The philosophy which is driving Graeme Jones at Newcastle United
Graeme Jones made quite a statement when he returned to Tyneside after more than three decades.
Jones had left the region as a teenager to pursue a career as a professional footballer – and he returned, aged 50, full of what Steve Bruce described as “fresh ideas”.
Bruce’s Newcastle United, certainly, needed freshening up after a dreadful and draining run over the festive period which had seen the club knocked out of both cups competition and edge towards the Premier League’s relegation zone.
Jones didn’t speak like an assistant manager in his first interview, which instead had a managerial quality.
“I'm hoping to use all my experiences to try to get a style of play that benefits Newcastle United,” Jones told NUFC TV. “It's trying to get the best players on the pitch, in a system that suits us, to make us as strong as we possibly can.
“The big thing for me is always to try and control games with the ball. You can control games without the ball as well. There needs to be that balance.”
Jones, recruited from Bournemouth for a £250,000 fee, had one day to get to work before the game against Everton late last month – and he made his time on the training pitch count before the club’s visit to Goodison Park.
Newcastle looked a different team. They were unrecognisable. United played from the back, moved the ball quickly and pressed high up the pitch. They deservedly won 2-0 thanks to two goals from Callum Wilson to end an 11-game run without a win.
Fans lauded the performance – and Jones’s impact.
Miguel Almiron has since shone in his favoured No.10 position, and the upturn in fortunes has also coincided with the return of Allan Saint-Maximin.
Jones and his ideas, clearly, have had an impact on the field.
Of course, Bruce – who has dismissed what he has described as “conspiracy theories” about Jones’s appointment – has claimed he saw the first signs of an improvement in the second half of the 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa.
Jones – the second-favourite with bookmakers to be the next Newcastle manager – was shaped as a coach by his time working alongside his former team-mate Roberto Martinez at Swansea City, Wigan Athletic and Everton. He also assisted Martinez when he took over as Belgium manager.
Under Martinez and Jones, unfashionable Wigan, playing an attacking 4-3-3 formation, stayed in the Premier League until 2013. The club was relegated just three days after it memorably won the FA Cup.
“They shared the same beliefs,” said one former Wigan player. “Some of the stuff we were doing was cutting edge.
“They were very specific about what they coached during the week. It was impressive. Yes, it went wrong at times, but it was really special at other times.
“They were strong on their principles. They would stand by those principles, and this was instilled through Roberto. We would always play a passing game – it was ‘play – at all costs’.”
Jones eventually left Martinez’s side to join Darren Moore, another former team-mate, at West Bromwich Albion following the club’s relegation from the Premier League.
The club had almost stayed up following an incredible run of results with Moore as caretaker manager following the departure of former United manager Alan Pardew.
West Brom had been difficult to play against following Moore's appointment as caretaker as they fought the threat of relegation, but the team attempted to get on to the front foot in the Championship.
The team, now trying to play from the back, started well. Dwight Gayle, signed on loan from Newcastle, was among the goals, but they couldn’t maintain their form in the second half of the season.
Jones came in for criticism, but Moore, a popular figure at The Hawthorns from his time there as a player and coach, stood by him.
"Nobody criticised Moore – Jones was the fall guy,” said one observer.
Moore was sacked in March, and Jones followed him out of the club. West Brom were knocked out of the play-offs by rivals Aston Villa. Gayle was sent off in the first leg of the club’s semi-final, and would miss the decisive second leg at The Hawthorns.
Jones’s next job wasn’t as a No.2. Instead, he took the challenging position of manager at Luton Town following the club’s promotion to the Championship.
It would be a testing 11 months for Jones at Kenilworth Road, where he had to operate with a strict budget.
At the time of his appointment, Luton chief executive Gary Sweet said: “He has caught our eye over the last few seasons.
"We were always looking for an individual with fresh ideas, but one who would befit our club's culture and ambition; one who is capable of taking Luton Town to the next level, building further upon the foundations we have nurtured over the last few years."
Jones – who succeeded former Newcastle striker Mick Harford in the role – would last just 11 months in the job.
He left his post last April while football was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. The club was 23rd in the Championship – and six points off safety – when he left the club.
However, there were signs of a late-season recovery, and Jones “never wavered” in his belief that the club would stay up.
The team had conceded too many goals over the course of the season, but Jones’s main focus had been on scoring them.
In a revealing early-season interview, Jones said: “I want to win. Honestly, if we won 10-9, I’d be delighted. If I get a clean sheet, brilliant.
“If you’re assessing us after eight games, we can score goals. My only remit is to win, and I’ve got to try and do that by the best I can on the strengths that I’ve got in the football club.”
That philosophy will resonate on Tyneside.