Things could get flipping awesome at Cardiff City from tomorrow afternoon as Trinidad and Tobago international football captain Kenwyne Jones prepares for life at his fourth England Premier League club.
The six-foot-two “Soca Warrior” managed home debut goals in England for Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland and Stoke City and he intends to give his new Welsh employers an early glimpse of his gravity-defying goal celebrations.
“I have (scored a few debut goals) and I’m hoping to do the same here,” Jones told Wired868. “I choose Cardiff because I had to have another stage in my career and I do hope to help the club retain its Premier League status.”
Cardiff, at present, is at the bottom of the England Premier League standings. However, a win against Norwich tomorrow, coupled with poor results for Fulham, West Ham and Sunderland, can see the “Bluebirds” move within goal difference of escaping the relegation zone.
New Cardiff City boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is in just his third season as a football manager and his first outside Norway, needs a dependable soldier upfront. And there is an irony in the fact that he is gambling his team’s Premiership existence on a player who was once considered overly laidback by fans in the unflustered pace of his homeland.
Ex-Southampton manager Harry Redknapp famously claimed that he once went berserk when Jones was beaten on a fitness test by his 49-year-old assistant Kevin Bond. And yet here is Jones, who disputes Redknapp’s story by the way, about to make his bow for a fourth Premiership club since leaving W Connection in Trinidad and after a 10-year spell as a UK-based professional.
He is still in the top flight of one of global football’s top leagues for one reason only; the boy can play.
“(Jones) was fantastic and I have played against him twice now,” said Chelsea captain John Terry, during the Trinidadian’s debut season for Sunderland in 2006/07. “He is a very good player, very hard working and probably the best in the air in the entire Premier League. He really is that good.
“All the lads are talking about him afterwards, how well he did and how impressive he was.”
At the time, Terry compared Jones to Chelsea and Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba and there is no higher compliment.
It is not for nothing either that seasoned football men like Redknapp, Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes all utilised Jones while disciples of expansive football such as Michael Laudrup and Roberto Martinez tried to hire him.
Redknapp, despite his humorous anecdote, tried to re-sign Jones while at Tottenham.
Quick, strong and dominant in the air as well as a clean striker of the ball with either foot, Jones has the assets to be the envy of most centre forwards. Uneasy Cardiff fans need only look at the job he did for Sunderland and Stoke, who were both desperate to retain their Premiership roles when they sent for “Jonesy.”
There were seven goals in his debut season for newly promoted Sunderland in 2007/08; arguably a decent tally at a relegation-threatened team, particularly in Jones’ first real Premiership season and without the benefit of a pre-season with his teammates.
Jones missed the first three months and pre-season of his next Premiership campaign due to a knee injury sustained in a friendly against England. But he still managed 10 goals that again helped the “Black Cats” beat the drop and got nine goals in the 2009/10 season, despite being used to supply manager Steve Bruce’s record signing, Darren Bent.
Bent credited his personal best tally of 24 goals in that season to his partnership with Jones.
Jones moved to Stoke in 2010, after Bruce signed Ghanaian star Asamoah Gyan, and helped the club to its first FA Cup final appearance and a place in the Europa League while he was the club’s top scorer with nine League goals.
Jones might have been a victim of his own success. Stoke boss Tony Pulis responded to the club’s improved standing by signing ex-England international Peter Crouch and Jones was largely restricted to Cup matches for the next two and half seasons.
His League goal tally thereafter read: one, three and zero. Incidentally, Crouch continued to be an automatic starter ahead of Jones despite a distinctly modest goal return of: ten, seven and four.
Solskjaer, clearly, felt Jones’ worth lay beyond the unflattering statistics that do not tell the whole story of the Trinidadian’s unfulfilled talent. And, if the Cardiff faithful need more recent proof of their new striker’s worth, they need only request footage of his last five months with the Trinidad and Tobago team.
In Jones’ last nine internationals, he has scored six times; his 50 previous caps yielded just seven goals. (Click here for Jones’ brilliant lobbed goal against Saudi Arabia)
His purple patch coincides with the hiring of Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart and saw the Warriors advance to the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals for the first time in 13 years. Jones was also on the Confederation’s Player of the Year shortlist although the award eventually went to Mexico striker Oribe Peralta.
Hart told Wired868 that a chat with Jones in his hotel room was the start of a mutually beneficial partnership.
“I couldn’t believe the amount of criticism Kenwyne got,” said Hart. “One of the first things I did was to have a long chat with him and try to take the pressure off.”
Jones spoke affectionately of his relationship with Hart and his present role within the national set-up.
“I think he’s amazing and he imparts his experience and knowledge of Trini football on to the squad and we respond,” said Jones, who did not attribute his improved strike rate to any significant tactical adjustments. “He has chosen me to lead and I respect that.”
The Warriors’ upward curve continues this year with friendlies against World Cup-bound nations, Argentina and Iran, in June 2014. Jones is excited about the present direction of the national squad.
“(Facing Argentina) is a fantastic opportunity for the squad to improve our team play,” said Jones. “We respect the talents of their squad and Lionel Messi is one of the best in the world. It would be a pleasure to grace the field with him but I wouldn’t be thinking of that during the game.”
Before Messi, Jones has to help Cardiff tidy up a stuttering start to its Premiership existence. Cue a couple of the somersault celebrations he picked up from his uncle, Philbert Jones, who played alongside Dwight Yorke in the country’s famous 1989 team, which was nicknamed the “Strike Squad.”
Jones comes from a humble background. As a boy, his mother, Lydia, worked as a domestic helper in the United States for six months in every year to afford a better lifestyle for her sons, Kerwin and Kenwyne.
Now, the 29-year-old footballer has made such a good living from the game that he probably will not have to worry about money again. He casually swatted away his critics.
“Everyone’s opinion of me would be different no matter what I do in my career,” he told Wired868. “I never try to live up to anyone’s opinion of me because I could die by their criticism. I was raised to always be myself and not be afraid to stand in my own place; I’m more concerned with what My God thinks.”
Jones is one of six players from the tiny two island nation to have played in the Premiership alongside Dwight Yorke (Aston Villa, Manchester United, Blackburn, Birmingham and Sunderland), Shaka Hislop (Newcastle, West Ham, Portsmouth), Clint Marcelle (Barnsley), Stern John (Birmingham, Sunderland), Carlos Edwards (Sunderland), Jason Scotland (Wigan) and Jlloyd Samuel (Aston Villa and Bolton).
But can Jones point to a spiritual home like his predecessors? Maybe the self-declared outsider will meet his calling with a small Welsh outfit trying to make a mark among England’s biggest football clubs.
Jones, who spent the last three days roomed in a Cardiff hotel, is itching to show what he can do.
“I’m looking forward to playing football and enjoying it again,” said Jones, who denied any acrimony in his departure from Stoke. “A footballer’s career is short and he should be happy in doing his job. I think it was necessary to leave in order for me to continue my career and enjoy my football.”
Cardiff will hope for a flipping brilliant start to life with its new Trinidadian star.
Editor’s Note: Kenwyne Jones scored the winning goal on his home debut as Cardiff City edged Norwich City 2-1 on 2 February 2014.
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