Q&A with Jermaine Jones
As Jermaine Jones sat down with ESPN.com in Schalke's training ground restaurant, the U.S. men's national team midfielder pulled aside one of four small rectangular tables sitting in a row along the back wall.
However, the German-born American didn't realize the end table he had just yanked was holding up the middle two, causing the whole thing to collapse in a mess of tablecloth, cutlery and condiments.
The restaurant's patrons stopped as one to stare as, with a cheeky grin, Jones quickly tidied up the mess in front of him.
Schalke's 30-year-old defensive midfielder is just as adept at breaking down the attacking play of Bundesliga opponents, and, having just come off the best season of his career, Jones opened up to ESPN.com about life in Germany, how he nearly stayed in England and why Raul would be a perfect fit for MLS.
ESPN.com: It's been a good season for Schalke. Would finishing third be a positive result for the club?
Jermaine Jones: Yes, for the club it's really good. If you look at the team, we have a young team. After Huub Stevens came on, we had six or seven games where we won every game. Then, with this young team, we're playing in the Champions League next year and we don't need to play a qualifying game. That's a really good year for the club.
ESPN.com: You've played a big part this season and seem really settled. Has this been the best period of your career?
JJ: I think that what was important was the new coach, Huub Stevens. When he came, he gave me a lot of energy from himself. He gave me everything, my confidence, back. I was a little bit down because I [wasn't] playing before, when he said, "OK, we start new. You have a new chance. Show me what you can do. I know what you can do, and if you do that, you will be a big player in my team."
I tried to fight [my way] back into the [lineup]. Now I look back at the last six, seven weeks, and I can say I'm happy. For me it's been a really good, good year. I hope that the way I played here in Schalke, I can do the same now for the national team in the five games that we have [coming up].
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ESPN.com: It can make a big difference to a player when a coach gives you that backing, can't it?
JJ: Of course, you need that. Everybody needs a coach who puts his trust in you. When you have that feeling as a player that he likes you, that you can make a mistake and he won't say something, I think for a player that's important.
This is what I'm saying: Before I had the one coach who gave me the same chances but sometimes he would say, "OK, I have to take you out, you're not playing so good."
Stevens says every time: "OK, you don't play good. Show the next time that you can play better." In your head, you know, OK, you can make a mistake but you can go on. This is why I can play this season so good.
ESPN.com: Is this the reason then you didn't end up leaving after your loan spell at English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers last season?
JJ: It was in my head to stay in England. I talked with the general manager [Horst Heldt] in Schalke and said straight away, "The last coach, he doesn't like me."
I did nothing, I made no mistakes in the club, I trained good but I had no chance to play with Felix Magath. That's why I wanted to go and I didn't want to come back.
My family liked England. It was a good six months. But the general manager and I go a long time back, and he said, "Jermaine,trust me. When you come back, the team needs you. The coach says he needs you, too, and you can be an important player for this team."
We were talking for three weeks, then I said, OK, I'll come back and I'll try it again. Now, I'm glad I listened to what he said and trusted him.
ESPN.com: What was your time last season in England playing with Blackburn Rovers like? It must have been good to be able to experience a different league and country.
JJ: I think England's a different league. You have a lot of power games where you need a lot of energy. Germany's more tactical, and England's more kick-and-rush and more power games.
For me, the six months in England were good. I got to learn some stuff, and when I look back now and I talk with some people [at Blackburn], and they say they're fighting to stay in the league. Last season, they said it was important [for me] to stay in the league, that I was a good player and we're not happy that you're going back to Schalke.
For me personally, it's good [to hear that].
ESPN.com: Fan engagement in Germany seems very open with a real connection between fans and the club. Is that what Schalke's like?
JJ: We have only three clubs in Germany that are really like this. Schalke is one of the biggest clubs in Germany but they have a good [relationship] with the fans. I've been here for five years, and for the club, it's important that the players have good contact with all the fans and the fans have good contact with the players.
ESPN.com: Spanish legend Raul has been at Schalke for the last two seasons. What's it like playing with him, and what's he like as a player?
JJ: Raul is a quiet player. He doesn't talk so much. He's not like this when he's on the pitch. When you see him on the pitch, he's smart. Before he gets the ball, he knows straight away what he's going to do. The young players can learn a lot from him.
[Off the field], he's not the guy who drives big cars to show that he's a big player. He's really easy, quiet, he doesn't talk too much. He talks only with the team to help the team. He's won everything I think you can win but he's a really good person.
ESPN.com: Raul will be leaving the club at the end of the campaign, and he says he'll play outside of Europe next season. Would he be a good option for the MLS?
JJ: Yeah, of course. When one MLS team has the chance to get him, then they need to try it. With him, they would have a lot of people that come and watch the games. I see that here when he comes.
Any team that would sign him in MLS, that should go down well with the fans.
ESPN.com: Let's talk about Jurgen Klinsmann. You mentioned how professional he is but is he a bit different than your typical German coach? He seems to be very positive.
JJ: He's a guy that when you look back on his career, you can see he never says "no." He goes away, scores goals, he goes on and on. This is what he gives to the players now.
Last time when I went to the [USMNT's] Genoa camp, I could see it. There was a lot of MLS players, and he tried to teach them a lot of the tactics, what we learn in younger ages in Germany. He needs time, but I think he will bring the national team up, step by step.
ESPN.com: A number of USMNT players have told ESPN.com how Klinsmann has advised them on their club decisions. Is it a benefit to have a national team coach who helps like this?
JJ: This is why I say when you look back at what he won when he was a player, I think it's good for the young players to be able to talk to him. They look back at what he won and how he won. He's not only a guy just talking, but he's explaining about [how he succeeded] in his career.
Like say, Mikey [Michael Bradley]. He wasn't playing at Borussia Monchengladbach, then Klinsmann said to him, "OK, try it in Chievo." It may be a smaller club but you can play every game and maybe you have the chance in two years, three years to go to a big club in Italy.
For young players, it's important that they play. This is why you try to bring the young guys in to the national team. On a big club, you can be on the squad but you don't play every game. This is what he tried to explain to the young guys.
ESPN.com: Just like Huub Stevens has done at Schalke, it seems Klinsmann has put a lot of trust in you as well.
JJ: The time where I wasn't playing here in Schalke was a hard time, too. I talked to him [Klinsmann] on the phone, and sometimes he called me and said, "OK, I don't take you into the camp." I asked him why. But when I look back now it was correct for him. He gives the other players who play at their clubs a chance to play in the national team.
He knows how important I can be when I play like I do at Schalke. That and I can help the younger guys on the national team like when I made it in the Genoa camp.
It's why he trusts me to use my experience from my 10 years in the Bundesliga. The experience I have, I try to give it to the other guys.
That's why I'm happy and I look forward to the next five games.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, but now based in England, Davidde Corran is a freelance soccer journalist, photographer and videographer who has covered the game on TV, radio, in print and online around the world. Follow him on Twitter: @DaviddeCorran.
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