we taking on?’ That’s what you want.”) to the practice field to the comprehensive game-day process, Jones is a man’s man with weapons grade gravitas. Think of him as the muscled up dude you want around while walking a sketchy neighborhood; there’s a feeling that all is OK with this back alley brawler in tow.

Jones comes from a bad neighborhood, Klinsmann mentions, and he is always ready for the proverbial fight, whether that be an actual donnybrook, a fight for his starting position or a fight to keep the intensity in the red the zone in practice sessions.

Said Klinsmann: “He brings the group to another level … and he’s proud of that!”

As for game days, I see what everyone else sees: a central midfielder sometimes careless with the ball, whose sometimes-labored passing can stall the attack. Klinsmann sees that too, and they continually work the system to protect against or improve the deficient areas. (Tactically, Jones gets more freedom to take chances at Schalke. So that’s always an adjustment, Klinsmann concedes.)

But it’s the intangible that Klinsmann truly appreciates:

“He is one of those players that no opponent would like to deal with. There are payers who, when you see them on the field, the opponent struggles with. It’s like, ‘Shoot, this guy again?’ Just his presence. His hunger. [Opponents may say] ‘Shoot! Do I need that today?’ ”


Klinsmann mentioned the historic summer win over Mexico in Azteca, how the Mexicans’ approach seems different with Jones is around. They know where Jones is –and they aren’t in a hurry to get there.

“It’s his willingness not to let go. He is always ready for the grind. He grinds you until the 95th minute. That’s something, this mental presence that exists on the field, it’s not necessarily what you see when from the stands, when you see passes completed, duels won and all that … this is what you see in terms of chemistry, in terms of grinding on the field, and it’s only something the players sense.”

Klinsmann says opponents may step back two yards when Jones is around, and that it has a dual effect. Opposition teammates notice and may hesitate similarly, primitive, subconscious traces of self-preservation at work. Meanwhile, U.S. men feed off this razor-wire intensity and sharpen their own approach.

So there you have it. It’s OK if you do not agree with Klinsmann’s rationale here – but it is nice to hear how the contentious “Jones Variable” fits into the bigger equation in the coach’s mind.

TOMORROW: Klinsmann’s coming talks with Landon Donovan

  1. krazymunky - Dec 4, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    Thanks for these. Interesting to hear about selections from Klinsi himself

  2. crnelson10 - Dec 4, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    I totally get it. I always say I’m not a fan of the enforcer mentality, and lord knows I cringe when Jones is making a pass. But when I saw him wipe out Neymar earlier this year, a part of me was along the lines of “Yeah, dance around that, hot shot.”

    • tylerbetts - Dec 4, 2012 at 2:14 PM

      Yup. When it works well, it really works.

      But … when it doesn’t work well, we’re risking quite a bit. And, let’s be honest, CONCACAF refs aren’t the type to allow the “enforcer type” the chance to keep playing.

      So, just like you, I get why JK wants that kind of player. I really do. I just think it’s not something that helps you in CONCACAF, especially against competition you have outskilled that need to find something for an edge.

  3. soccerjohn - Dec 4, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    I’m clear about the fact that I don’t understand soccer the way JK does, and that I don’t have any sort of window on the USMNT at all. But, still, my reaction is to point out that Michael Bradley seems to offer all those qualities: the competitiveness, fierce defense and crashing tackles, even the baleful looks. He’s doesn’t look as big as Jones does, but MB offers some valuable qualities that Jones doesn’t. I’ve gotta say, I continue to be surprised that JK professes a desire to play faster, more attacking soccer but then wants to field a guy like Jones when he’s already got Bradley on the field.

    • Steve Davis - Dec 4, 2012 at 1:21 PM

      As I said, I know a lot of people still won’t be on board … and that’s fine. At least we now have a better starting point for this conversation.

      • soccerjohn - Dec 4, 2012 at 3:35 PM

        Sorry, Steve, I hope I’m not being obtuse. I appreciate your post…but I don’t honestly see how we’re at a better starting point for the conversation. I guess it seemed self-evident that JK felt Jones contributed something valuable enough to be in the starting XI, and it seemed self-evident that it had to do with an enforcer’s role. So, it seems to me that the only really new perspective is that Jones is such a great glue guy. Amid all the recent posts here and elsewhere about how great Bradley is (and I agree) and how he’s likely to assume the captaincy sooner rather than later–and knowing that the US has historically punched above its weight in part becuase of commitment to teamwork–I guess I’m left wondering whether the USMNT is in such dire need of Jones to provide that kind of leadership.

      • Steve Davis - Dec 4, 2012 at 4:05 PM

        No apologies needed … that’s OK if you don’t feel better informed. For me … I understood the enforcer part before. But it didn’t seem like enough for me. Now, while I may or may not agree, I at least “get it.” I understand more about how much Klinsmann values the group dynamic, the leadership and the cumulative effect of the guy. Again, he may be wrong or he may be right … results will eventually say everything there is to say about it.

        My job as a journalist is to help everyone understand a situation … so perhaps I moved a few folks along in that regard.

    • cornet76 - Dec 4, 2012 at 6:26 PM

      Mr. john and Mr. betts,

      When Jones first declared for the US I thought “at last, a midfield intimidator in the Roy Keane mode!”. I’m not suggesting Jones is as good as Keane was but he is at least a start in the right direction. And both of you underrate Jones skills as a player.

      Yes, MB 90 is fit, industrious, hard working, never gives up, very disciplined, team oriented and all the things we associate with stereotype of what sets us apart as a soccer nation. But that is not the same thing as being an intimidator.

      Mikey just looks angry all the time, he is not the intimidator Jones is.

      He is not a psychotic like Jones is, and I mean that in the best possible way. England’s 1966 World Cup winning team had a guy named Nobby Stiles as their intimidator. He was smaller than Dolo but everyone thought he was crazy and would break your legs. He was eventually replaced by a much more likely looking intimidator in Norman Hunter. Look these guys up some time.
      Before Jones the closest thing the US had to intimidators was Boca.

      Teams with good enforcers, guys like Roy Keane, do not get pushed around. It is not a physical thing, it is a mental thing, a matter of intimidation.

      And I have seen the USMNT get pushed around by the “big “teams in the past, which is why Jones’ takedown of Neymar was encouraging.

      It sent a message to Marcelo to cut out the BS. Why did he not tackle Marcelo? Remember Neymar alone is worth more than probably all the other 21 players on the field. How much is an injury to him worth? And he can’t defend himself as well as Marcelo.

      Do you know why Barca plays the way it does? In part it was evolved as an answer to big, physically and mentally intimidating teams like Germany. They can’t hit you if they can’t catch you. That speed of play, that quickness is another form of intimidation. And before you tell me that is the path the US should take Barca did not get that way overnight and JK only has a year and a half.

      I have been following teams like West Germany and now Germany since the sixties.
      If you really want to understand this go back and watch some of the winning German teams JK played on. They always had at least one enforcer. Actually I always thought half their team was like that. An no one ever accused them of being unskilled players.

      Klinsmann said Germany needs an enforcer now and if you think about they have had a lot of near misses since JK left. Maybe they are missing that extra element of “steel” that German teams have always had. They were always skilled and talented but above all never believed they would lose and scraped and fought and used any means necessary. In fact, if you are honest, many World Cup matches are close, brutal affairs.

      • Steve Davis - Dec 4, 2012 at 6:50 PM

        To Cornet’s point … something I left out, Klinsmann says Germany needs Jones right now. Says no one like that was around to go shut down Pirlo in that decisive match vs. Italy at Euro ’12. … Not saying he’s necessarily correct, but that’s what the man said Friday.

      • soccerjohn - Dec 4, 2012 at 7:30 PM

        I agree that the US sometimes does get pushed around. However, I guess I always saw that as a failure on the ref’s part. For instance, if the ref lets Brazil (or some CONCACAF minnow playing at home) get away with muggings, that seems like an officiating problem.

        So, it sounds like what maybe I’ve missed up to now in this discussion is that it’s not just about tackling hard, it’s about the US lacking a bit of a mean streak and maybe a bit about Jones being unphased by the situation or the quality of the opposition.

        If that’s the case, then I can see it a bit more. The MNT might need a player like that on the field despite other deficiencies until the other players get experienced/mean enough to not need him. And that’s consistent with something JK took flak for saying some months ago, about the team needing more of a mean streak.

        I think it’s starting to make more sense. Just took some time :)

      • cornet76 - Dec 4, 2012 at 10:27 PM


        I guess JK does not want the USMNT to believe that CONCACAF and other referees will treat them a lot better in the future.

        Mikey is very well respected by the opposition. Along with Donovan and Dempsey (and hopefully soon, Jozy) they are concerned with the threat he represents. But they are not concerned about them the same way they are concerned about Jones. This is about intangibles, something any US sports fan should understand well.

        The Steelers just upset the Ravens in Baltimore. Why? Because they wouldn’t give in, not because they are a more talented team. They just refused to lose. And that is about as big a cliché as there is in American sports. And Jones is that kind of guy.

        Jones learned his trade and was a standout in the Bundesliga, a league with a low tolerance for wimps and losers. And he has a lot of experience in the Champions League, for a contending team. It does not get much higher level than that in this game.

        Everyone knows what the Brazilian stereotype is right? Well among other things, the German stereotype especially for midfielders, is the inability to accept defeat, a valuable addition to the intimidation factor.

        It’s worth remembering that, should the USMNT qualify, it is likely to be a little light on experience, especially if Landon goes walkabout and Boca does not make it. Granted, Jones would be a WC rookie too but nevertheless, his experience will be invaluable.

    • alderramos - Dec 13, 2012 at 10:48 AM

      You’re correct that Michael Bradley seems to have those qualities NOW. But, he didn’t have them before. Maybe it’s co-incidence or may be not, but he has become a better player after Jones’ arrival. I guess my point is that are things happening behind the scenes that we don’t know that make Jones is so valuable to the team.

  4. mvktr2 - Dec 4, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    (Pats self on back) 😉

    I’ve always gotten what Jones brings to the field, and it’s nice to hear JK confirm it. Someone above mentioned Neymar, I’ve always pointed to that game and that moment to others as to the ‘why’ of Jermaine Jones. Brazil wasn’t just playing chippy, being cheeky, or trying to push buttons, they were playing downright dirty in that game. Once that was clear and the chance to send a message came Jones came hard, got enough ball to avoid the red and flung their arguably best player to the turf like a failed trapeze artist. Message sent, from that point onward Brazil played honest. That’s one value and I think he’s the one player in the top 25 player pool capable of it.

    And that’s only one aspect of it. The other which is super valuable is his gritty stick-to-it-ness.

    I personally think the US should deploy a 4-1-3-2 with a defensive sweeper as Adu and Jones fit that role exactingly, admittedly Adu more than Jones.

    What I don’t like about jones is the stupid handball and other just plain bad decisions. I don’t worry about straight reds and yellows from him as he controls that part of his game… it’s the bonehead that comes out now and again that worries me.

    • cornet76 - Dec 4, 2012 at 6:32 PM

      I presume you mean “Edu” as Freddy is not my idea of a midfield destroyer.

      Jones gets a bad rap on this card thing. He has 3 yellows, and no red cards, in league play this season. For comparison, Mikey has 3 yellows, Pirlo and Schweinsteiger have 4, Scholes has 5 and so on.

      Cards aren’t always about losing your temper.

      • mvktr2 - Dec 4, 2012 at 7:51 PM

        Yes, Edu… Mo… brainfart, sorry.

        I also don’t worry about cards from Jones as his aggression is measured and purposeful, the quality he possesses that say Kyle Beckerman doesn’t (the measured part and quality to send a message while getting ball). Fwiw that’s the reason Beckerman is sticking around the fringes of the team also, toughness. KB won’t make it to Brazil, but he’s another asset in forming the mentality of the team through qualifying, something else I’ve defended.

  5. cornet76 - Dec 4, 2012 at 9:53 PM


    Beckerman may be limited but he comes from a team with a winning mentality and I would bet he is a big part of that. I’m not suggesting he will be in our WC 2014 team but I wouldn’t rule him out either. If you are ruling him out due to lack of talent, well then he wouldn’t have been called up in the first place.

    What we are talking about here is intangibles. It’s not always about the 11 best players, it’s more about the 11 players who play the best together. That is why talented guys like Benny and Freddy get left out for less talented guys. To get the most out of them you have to alter the team but they aren’t so talented that the alteration is worth all the hassle. At least that has been the case so far with them.

    JK is trying to find that tricky combination of tangible skills and intangible mental toughness and smarts that all winning teams have.

  6. hjworton46 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:36 AM

    Jermaine Jones is a ‘first name on the team sheet’ type of player, the sort of player every good team needs. It’s quite simple.

  7. raven18011971 - Dec 5, 2012 at 6:55 AM

    I actually have to agree with Der Jürgenmeister on this one; having a feared enforcer out on the pitch is going to be critical if we qualify for the Big Show again, particularly if we can make the KO rounds. The simple fact is, though CONCACAF officials may be all too ready to apply yellow cards during qualifiers, referees are a bit more reluctant to apply harsh justice at the World Cup (unless your name’s Felipe Melo), out of a distinct fear of FIFA that people will claim that the “refs decided the match.” In order to be able to move forward and grab that goal (or those goals) we’ll need to advance, we have to have an enforcer in midfield who may pick up an eventual yellow card, but who will also make the opponents wary about venturing forward. Wholeheartedly agree that Bradley is capable of being the hard-nosed midfielder as well, but he is far more valuable as the axis of our attack – particularly now that Landon is so “sad” and pondering giving up football on the cusp of the US’s greatest opportunity to go far at a World Cup.

  8. wfjackson3 - Dec 6, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    I think that Jones will eventually make a breakthrough to being a competent and reliable passer. I can’t remember which game, but the game where Williams really showed up in the middle for the first time, I remember being wowed at some of the long ground ball passes Jones was able to complete. I don’t see the consistency and agree that there is lots to be desired most of the time, but I still think he will be dynamite for us if he can get just that little bit better.

  9. metroplexfrog - Dec 8, 2012 at 11:35 PM

    Jones is a tough player and JK trusts him and that’s okay by me.

  10. sxewesley - Dec 13, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    This article begins with the assertion that Jermaine Jones is a technically deficient player that brings nothing to the table other than physicality and intimidation.

    I disagree with that entire premise. Watch him with Schalke he is a cut above most of the USMNT players in his tactical acumen, technical skills, passing and movement, on top of being an intimidating physical presence and ball winner.

    One of his first big plays was a no look, killer long ball in the Panama game, the dude has serious skills. If he has not looked great of late in our set up, I would be more apt to point to the system and tactics we are employing, or a relative lack of understanding between JJ and his USMNT teammates, than the understanding he enjoys with his club teammates, because JJ is an absolute beast both offensively and defensivly for a Champions League level club.

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