Just two months ago Kenwyne Jones was the subject of interest from Liverpool. Ahead of his first visit to Anfield since the speculation, Chief Football Writer Paul Fraser found Jones to be relaxed and still hungry to succeed.
When Steve Bruce is asked to discuss the merits of Kenwyne Jones, he tends to deliver the same response. He admires the striker, but clearly thinks the laid-back Trinidadian can do more to reach the peak of his performance levels in every game.
“Every day is different with Kenwyne,” his manager said recently. “We know he has fantastic ability, it is getting him to use that week in and week out.”
His own manager’s perception of a striker once valued at £40m by Roy Keane was what led to intense interest from Liverpool in the January transfer window, when Rafael Benitez and the Anfield hierarchy did their best to unsettle the striker.
The constant suggestions that Jones was going to be sold by Sunderland undoubtedly had an effect on Jones, sparking a debate among supporters as to whether or not the 25-year-old should be sold.
Some of the fans who might have argued it was the right time to sell Jones may new have changed their tune.
Jones has his flaws, but few would disagree with the assertion that he is among the most effective target-men in the Premier League on his day.
Even Harry Redknapp, the man who wondered “if Jones lacked the desire to be a top player” when he was at Southampton, questioned the level of Jones’ application in his earlier days in England.
But beneath his status as a Premier League footballer, Jones remains proud of his roots and the work he has been through to climb to the heights he has reached. He is not willing for the progress he has made to stop now.
“You have to work hard because if you do give up you will sink, definitely. There’s no point starting something but not finishing it,” said Jones, who has recovered from a hip problem and should figure at Anfield tomorrow.
“Apart from football, in any job in life, you have to work hard to get some sort of result. Hard work might not guarantee a result right away in a normal job, they might enjoy the fruits of their labour 20 years down the line.
“In football you get to enjoy the rewards quite quickly but it can still be a struggle all the way through. Life on the whole is hard work and parents should teach that nothing in life comes easy.”
Jones was speaking after showing his support for the Premier League’s Places for Players scheme, when he attended a family learning clinic at Lumley Junior School, Chester-le-Street.
He stressed the importance of sticking to the task to the children who scrambled for his autograph.
Jones knows all about having a love for football as a youngster and, drawing on his memories of playing in the Trinidad town of Point Fortin with his family and friends, he is keen to give something back by sharing some of his spare time in the North-East community.
Jones grew up in a footballing family. His father, Pamphille, played semiprofessionally and his uncle, Philbert, formed part of the Trinidad & Tobago team that narrowly missed out on qualification for the World Cup in 1990.
But his youth was also hard.
His mother, Lydia, spent sixmonth periods in the United States as a cleaner, sending money back to her family, while Jones would run around the streets playing football, cricket and basketball.
He also had an affection for athletics, but it was the football he was told to concentrate on during his time at St Anthony’s College and it was a decision that he has never looked back on since.
“It’s good when you go out and see the kids,” he said.
“When I go back to Trinidad I am surrounded by kids, I have been used to that for a long time now. It’s nothing new and it goes with the territory. It’s a part of life and you can’t think about it too much. You have to embrace it.
“Every time you are given an opportunity to help someone or change the life of someone you have to take it.
There’s no two ways about it. People have this notion that football is easy, it is not.
“Yes, football has its great rewards of the game, but at the same time there’s also a lot of hard work, stress. Just like a normal 9 to 5 person.
You do have the stresses of the job, it might be hard to believe for supporters, but you do.
“Sometimes it is good for people to know what it is actually like. But then there is this perception that you are just the guy in the middle, kicking the ball around, with little feelings. There’s more to us than that.”
After leaving school Jones signed semi-professional terms with a respected lower league side, Joe Public, before being signed up by the biggest club in his homeland, W Connection.
But, after the birth of his first child, he made the lifechanging decision to head for Europe in an attempt to further his career, in a similar way to Dwight Yorke, who moved to Aston Villa in 1989.
Jones had trials with Manchester United, West Ham, Rangers and in Holland, but it was Southampton where he impressed the most and sealed a two-year deal in 2004.
“It was basically all about me playing well for W Connection and being spotted by scouts,” said Jones. “I have worked hard all of my life to play football and to reach the stage I have wanted. I have worked hard for years and years.
“I have had the sessions at six in the morning and at six at night when everyone else was relaxing, in bed or having breakfast. But it was all about training before and after school for me. That’s the best time in the Caribbean to train because it can be too hot.
“I have had the injury problems, my career has not all been straightforward. I was not born here, so I have had to work three times as hard to get here. In order for me to stay here I have to work harder.”
His form since the transfer window closed on February 1 has improved by the game. If he could have been accused of being frustrating towards the back end of 2009, he should also be praised for his displays before injuring his hip against Manchester City on March 14.
Jones has only scored twice in the seven matches since January, but his performances have edged nearer to his best again, which has also suited Darren Bent’s way of playing.
Liverpool, ahead of tomorrow’s trip, are likely to be taking note – not that Jones is worrying.
“I am always in a good place, regardless of what is going on in the media or wherever,” said Jones.
“The speculation that arrived in January is part and parcel of the job. You will have offers and you just have to deal with it.
“If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t, you go back to the drawing board and you work harder and hope one day you achieve what every footballer wants to achieve and that is to play at the highest level.
“It won’t be strange when we go to Liverpool. It’s not that I have played for Liverpool before and I’m going back to my old club.
“It’s just going to be a case of me going to a ground to do a job for my club. That’s all I am there to do.
“I have not spoken too much about it with the manager, Steve Bruce. You have a job to do, there’s not really too much to be said.
“You basically do it because at the end of the day the club could say I’m there for ten more years and then tomorrow I’m gone. All I can do is buckle down, work hard and whatever will be will be.
That’s the story.”
Ironically it was against Liverpool that Jones made his Premier League debut for Southampton in January, 2005 after loan spells with Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke City.
And Sunderland head for Merseyside in a different frame of mind from the time when there was constant speculation that Jones was on his way to Liverpool on an initial loan.
After bringing to an end a 14-match winless run with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Bolton, the Black Cats go to Liverpool on the back of a five-game unbeaten run, which has resurrected hopes of a top ten place.
“In the dressing room it would be wrong for people to have doubts about our ability,” said Jones.
“I am not making any excuses but our squad has been disrupted massively throughout the season.
“At the start everyone could see what we were about when we had a fully-fit squad. It’s been an up and down time trying to get people fit.
“It’s also hard when you hit a poor run. You try to take your mind off it but it’s one of those that can really put you down.
“It was a daunting task over that poor run we had, but just because we have ended it, it doesn’t mean everything will be fine. We have to keep working hard and maintain that level of performance.”
Despite his improvement in fortunes, Jones still insisted that he has not been at his best in his last couple of games and is intent on doing better when he returns to action.
Given the effort he has put in over the years to make the breakthrough as a Premier League footballer, he is likely to achieve his goals