It felt like we’d waited for years. We’d looked on as the predictable happened again and again. Watched the same mistakes being made over and over. And then it happened. That’s right, we got a coach in who wasn’t called Steve. Finally, a difference, a breakthrough! Of course, I’m being daft for the sake of it and as good as it was to see a new coach come into the set-up, the performance and result on Saturday were much better and much, much more important.
Much has been made via social media about the impact of Graeme Jones at the club. But how much of Saturday’s dramatic upturn was down to him and how much – as Steve Bruce has been hinting at – was coming anyway?
The answer of course is that it’s difficult to tell and I’ve found some of the coverage on the likes of Twitter over the weekend a little bit uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still completely anti-Bruce and have been since he was appointed. Whether we gave the bloke a chance or not, I think the trouble we find ourselves in at the moment has been inevitable since day one of his tenure. But can one man, who let’s not forget is working as part of a team of many coaches, make that much of an immediate difference?
It’s a interesting one to ponder. Part of me doesn’t doubt Jones’ impact. The so-called ‘new manager bounce’ is a common factor in top level football. We’ve witnessed it time and again with people like Sam Allardyce being hailed as some sort of hybrid Red Adair/Jesus figure for his work in fighting relegation at various clubs over the years. People seem to happily ignore the influx of players that usually follow his appointment, preferring to think that he has some kind of magical powers. He probably has, but I suspect they’re only relevant in making pies disappear. And pints of wine. All the same, it is possible that bringing in a new face gave the players a bit of a lift. Personally, any face that wasn’t Bruce’s or Agnew’s would probably make me try a bit harder.
So what do we know of Graeme Jones then? Well, his track record is fairly common knowledge and it shows us that he’s worked in some very high profile jobs. And wherever he’s been he’s been part of a coaching set up that has presided over some very good football. Working alongside Roberto Martinez, he worked at Swansea and Wigan, both low profile clubs that achieved amazing success in relative terms. These weren’t clubs where untold millions were spent so you’d have to put it down to excellent coaching as the reason why they performed beyond the sum of their parts. Then when Martinez went to Everton, Jones followed, so there’s experience of working at a high profile, ‘bigger’ club too, depending on your view of Everton.
After Everton came working with the Belgium national team, again as part of Martinez’s set up. That’s Belgium, the number one ranked international team in world football. So, safe to say that Jones has got a bit of pedigree then. After all, it’s not often you get some absolute duffer working with the best players in the world.
So, apart from anything else, Jones is a really good addition to the coaching set up. It was needed too, in my opinion. I can’t shake the opinion that Steve Agnew is not the answer to any positive question that I might have about coaching and I can’t see past a certain ever-present gormlessness when I think of Clemence. I don’t particularly understand Steve Harper’s role, certainly not in terms of the first team and I get the impression that although Ben Dawson has been promoted from the youth set-up and may well be highly regarded, his input won’t be taken on board by our dinosaur of a manager.
A lot has been made of certain images that appeared on social media over the weekend. Jones pointing and shouting while Bruce and Agnew just stand and stare and Clemence, comically, isn’t even looking. But how much can we read into that and the videos that surfaced? I’m torn. Part of me says that we can take quite a lot out of them. I’ve made the point that this type of thing hasn’t been seen this season under Bruce. All I even seem to hear Bruce shouting is the word ‘Up’when we manage to clear a ball, although I can recall a few ‘Go On Jo’ cries to Joelinton. However, social media (again) revealed that this might have just been encouragement to go and get his hair cut rather than anything football related. It certainly hasn’t seemed to inspire if it was meant in a footballing sense. So Jones standing in the technical area seems to me to be a lot more productive and positive than what we’ve witnessed so far this season.
As a coach myself – alright, it’s only Under 12s, but the game’s essentially the same – I’m definitely more an advocate of that style of management than those who stand and watch and tell me it’s better to ‘let them take responsibility’ or ‘let them make their own mistakes’. Even elite footballers need direction. And if Jones having a bit of animation about him made Jonjo Shelvey realise the value of hard work, then he’ll do for me!
Tactically it’s hard to argue that it was solely Graeme Jones that made the difference. But then again, we have a manager who has admitted himself that he’s not a fan of tactics. However, the odds of someone having input into at most a couple of training sessions and that being the sole reason for the performance we saw at Everton on Saturday, have surely got to be low. Jones – as stated previously – seems to have pedigree in terms of being a forward thinking coach, so he’s made something happen, but to what extent is surely anyone’s guess? Unless of course, you’re one of Twitter’s famous insiders with eyes and ears at the training ground…
Then you read Steve Bruce’s post match comments. Firstly, his affirmation that we’ve seen signs of this performance being in the offing. I disagree. Especially when he says the signs were there in the second half at Aston Villa. Sure, we didn’t concede again, but we still couldn’t string passes together, continued to look backwards or at best sideways instead of forwards and were ordinary at best. Against Leeds we toiled again in the first half and it was difficult to see what was keeping Bruce in a job. The second half was better, but the result remained the same – a loss, no points and an inability to put chances away.
After the Everton result Bruce also talked about ‘getting after the ball’ and playing ‘on the front foot’, but if you give those statements a little bit of thought they really just equate to putting effort in. So with his ‘nearly 500 games’ and twenty odd years of experience how had Bruce been unable to coax a bit more running, tackling and attacking out of a squad of professional footballers for such a long time? So you could read into that the fact that, of course, Jones has had an immediate impact. Certainly the signs that Bruce had talked about haven’t been so evident that such a dramatic change in fortunes could be said to have been just around the corner. It certainly adds fuel to the fire.
Talking about his time at Luton, Jones said that he’d wanted to attack teams but realised that they couldn’t beat every team without better players. So certainly no genius there then. But when you dig a little deeper into that it’s possible to see how we might actually be benefitting from his coaching right from the off. The fact is – and suspend your knowledge of what you’ve been watching for the entire season – that he is now undoubtedly working with better players. So is it really too much of a stretch to think that our more ‘front foot’ attacking and snarling approach on Saturday might not be down to the prompting of a certain Mr. Jones, rather than a man who’s coaching has failed to produce such a performance all season? It’s certainly hard to ignore the fact that Bruce has had Wilson, Saint Maximin, Joelinton (I know, I know), Almiron et al at his disposal for some time and produced a relegation battle.
Overall, I must admit, I feel optimistic about Graeme Jones. Is he waiting in line for the big job? I feel it’s possible. Could he do it? I really don’t know. I’m fed up of reading that a coach we’ve brought in is highly rated and then watching as their input makes no difference. Ian Cathro springs to mind here, as well as several who’ve had involvement with the academy over the last few years. But you can’t ignore Jones’ pedigree and experience, can you?
I am fully aware that we’ve won one game during his time in the set up and for all I know it was a moment of coaching genius from Steve Agnew that had the desired effect. But I have to ignore the rational side of my brain there. I had no faith in the management team 18 months ago and still no faith in them when we were getting beat at Villa. And while I laughed at the ‘Graeme Jones is my manager’ brigade on Twitter over the weekend, his arrival could just well have made a big difference.
Perhaps Tuesday night against Palace will change all that and a lot of us will end up with egg on our faces, so to speak. But I for one, can’t ignore the presence of the faint whiff of optimism in the air again. Fingers crossed for Graeme Jones’ Black and White Army and let’s get carried away!