Steve Bruce does not believe in psychologists. Once an old-school defender with the battered features to prove it, the 48-year-old has adopted a similarly no-nonsense approach to management.
So having been surprised at just how good his most expensive signing is, now it is down to him to coax the best out of a striker whose qualities are plain to see.
This afternoon the Stadium of Light should witness a shoot-out between two strikers hoping to be in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad. But while Darren Bent and Carlton Cole have become consistent goal-getters, Kenwyne Jones is proving more enigmatic.
Jones, who will not be in South Africa thanks to Trinidad and Tobago’s dismal qualifying campaign, was once described by John Terry as the best header of the ball in England, and has often been compared with Didier Drogba.
On other days, like at Birmingham City seven days ago, he can be completely ineffective – and with his languid style appear disinterested, too. In many ways he has become emblematic of a side which has beaten the best and lost to some of the worst.
“Kenwyne excites and exasperates in equal measure,” Bruce admits. “He is one hell of a centre-forward and on his day unplayable. What we must find is – like at the rest of this club – a level of consistency which makes him one of the most feared Premier League strikers.
“He has all the tools to do it but he has to do it on a regular basis to be considered a really, really top-class centre-forward.”
Bruce showed at Wigan Athletic he could get the best out of the different, but no-less-complex, Emile Heskey. Having given Jones what he probably secretly craved more than anything – a reliable partner he could strike a rapport with – Bruce has now put the carrot well out of reach to rely instead on liberal use of the stick.
“He needs to be living on the edge of rather than inside that comfort zone,” Bruce says of Jones, notable by his presence when other “big names” were rested in the early rounds of the League Cup.
“When he plays well, the team plays well. There are some parallels with Emile Heskey in that sense.
“Kenwyne is quick, with good mobility, great in the air, six foot four and you would not want to play against him at his best.
“Any top team is only as good as its strikers. We need that level of performance from him week in, week out and that is the test for me and my staff. That is what management is all about, not just tactics or picking a team.”
Jones was the villain on Tuesday when Sunderland went out of the League Cup on penalties. The first came in regulation time, Brad Guzan saving his weak kick. When a penalty shoot-out followed Jones was stood down from his duties.
“He was disappointed he missed that penalty but he played very well on his own up front against (Richard) Dunne and (James) Collins,” says Bruce. “He gave as good as he got. If he had stuck the penalty away, he would have been the hero but at least he had the balls to take it.”
If Jones has at times disappointed, the same cannot be said of Bent. “He is a better footballer than people give him credit for,” says Bruce. “His link play is good, he is terrific in the air – better than I thought – quick, has power, and boy can he finish! So he has got to be in with a chance (of an England call-up).
“It frightened the life out of me last week when I knew he had taken a knock and shuddered a knee. Thankfully, it isn’t too bad.”
When Bruce spent £10m of Ellis Short’s fortune to take football’s most notorious Twitterer from Tottenham Hotspur, it was nevertheless something of a gamble. “The challenge of management when you pay all that money is to say, ‘Just come and enjoy yourself son. Come and play,’” Bruce reflects.
“I remember him in that season for Charlton when he got 22 goals, nothing ever got him down and he played with a huge grin on his face and a great attitude. He maybe never had the craic at Spurs.
He’s up against Cole but Benty is single-minded enough not to worry about that and think, ‘Can I just keep my own level of performance up?’ I am sure he will do his own stuff, That is all you can do.” If Jones does, too, West Ham can expect a torrid afternoon.