His face gaunt, his fringe limp across his furrowed forehead, his Netflix queue perilously short of inspirational documentaries, it’s hard to imagine any football manager is having a worse time than Jesse Marsch at the moment. But then, Nathan Jones’ warped reality defies imagining, and there he is at Southampton, somehow doing worse than anybody could dream. Come, let’s laugh at him.
This is no idle picking on of a random rival manager. Jones’ history with Leeds is bizarre, and it has all been him. He faced Leeds early in his time managing Stoke City, meaning Marcelo Bielsa’s staff had to review all the games he’d coached at Luton in rapid preparation for visiting the Potteries in January 2019. It wasn’t enough; Leeds lost 2-1, and Jones celebrated wildly, flinging out his arms, running across the pitch, saluting the fans in all four stands. Fair enough. But he didn’t leave it there. He found a photo he liked of his on-the-whistle celebration, a crucifixion party-pose with Marcelo Bielsa crouched in the background, had it blown up printed and framed, and placed it in the tunnel at Stoke. Then he was photographed walking down the tunnel looking at it.
🔴 Nathan Jones had a picture of his celebrations framed after his Stoke side beat Leeds United last season
👀 Today Leeds United dominated in a 3-0 win leaving Jones on the brink of getting the sack at Stoke City pic.twitter.com/YlNVCovHYc
— ODDSbible (@ODDSbible) August 24, 2019
In the 32 Championship games that followed, before he was sacked, he won four more matches, drew thirteen and lost fifteen. Among the defeats was United’s return, in August 2019, when he strode confidently past the framed photo of his celebration — at this point he’d won one game since then — on his way to being turned over 3-0 by Bielsa’s Leeds at their best.
Jones did get another triumph over Leeds a few days later, winning on penalties at Elland Road in the Carabao Cup on a night I remember him arguing with his defenders while leading 2-0 — they were having none of him — kicking bottles, leaning back with his hands clasping his buttocks and screaming, and calling Leeds fans behind the dugout ‘wankers’. That result kept him in a job long enough to put six more defeats on Stoke City’s season before they got rid.
Stoke sent Jones scuttling back to make his apologies to Luton Town — “What I’m really remorseful about and what I regret wholeheartedly was the manner of the exit [to Stoke] … I had a fantastic relationship with the fans and I betrayed that. I went against everything they had given me” — meaning we had to deal with him again. Luton visited Leeds shortly after the 2019/20 restart in late June, and thanks to Pat Bamford and Helder Costa’s struggles with the floodlights, got away with a 1-1 draw. Jones used the occasion to stride out onto the Elland Road pitch and, without any fans in the stadium to goad, he went for Pablo Hernandez. “It’s my fault,” said Jones, when he was asked why Pablo had wanted to tear his head off his neck. “We had a little bit of an argument in his native tongue and I just wanted to show him I could speak Spanish. I probably said something I shouldn’t have in Spanish but I apologised.” Phil Hay later reported that the phrase Jones had plucked from his two seasons playing in Spain involved calling Hernandez a ‘son of a bitch’.
There is a pattern between Jones and Leeds that reflects the pattern of his coaching career. Things start going well for him, and he gets very giddy — leaving Luton at the first flutters from Stoke and Southampton, framing photos of himself, calling Pablo’s mum a bitch — then, when his lack of ability catches up with him, he backtracks and retreats and blames everyone else. His Christian faith is his business, but I am intrigued that he always seems so unfamiliar with the basic bits of the Bible I learned at Sunday school — ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is just good advice, that seems to evaporate from Jones’ devout mind when he’s throwing a Jesus pose on the sidelines and declaring himself bigger than God, i.e., Marcelo Bielsa.
Which brings us to Southampton’s 3-0 defeat to Brentford this weekend, and Jones’ post-match press conference, in which this habitual fingernail chewer arrived muttering swear words and declaring absolute nonsense.
“I’ve allowed certain things to happen and gone away from what’s made me successful in the past,” he said. “I’ve listened to people and it’s been to my detriment — I’ve compromised too much. What you’ve seen today, that’s not the way my teams play.” He then claimed he actually hadn’t listened to anything. “We’ve thought, ‘Right, what have we got?’ Because there are certain people in the village and players in the building that we have to work with. I haven’t listened to outside noise, I haven’t listened to anything, but now I’ll live and die by my own philosophy.” Then he made certain claims about his Luton Town team, 2021/22. “At Luton, we were a real aggressive, front-footed side. Statistically, there weren’t many better than me around Europe in terms of aggression, clean sheets, defending in your box, xG (expected goals) — all of those things. We were pound-for-pound the best because we were spending next to nothing and producing so much. I’ve gone away from that because it’s the Premier League, and due to certain players and internationals.”
I think — and I can’t be sure, because he’s a maniac and he could mean anything — I think Jones is saying here that the players at Southampton are good, so he hasn’t been coaching them the way he coached the players at Luton, who were bad. Another angle is that, because Southampton are in the Premier League, he has tried to adopt a Premier League style of coaching, when what he should have done was all the stuff that worked at Luton in the Championship.
“We were brought in to do something different because, on an absolute shoestring [at Luton], we were scoring goals, keeping clean sheets, out-pressing and out-fighting teams and doing the basics so well. That’s why I was recruited. And I’m not doing them at the minute. But that will change.”
‘We’, incidentally, includes a first-team coach who went with Jones from Luton, Alan Sheehan, whose 21 games for Leeds from 2007-10 get by far the most attention on his Wikipedia page, despite him going on to play more than 100 games each for Notts County and Luton. Always nice to see Sheezdogg in the wild.
Maybe Alan and Natedogg will be back at Luton before long, although Rob Edwards is on six wins and two defeats since taking over and the Hatters might not be mad enough to take Jones back again. Without a second homecoming, I don’t know what will become of Nathan Jones. One persuasive theory of his problems that I saw over the weekend is that, at Kenilworth Road, he has always been given absolute control over a small club, and at Stoke and Southampton, he has been unable to deal with the concept of other people being involved in running a club on a larger scale. He’s a control freak who can’t abide a two horse town, basically. Which means the longer he stays in nominal charge of Southampton, the better, because it takes a relegation place away from us, and it’s funny to think of him biting his nails down to the quick in his home office, beneath the enormous photo of him celebrating his career highlight win over Leeds that some kind person at Stoke fished out of a skip and sent after him. Pablo Hernandez sends his regards, Nathan, and hopes you enjoy the rest of the season exactly as you should. ⬢