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Graeme Jones interview: Why the Belgium No.2 with aspirations of management joined West Brom in the second tier

By Matt Wilson | West Bromwich Albion | Published:

Four weeks after beating the might of Brazil in a World Cup quarter-final, Graeme Jones was preparing for a game against Bolton Wanderers in the Championship.

In the summer just gone, Roberto Martinez’s assistant helped take Belgium to one step away from the biggest game of them all.

So why did Jones, an experienced assistant with a team of superstars to coach and aspirations of being a manager himself, pack it all in to be a No.2 in the second tier?

“Darren’s the only person I’d be an assistant to now,” he said. “That’s how much I value Darren.

“I’ve worked at a good level, seven years in the Premier League and two years at international football.

“I had an offer to stay with Rob and the national team but for me it was never going to get any bigger than a World Cup semi-final.

“There’s only one game bigger in the world. We were lucky enough to win a bronze medal and I just saw the end of that particular road.

“I missed day-to-day coaching, you have long periods of doing nothing or just scouting, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I wanted to get back on the grass day-to-day and back in the UK as well.

“Then it’s about who you work with and with Darren I had no problems on a human level or a football level that it would work.

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“I couldn’t have worked for anyone else. It was Darren or go on my own and I wanted to work with Darren. That’s why I did it.”

Born in Gateshead, the former striker known as 'Bonner' to his friends is still a recognisable Geordie, despite following Martinez for the past 11 years from Swansea to Wigan to Everton and then Belgium.

In an engaging interview at The Hawthorns this week, he outlined both why he chose to come to the Baggies, as well as his philosophy on the game.

Four years Moore’s senior, one season together at Doncaster Rovers in the mid-90s was enough to spark a long-term friendship.

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“The owner of Doncaster at the time, Ken Richardson, asked me to go and pick him up at Doncaster railway station,” recalled Jones.

“Me and my wife turned up because Darren was turning up with Angie, who was his girlfriend at the time.

“I tried to help sell the club and there was a connection immediately.

Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez celebrates his sides second goal with Assistant manager Graeme Jones during the Barclays Premier League match at the DW Stadium, Wigan

“We both loved the game, you meet a lot of pros who use the game, but we both loved it. The girls connected too.

“I played against him the following season (for Wigan), which wasn’t very pleasant. I scored a lot of goals that season but didn’t score against Darren.

“We were really close and then in 1999 we did our A licence together and we roomed together for 16 days at (FA School of Excellence) Lilleshall.

“Darren was 25 and I was 29 so we were young. That’s how serious we were about football.

“They were long days at the end of a long season. I’d done the play-offs with Wigan.

“It was just a connection from a football point of view when we started talking about the game.

“In the following 21 years we didn’t see each other all the time but always spoke, might have gone three months, six weeks, but we always spoke.

“It just felt right, and natural. In terms of football we’re very similar, we live for the game, it’s our lives, it’s not something we do 50 per cent of the time, it’s total commitment.

“I think if I ever became a manager, Darren knew I would probably give him a call, and he was the same with me.

“But we never had that conversation. Not once did we say ‘if I get a job’... There was just a feeling there.

“Good partnerships have history, you need a connection on a human level as well as similar football principles.”

So when Moore was given the caretaker role at Albion towards the end of last season, it felt only natural for him to call Jones.

“He asked me to come in and work with him straight away but obviously I had the World Cup and was totally committed to that,” said Jones.

“I went to the Man United game (which Albion won 1-0) and gave him feedback afterwards.

“Darren managed that situation really well. As well as having a good tactical plan, he didn’t change anything too dramatically for the players and went back to what they knew, but he’s the type of leader you want to fight for.

"In essence, that was why West Brom had such a good run. If it had happened little earlier, we might be a Premier League side now.”

But Moore and Jones are now starting to make more drastic changes to the way Albion play.

A new 3-4-1-2 formation has transformed the team in the past two games, and is the first sign of the way these two old friends like to play.

It’s brought about two impressive victories, and the expansive style of football has impressed supporters.

"Culturally, I know what's gone on here for the last four or five years," said Jones. "In order to move forward we can't play that way any more.

"Wolves got 99 points last year (and were promoted). You have to score goals and win football matches.

"Draws are sometimes good results in the Premier League, in the Championship they're not. That's the reason for it.

"Obviously there’s lots of improvements to make.

“Our jobs and responsibility is to max out with the players we’ve got. There’s no chance of maxing out after three weeks so it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

Based on last weekend's thrashing of QPR, the Baggies have found a system that suits their players, and it's one both Jones and Moore know well.

Moore won promotion out of this division playing in a back three under Gary Megson and Jones has plenty of experience coaching the system, because it’s similar to what Belgium played at the World Cup.

“We did it at Wigan as well,” he said. “We only played a back three at Everton once or twice but at Wigan we won the FA Cup playing a back three.

“The World Cup was slightly different because it was two No.10s but here it’s two strikers and one No.10.

“In any system, you want to get a strong team and good players out on the pitch, that’s what we’ve done in the past two games.

“It suited the group on Saturday and last Tuesday. I believe in having different shapes and systems. It’s turning into a good option.”

A self-confessed purist who believes controlling the ball allows you to control the game, one of Jones's earliest memories from football was being devastated when the free-flowing Brazil lost to Italy in the 1982 World Cup.

But Jones is also keenly aware that the best coaches have to be flexible and adapt their footballing philosophies.

"You need to master what you do but in modern football you need flexibility and adaptability,” he said. “Manchester City won the league playing 4-3-3, at the weekend they played a back three.

“I remember Barcelona after Pep won everything, he changed to a back three. Why’s he doing that?

“Because people work you out, so you have to be adaptable and flexible. But if you’ve got a good formula you need to perfect it.”

After kicking off the season with five games in 15 days, Jones and Moore now have almost a full week to hone that system before a trip to the North East to face former Albion boss Tony Pulis.

“I’ve been here three weeks and it feels like three months!” joked Jones. “In the nicest possible way. It’s just been non-stop.

“I’m playing catch-up because I started late. There was lots of work to do and decisions to be made.

“I’ve had to move house and trying to get somewhere down in this area so it’s been a bit heavy.”

Moore’s diligence and attention to detail has been one of the hallmarks of his fledgling managerial career, and in Jones, he has a number two who mirrors that work ethic.

“This is not something to be played at,” he said. “It’s a way of living. I don’t leave here and think ‘I’ve got to leave work behind’. I never think like that. I’ve accepted it’s my life.”

Matt Wilson

By Matt Wilson
Football MMPJ - @mattwilson_star

Sports reporter at the Express & Star, who primarily covers West Bromwich Albion.

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