FC Schalke 04 fans have very little to complain about right now. Their team are through to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals and look well placed to qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League, sitting third in the Bundesliga.
Ask supporters in Gelsenkirchen for the reasons behind Schalke's success and many will likely point to the goalscoring exploits of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Others will cite the influence of crowd favourite Raúl González or perhaps the work of coach Huub Stevens. Yet those in the know often refer to a different name: Jermaine Jones.
The defensive midfielder is arguably in the form of his life, an irreplaceable figure in a side pushing to end the campaign on a high. It marks an unlikely reversal of fortunes for the 30-year-old, given there was a time, not so long ago, when he was dropped from the Royal Blues' first-team squad.
It was in November 2010 that Jones, the son of a German mother and an American father, found himself training with the reserves after falling out with Felix Magath, then Schalke's coach. Jones had a reputation as something of a hot head, and his poor performances and attitude were cited as reasons for this exclusion. "Empty your locker, we have been assigned to the reserves," he recalls his colleague Hans Sarpei telling him. "I felt empty inside."
The former Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer 04 Leverkusen player, who joined Schalke in 2007, spent the rest of last term on loan at Blackburn Rovers FC, making 15 Premier League appearances. He was determined he would not return to Schalke, but return he did and he soon found himself back on the bench, this time under Magath's successor Ralf Rangnick. His fortunes changed, however, with the September appointment of former head coach Stevens, who immediately picked out Jones as a potential leader of this young side.
Schalke's sporting director Horst Heldt helped persuade him he could fulfil this role. "He convinced me to stay at Schalke and I'm very happy I followed his advice," Jones said. "
I know what it's like to experience success here and I'm eager to win trophies with Schalke. I also talked with some of our fans and they assured me they still have faith in me." Jones's own maturing has helped and it seems his installation as captain of Jürgen Klinsmann's United States national side has given him a new understanding of his responsibilities.
Jones complimented his team-mates following the 4-1 second-leg victory over FC Twente in the UEFA Europa League round of 16, in which he scored his first goal of the competition. "That was perhaps the best Schalke performance all season," he said. They may well need to match it against their next opponents, Athletic Club, to go further, and if they do, we can expect Jones to have played his part.
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