Kenwyne Jones is a vital part of Sunderland's frontline but he is as unpredictable as ever. Chief sports writer Luke Edwards looks at what can be done to bring out the best in the striker.
Steve Bruce has a full head of hair which may surprise even himself given the number of times he has felt like tearing it out while trying to coax the best out of Kenwyne Jones.
You cannot change a person’s temperament. You cannot turn someone into something they are not, but how Bruce must wish he could wave a wand over Jones which will suddenly turn him into the snarling beast of a centre-forward he could be.
Jones is the epitome of laid-back and you would be hard pushed to find a calmer, more balanced character in a Premier League dressing room than the 25-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago.
A mercurial talent, he is a manager’s dream one game and his nightmare the next. On his day, Jones is unplayable in the air, and strong and quick on the ground. On others, he is ineffective and apparently disinterested.
At times, Jones is the player who makes Sunderland tick as an attacking force, a goal threat and a link-up man upon whom the rest of the team can feed off. At others he is anonymous.
There will always be players like him and they infuriate managers like no other. But if Bruce needs Jones, he needs them. For all of the talk of Liverpool’s interest last season he will not find a better club than Sunderland unless he finds the one thing that eludes him more than anything else – consistency.
Getting the best out of Jones is Bruce’s biggest challenge at the Stadium of Light because if he can do that on a more regular and consistent basis alongside Darren Bent, Sunderland will have a strike-force which can rival almost any other in the top flight.
“Kenwyne gave me food for thought playing at centre-back against Hull City the other night, but in all seriousness we just want him to find some consistency,” said Bruce with that air of exasperation that always accompanies his thoughts on Jones. “Kenwyne is Kenwyne.
“He can be unplayable. We all know what his attributes are, we just need to see them more often. That’s the important thing. We want to see Kenwyne Jones every week, not every two or three weeks.
“We need to see him performing week in, week out. We need to see that endeavour in his game a little more often than we have seen. He can be a wonderful player, but I want to see him do it more often.”
He continued: “It is a challenge as a manager. The thing with Kenwyne, it his demeanour, his culture and his up bringing to be laid-back. He’s a lovely boy. What you see is what you get in his life. We all know what he can do and it’s the greatest challenge as a manager to get them out of him on a consistent basis.
“We all enjoy working with him. He is never a moment’s bother off the pitch or on it, but we want to see the real Kenwyne Jones more often.
“He’s got to strive to reach that level week in, week out. That’s the challenge for him.”
Bruce has been patient with Jones and, despite struggling to comprehend how a player with his talent can fail to make the most of it, he still sees him as an integral member of the first team squad.
Yet there is also a warning from the manager as we gear up for his second season in charge. In Fraizer Campbell, Sunderland have a young, exciting striker who is itching to play in his favoured centre-forward role rather than in the right-wing position he slipped into last season.
Campbell has scored five goals in two friendlies out here in Portugal and has added intelligence to his game to go with the speed and finishing skills.
And, with Sunderland closing in on a season’s loan deal for Manchester United’s young centre-forward Danny Welbeck, the competition for places has cranked up a notch this summer.
Ever since Roy Keane brought Jones to Sunderland three years ago he has been an automatic selection and, without him, Sunderland probably would not have survived in the Premier League.
Times change, though, and Sunderland are no longer relegation fodder. They are a club with European ambitions and it is Bruce’s job to ensure they continue to move forward, progress and improve.
If Jones is not careful, if he does not push himself on a regular basis, if he goes through the motions when he is not in the mood for the rough and tumble of the Premier League, he might just find he gets left behind. It is a message Bruce hopes he takes on.
He said: “He’s got a challenge to be in the team now with the emergence of Fraizer Campbell and of course we’ve got Darren Bent. He is not guaranteed to play.
“He is not an automatic choice any more because of the competition for places we have got among the strikers. He has to rise to the challenge and hopefully we will see him do that this season.”