Sidebar

15
Fri, Dec

Typography
Six months ago, Trinidad and Tobago World Cup player Kenwyne Jones seemed to be facing an unhappy reality about his life at England League Championship team, Southampton Football Club.


Jones was already, statistically-speaking, the third striker on the club's books. In the 2005/06 season, Jones managed four league goals from 38 league outings, which trailed the returns of Jamaican international Ricardo Fuller (11 goals) and the teenaged Dexter Blackstock (7).

So, when Southampton manager George Burley signed Tottenham Spurs' Polish international striker Grzegorz Raziak as well as Manchester City and ex-England Under-21 forward Bradley Wright-Phillips-the stepson of Arsenal's former record holder Ian Wright and brother or Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips-the writing appeared to be on the dressing room wall.

Jones did not take a hint.

"You have to have confidence in yourself first before anything can happen," said the former St Anthony's College schoolboy. "No matter if there are 10 other strikers competing for your place, you have to put your head down and believe that whatever work you put in and attributes you have will benefit the team.

"I always believed that the manager would see what I can do and give me the nod over anyone else."

There have been doubters but Jones can allow himself a brief smirk after a promising start to the season for club and player alike.

Burley, a former Premier League boss with Ipswich, offloaded Blackstock and Fuller early in the season and, after a patchy start, gave Jones the opportunity to partner Raziak up-front. The 22-year-old "Soca Warrior" repaid his faith with five league goals from 19 appearances-Jones has six goals in all competitions-while Southampton are sixth in the 24-team table and four points shy of second place and automatic promotion to the Premiership.

Raziak's 14 league goals is the highest in the division while Wright-Phillips chipped in four in league competition and three in the League Cup. But Burley was happy to recognise Jones' striking improvement.

"Sometimes people maybe don't appreciate the quality he's got," Burley told the British press. "Encouragement for most people is the way to do it. At times you've got to pull them and say that's not quite happening.

"But I'd rather encourage and work with players on the training ground and fulfill their potential."

Few would argue that Jones is a talented player and superb athlete. But it is when one debates his best position on the field that the discussion might become dicey.

Jones made no secret of his desire to play up-front like his dad and ex-Defence Force striker, Pamphille Jones, and uncle, Philbert Jones, who was starting centre forward for the "Strike Squad".

Nigerian coach Adegboye Onigbinde, Brazilian Rene Simoes and local Bertille St Clair preferred to use Jones in more defensive roles with the national squad while his former employer, Vibe CT 105 W. Connection, sent him on trials in Britain as a central defender.

Not for the last time in his career, Jones refused to back down and there was no turning back after his first run of competitive matches as a striker in Britain produced returns of seven goals in as many matches for Sheffield Wednesday in the English League One. In so doing, he matched a 12-year Wednesday scoring record of five goals in successive games by Mark Bright.

"I always do what I have to do when I play in the back but it is not a joy for me really," he told Sport Express. "I always prefer being a striker."

There was a rumour that ex-national head coach Leo Beenhakker planned to use Jones as an emergency defender at the 2006 Germany World Cup after he lost Marvin Andrews and Avery John to injury and suspension respectively. Yet, Jones remained up-front and gave a battling performance in his only start against England although he seemed to be used mainly to negate the offensive forays of opposing left back, Ashley Cole.

It might not have silenced critics who feel he is best at the back. But Jones' superb individual performance in a 2-1 friendly win over Panama in October might be a better indication of his usefulness.

Jones' long legs, so adept at chasing opposing strikers, terrified the Panamanian defence as his smooth running and upper body strength gave the T&T midfield a potent outlet. His goal was a credit too to his predatory instinct as he pounced on an under-hit back pass to put the hosts ahead.

Southampton have benefited from his offensive advancement too.

Jones' double in a 4-3 win against Birmingham City on November 29 confirmed the south coast team's promotion credentials and justified Burley's faith in the six foot two Trinbagonian.

Jones dedicated the pair to his twin daughters, Arianne and Kaelyn, who were born 16 days earlier. He has three children.

"Hopefully, they will see Trinidad (for the first time) in April," he told Sport Express. "I have to give them some time until they are strong enough to travel."

If the goals keep coming, Jones will be in no hurry to return. This time next year, he hopes to be in the Premiership and was delighted for his boss' supporting words.

"It is good for your manager to come out and say good things about you," he said. "I think I am in good form and looking to get better. I think a little luck is starting to come my way."

National coach Wim Rijsbergen will hope that he saves some luck for the Warriors.