There may have been an injury scare at the start of the week for Kenwyne Jones, but manager Roy Keane has admitted the striker is a player who ‘demands’ to be back in the Sunderland team.
And while the setback eight days ago prevented him from playing against Portsmouth and led to him travelling to London to see a specialist on Tuesday, Jones was a surprise inclusion against Blackburn in the Carling Cup the following day.
Given his excellent recovery, Keane was justifiably worried when Jones limped out of training last week.
After witnessing the £6m man’s performance on Wednesday night, though, the Irishman feels the player is proving he is fit and will figure at Blackburn today.
“He has only just come back a couple of weeks ago from a serious injury, so we have to get that balance right but he gives me a headache,” said Keane, who handed him his first start of the season at Chelsea a fortnight ago.
“Against Blackburn he led the line well, was a handful for defenders and he scored, so again he is staking his claim. To me he is saying you have got to play me. If strikers score you goals, they pick themselves.
“He will be a top, top player and remember, he is nowhere near match fit yet. He has not surprised me with his attitude.
Kenwyne loves football.
We have seen him really hungry and when he got the all clear on Tuesday, he was quite upbeat and on Wednesday morning his body language said he was keen to play. He wanted to be straight back in.”
Provided Jones figures at Blackburn today he will be expected to travel to the Caribbean to play in a vital World Cup qualifier against Cuba on Wednesday.
Despite previous run-ins with the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation, Keane insists “that is what top players have to deal with”.
With Sunderland out of the Carling Cup and occupying a place in the relegation zone, there is clearly a need for improvement and Keane feels Jones’ attacking partnership with Djibril Cisse will be vital.
“Can it flourish? I have not seen anything yet but they have hardly played together,”
said Keane. “They had one opportunity together the other night and if you look at other strike partnerships in the Premier League it takes time, a hell of a long time, especially when one is just coming back from an injury.”
Jones, last season’s top scorer who netted in Wednesday’s first meeting with Blackburn, was earmarked by Keane as a ‘leader’ capable of becoming a future captain at the Stadium of Light.
His comments arrived just days after describing Kieran Richardson in a similar way and he fears Champions League clubs will be looking at both in the next few years.
Keane was amazed by the work-rate and the energy shown by both teams in last weekend’s enthralling meeting between Arsenal and Manchester United, but feels Richardson would have been at home in such an encounter.
“That was one of the best games I’ve seen in years,” said Keane. “It was a reminder to the modern footballer that you have to be as fit as you possibly can, as strong as you possibly can. I would love to get the Pro Zone statistics from the game.
“Top, top players are at the top clubs, but when you are a professional footballers there is no reason why you shouldn’t be as fit as you possible can. Kieran is always at the top of our tree. Kieran could have played in the Arsenal vs Manchester United game, I’m telling you, he’s good enough.”
Richardson’s performances this season have led to Keane backing the midfielder for an England recall, which is a far cry from last season’s injury and form frustrations after leaving Manchester United.
But Keane said: “I had a chat with him in the summer, but it isn’t down to me, it’s all about Kieran Richardson.
The other lads have to look at him and see what can be achieved if you get everything right in your life.
“He has grown up, that’s a good way of putting it. He told me he would and I just said ‘I’ll wait and see’, but he has backed that up. The penny dropped when it was meant to drop for him.”