Jermaine Jones

Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – explaining Jermaine Jones

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I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast late last week with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Jermaine Jones

I have written these words before: “What Jurgen Klinsmann continues to see in Jermaine Jones, only he can say.”

Well now Klinsmann has said. And his explanation makes pretty good sense.

Where we see the imprecise passes and a combustible type who is a yellow card waiting to happen, Klinsmann sees the cumulative effect of a midfield cop on the beat – the guy you want on your side when the you-know-what comes down.

Said Klinsmann: “I know that a lot of people here look differently at Jermaine Jones … but his presence is a big plus for us …. It’s just a different type of player than you are used to seeing here in the U.S., that’s why some people struggle to kind of evaluate Jermaine Jones. Which is fine. That’s no problem.”

The bottom line on Jones, the hard-tackling central midfielder from Germany’s FC Schalke 04, is that whatever technical deficiencies drag down his game, Jones makes up in presence, infectious professional approach, chemistry and a certain intimidation factor the team misses otherwise.

“If it looks nice, or not, it doesn’t really matter,” Klinsmann said. “Job accomplished.”

Klinsmann, like many coaches, is big on establishing a positive group dynamic – not one bit surprising considering that Klinsmann is such a positive fellow.  He knows that any group – your peers at work or your Wednesday poker game or whatever – has leaders and followers and a certain collective psychology.

Everything Jones does, from his attitude at the team hotel (“He’s comes here with a big smile, and he’s ready to work. ‘What is this [camp] about? Who are we taking on?’ That’s what you want.”) to the practice field to the comprehensive game-day process, Jones is a man’s man with weapons grade gravitas. Think of him as the muscled up dude you want around while walking a sketchy neighborhood; there’s a feeling that all is OK with this back alley brawler in tow.

Jones comes from a bad neighborhood, Klinsmann mentions, and he is always ready for the proverbial fight, whether that be an actual donnybrook, a fight for his starting position or a fight to keep the intensity in the red the zone in practice sessions.

Said Klinsmann: “He brings the group to another level … and he’s proud of that!”

As for game days, I see what everyone else sees: a central midfielder sometimes careless with the ball, whose sometimes-labored passing can stall the attack. Klinsmann sees that too, and they continually work the system to protect against or improve the deficient areas. (Tactically, Jones gets more freedom to take chances at Schalke. So that’s always an adjustment, Klinsmann concedes.)

But it’s the intangible that Klinsmann truly appreciates:

“He is one of those players that no opponent would like to deal with. There are payers who, when you see them on the field, the opponent struggles with. It’s like, ‘Shoot, this guy again?’ Just his presence. His hunger. [Opponents may say] ‘Shoot! Do I need that today?’ ”

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Klinsmann mentioned the historic summer win over Mexico in Azteca, how the Mexicans’ approach seems different with Jones is around. They know where Jones is –and they aren’t in a hurry to get there.

“It’s his willingness not to let go. He is always ready for the grind. He grinds you until the 95th minute. That’s something, this mental presence that exists on the field, it’s not necessarily what you see when from the stands, when you see passes completed, duels won and all that … this is what you see in terms of chemistry, in terms of grinding on the field, and it’s only something the players sense.”

Klinsmann says opponents may step back two yards when Jones is around, and that it has a dual effect. Opposition teammates notice and may hesitate similarly, primitive, subconscious traces of self-preservation at work. Meanwhile, U.S. men feed off this razor-wire intensity and sharpen their own approach.

So there you have it. It’s OK if you do not agree with Klinsmann’s rationale here – but it is nice to hear how the contentious “Jones Variable” fits into the bigger equation in the coach’s mind.

TOMORROW: Klinsmann’s coming talks with Landon Donovan

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.