Jermaine Jones is a renowned hardworker and always gives his all, whether it be for his club FC Schalke 04 or for the USA national team. The 30-year-old enforcer often pushes the boundaries on the pitch and has been known to overstep the mark on occasion, but it is precisely for his battling qualities that he is so valued.
In January, Jones received an eight-week suspension for a foul on German international Marco Reus during Schalke's DFB-Pokal quarter-final against Borussia Monchengladbach. For USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann such incidents are unsavoury, but do not represent a major problem.
The former Bayern Munich tactician made the Schalke hardman his captain just a few months ago in a friendly against Venezuela, a decision which was met with widespread scepticism in the US media. Jones is aware of the controversy surrounding his role in the US team, but is also conscious of the added responsibility that now rests on his shoulders, as he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
"The acts of indiscipline in the past were not acceptable and I was punished for them," said the Frankfurt native, son of a German mother and American father. "But being captain of a team is something completely different. I have to be a role model. On top of that you need a good relationship with the coach. I need to be the link between him and the players. In the national side I've shown that I can lead a young team."
Klinsmann agrees and holds Jones in high esteem. Following a 1-0 defeat against France in November 2011, USA have now won their five subsequent games, including a 1-0 victory away to Italy, a 3-2 triumph over Slovenia and most recently, a 5-1 thrashing of Scotland. Such results give weight to the decision to include Jones, who has played a key role in the upturn in form.
"Jermaine is captain of the team because he possesses extraordinary abilities," Klinsmann said to goal.com ahead of the Venezuela friendly. "His performances have improved the quality of the rest of the group and have helped everyone. Jermaine is an aggressive player and always goes to the limit, which is something you just have to deal with. If you go over the top with the kind of game he plays, which he has done, then you have to cope with a lot of criticism."
Leadership sparks change
Jones appears to have mellowed since leading the side back in January. In recent Bundesliga matches he proved pivotal in helping his side qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League. Moments of madness finally seem to be a thing of the past both on and off the pitch. On the international scene, Jones goes about his tasks thoughtfully and efficiently.
"Of course it makes me proud to be able to take on this responsibility," the midfielder said. "I was really happy about it. It's a challenge that really appeals to me. I try to help my team in each game, especially as it's a very young side. We've won both matches I was captain in and I think we've done very well so far."
If Jones has his way then that will continue. Following friendly matches against Brazil (30 May) and Canada (3 June), the third round of the CONCACAF qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ begins on 8 June against Antigua and Barbuda. Four days later, they travel to Guatemala and in September they will face Jamaica. Jones, who has just 16 international caps to his name so far, is confident USA will pick up positive results.
“We respect every team, but we believe in our own ability. If we play to our best then I'm sure that we'll be among the favourites to win the group," Jones told FIFA.com in his typically confident manner.
The father of twins is one of the older and more experienced members of Klinsmann's squad. He is therefore aware that qualification could provide his only chance to play at a FIFA World Cup. His only taste of an international tournament so far was at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001, where he represented Germany.
"It's one of my biggest aims to play at a World Cup again," said Jones. "It would make me incredibly proud to play at a World Cup with USA. I’ll give everything to make it happen," he added. Anyone who knows the tough tackling midfielder also knows that he is invariably true to his word.