Football: Jones returns to reclaim his future

Stephen Brenkley meets the new man at The Dell armed with a winning philosophy
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The Independent Online
The David Jones story

1956: Born Liverpool 17 August.

1971: Begins his footballing career as an apprentice at Everton, aged 15.

1974: Signs professional contract as a centre-half at Goodison Park.

1975: Makes his debut for Everton and goes on to be virtually an ever- present over the next four seasons. Wins England Youth and England Under-21 caps.

1979: Moves to Coventry for pounds 275,000, but later suffers a career-threatening knee injury. Recovers sufficiently to join Hong Kong club Seiko.

1983: Advised to stop playing on his return to England, but made 50 appearances for Preston over the next two years, scoring one goal.

1986-1990: Manages non-league Southport, Mossley and Morecambe.

1990: Joins Stockport County as chief coach in July.

1995: Appointed team manager on the same day as Danny Bergara leaves the club in March.

1996: Stockport beat Premiership sides Blackburn and West Ham in an epic Coca-Cola Cup run.

1997: Beat Southampton in the Coca-Cola Cup quarter-finals before losing to Middlesbrough in the last four. In May, Stockport finish runners-up in Second Division to champions Bury and win promotion to First Division. In June, Jones and his assistant, John Sainty, move to Southampton.

There ensued the usual delicate negotiations and protracted discussions when the chairman of Southampton met the man he wanted as his new manager. Actually, Rupert Lowe probably had David Jones from the first hello.

"This is what I've always wanted," said Jones. "I'm back where I've longed to be for so long - in the top division. When I came, some people thought it was for the money they couldn't have been more wrong. I just want to be with the best."

As Jones talked affably on Friday afternoon about his move from Stockport County to Southampton, he gave the distinct impression that he has unfinished business to deal with. His first career in the top tier was ended by an injury to a cruciate ligament.

He remembers the tackle that night at Derby County when he was playing in central defence for Coventry City, the club he had not long since joined. He remembers the tackler, too, but he will not reveal his name. "I've always said I'll never do that in public though I couldn't say I've ever forgiven him. He was just a young lad trying to create an impression but he didn't go on to much of a career."

Jones was 23 at the time and being talked of in England terms. He had spent five years with Everton, the club he supported as a boy. He was going places. After the injury he went nowhere except Hong Kong. On his return from there he resurrected his league career at Preston but his days with the elite were over.

It has been a long, long road back. He began coaching part-time at Southport, he went on in a similar capacity to Mossley and Morecambe. Meanwhile he was training to be a social worker.

"I was dying a slow death inside," he said. "It might have been worthwhile but it was always football for me. When the call came from Stockport it was less money but I didn't think twice. My wife knew I had to do it."

He went to the Cheshire club as youth coach. Within six months he was first-team coach. Four years after that he was manager. It took him 12 months to shape the team as he wanted it. After six matches last season Stockport had two points. Jones neither panicked nor worried ("my assistant was awake at nights, I was sleeping for England") and by the end they had been promoted to the First Division, reached the semi-finals of the Coca-Cola Cup and fashioned a run in the FA Cup.

When he got the call that Southampton were about to woo him back into the big-time he was beside a pool in Malaga. He contained his excitement but only because he is not an excitable fellow. "My staff say that if I was any more laid back I'd fall over," he said.

This should not be taken as lack of will or ambition. Ask him to assess Southampton's chances of survival in the season ahead and he dismisses the question, charmingly but firmly. "I'm here to win things. If you aim for the top and then fail the chances are that you'll still do better than if you aimed for little things. That's when you fail."

It was an echo of Theodore Roosevelt himself - "far better is it to dare mighty things... than to dwell in that perpetual twilight that knows not victory or defeat" - which is not a clarion call heard too frequently at The Dell. Even his predecessor, Graeme Souness, concentrated on survival and little else.

"Look, I know it's tough but I won't worry. I know we probably haven't got the money that other clubs have but that doesn't mean we haven't got some good players. I've got 10 players on the injury list [including Matthew Le Tissier, whom he confirmed will be writ large in his plans] but there's no point complaining."

Jones is almost as you would imagine all Liverpudlians to be, a personable charmer with a ready wit. Again, this conceals plenty of the sterner stuff, which he claims is possessed by a raft of managers in the lower divisions. Despite his yearning to be in the Premiership he is deeply grateful for his experiences over the past six years.

"It has been a wonderful grounding, an apprenticeship in coaching and organisation and I am very glad indeed to have done it. It's irreplaceable that and I'm much more comfortable being here as a result."

Lowe became chairman only last March and Jones is sure that while he has no football background he is not in it for the ride. Everybody has his price, as Jones insisted, but the pounds 10m tag Southampton have placed on Egil Ostenstad seems to make it clear that this will be prohibitively high. Players will not be let go easily.

"It was hard but not difficult to leave Stockport," he said. "I had to come. Not that everybody was happy. When I took the car back a guy came charging towards me red with rage and shouting that I'd just left for the money. I took a shoe off, put it down, and then asked him to stand in it to see what he would have done. He didn't know me."