The Kenwyne debate: a critic speaks


For Pete Sixsmith, any remaining question marks concerning Kenwyne Jones’s commitment, ability and contribution were removed on Sunday afternoon, not when Darren Bent handed him the second penalty – to Steve Bruce’s subsequent fury – but when he cut across to put us back in front with the sweetest of strikes. Jeremy Robson has been one of Kenwyne’s fiercest critics. Did Sunday bring about a damascene conversion? Jeremy explains why he stills wants more …

Did the real Kenwyne Jones stand up against Wolves, Salut! Sunderland asked?

If ever there was a loaded question along the lines “Have you stopped beating your grandmother yet?”, this was it. Undeterred, I will get back to the question, and unlike politicians who might meander around the subject for so long that the question becomes lost in the mix, I will give a concise answer. Did KJ stand up. Well, he certainly got off his stool.

His penalty was dispatched in cool style, and his second was one of the best goals that we’ve seen from him.

I’ve been one of Mr Jones sternest critics over the course of the last year or so. The reasons for my criticism of him are straightforward.

When he arrived at Sunderland from Southampton he was a breath of fresh air. His power and strength was immense. He would clatter into defenders, who were clearly terrified of him. He was winning balls in the air with consummate ease, and was in many cases a one man forward line. John Terry described his as one giving him the toughest games of the season (or words to that effect). He was absolutely devastating, and he looked as if he was really up for it.

The summer of 2008 saw KJ sustain a serious knee ligament injury which caused him to miss the start of last season.

The lack of a pre-season took it’s toll on him, and in the opening months of the season Djibril Cisse was employed as the lone front man during Kenwyne’s absence. We were told that KJ was going to return stronger than ever as he had been bulking up with a lot of gym work during his lay off. This was apparent when he reappeared in the first team. He had clearly added a lot of muscle to his upper body. Bigger and stronger than ever.

Naturally it took Kenwyne a while to regain match fitness which can only be achieved by playing competitive games.

For me, the player that returned looked a pale imitation of the player that had finished the season before.

Yes, his goal rate improved during the 2008-9 season despite the fact that he had missed several months. But in spite of that improved return, he still didn’t look the same player to me.

The ferocious towering challenges which earned so many plaudits didn’t seem so threatening. He seemed to be pushed out of the way all too easily, and would go down under the flimsiest of challenges.

There were debates about whether he could play with a Djibril Cisse, or indeed whether Jones could play with any partner at all. He seemed to prefer being the lone wolf, and that was a mantle that Cisse had taken for his own during the early months of the season while finding the net with regularity.

People even began to comment on the strange body language of both Cisse and Jones, and the tangible lack of communication. Though they should probably never have been more than 15 yards apart at any point in a game, they looked at times as if intent on avoiding each other, one hugging the right touchline and the other positioned himself in the old inside left position.

They didn’t play as a pair when they were both selected. Neither looked particularly happy, either with each other when together or, as the season went on, when playing as a solitary striker.

Cisse would shoot from halfway down the player’s tunnel if someone threw him the ball. Jones, on the other hand looked indifferent at best, bone idle at worst. It appeared that the interest shown in him during the January transfer window had his head turned south way before his Aston Martin reached the A19.

Yet Jones finished the season with a respectable goal tally for the season, despite the team’s dire run of form, and the long term lay off. And his goals contribution so far this season has been very good. But it’s only been over the last few weeks that we have discovered that Kenwyne can actually shoot.

There is little doubt that the arrival of Darren Bent has made an enormous difference. Bent provides a different kind of threat to Jones and they seem to enjoy playing together.

Committing these thoughts to the screen, it seems almost churlish to be criticising Kenwyne’s contribution over the past 12 months.

However, there is so much more to say. There are some fellow supporters who have been offended at my temerity in levelling criticism at Jones.

So back to the question of whether the real KJ stood up against Wolves. Yes, he may be finding his feet.

But I have a question for Kenwyne. Do you want to be good enough, or do you want to be the best you can be?

Kenwyne’s rivals for a striking berth – Fraizer Campbell and David Healy – do not possess anything like his ability, or pose such a physical threat. Even so, Campbell has been preferred to Jones this season, largely based on his work ethic. Jones’s languid style and apparent unwillingness to chase down balls and lost causes has been fuel for the fire of his critics.

But the real difference between Campbell and Healy and Kenwyne Jones is that while they are probably as good as they will ever be, Kenwyne could be unrecognisably better as a player than he is at present.

There are parts of his game that need to improve for him to become a really top player. Lapses in concentration and a more acute awareness of how to play with his chosen partner are essential requirements.

Improving his work rate is another, and this is something that Steve Bruce has recognised early in his reign.

I believe we’ve seen only a small percentage of what Kenwyne Jones can achieve. I’m just not sure he has realised this himself. Kenwyne’s critics don’t doubt his talent. Nevertheless his poor work rate and apparent indifference at times have been deeply frustrating.

In short, Jones should see that his biggest critics are probably those who recognise the true scale of his potential. Having Steve Bruce as his manager may well make the difference. Perhaps over the course of the next year we won’t be talking about him standing up. He’ll be walking on air.

14 thoughts on “The Kenwyne debate: a critic speaks”

  1. So, the considered view appears to be that I am wrong about Kenwyne. There is something of a paradox here. What is it that I am wrong about? Is it the fact that this goal tally for last season flies in the face of my ill considered logic? I understand Bill’s point about what appears to be a contradiction in my argument, namely that what I consider poor performances led to a better goal return. I believe that statistic to be largely artefactual, and that Kenwyne’s goal tally increased despite of the fact that he was not playing as well. Over the first half of last season Amr Zaki’s goal scoring feats for Wigan were apparently attracting the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid. The second half of the season his performances couldn’t get him a starting berth for Wigan!
    Anyone who watched Sunderland seriously last season could surely not have failed to observe the Kenwyne’s poor work rate and apparent indifference. Some of his performances last season were almost apologetic. There may well have been events behind the scenes which had produced this effect. We will probably never know. However, to deny the stark and clear difference between the Jones of most of last season and the season before is tantamount to attending meetings of the Flat Earth Society. His work rate has been questioned by the Sunderland management this season, with Steve Bruce leaving him on the bench for a couple of games. Last Saturday, it had the desired effect, and that is what good football management is about. It is built on a recognition that what may have been appropriate and correct last week or last season or that very morning may not be true right now or ever again in certain cases.
    My major criticism of Kenwyne Jones is probably that he doesn’t realise quite how good he can become. On the whole I agree with Pete’s assertions that he has started to use his intelligence more, in terms of bringing others into play and dragging defenders out of position. He is still a long way off doing that as well as he might, and as well as Niall Quinn used to do for example. For a front man, his number of shots at goal in any games you would pick would probably not look impressive for a full back, let alone a striker. This needs to improve if he is to fulfil his potential. Overall, my frustration remains that Kenwyne will not develop to his full potential unless he works hard at several aspects of his game. I’m starting to wonder if that could be part of the problem which he is only beginning to reconcile now, and that he mustn’t forget to do the things that he used to do instinctively when concentrating on the more tactical rather than physical aspects of being a top class striker. For me, he was resting in his laurels to some degree last season, and probably felt he’d really arrived in the big time. I’ve not doubted his talent, just his motivation to be as good as he could possibly be, and recognising his development in terms of the finer points of forward play, I’m convinced that there is an awful lot more to come from Kenwyne. Do you think that I might be right about that?

  2. Jeremy fights his corner well, but the considered view at Salut! Sunderland is that he’s wrong.

    Bill is right. Jeremy has all his thoughts masrhalled, writes them down, then comes to the inconvenient fact that even when KJ was below par, he was scoring more than before!

    Kenwyne has been putting in a decent shift at both ends of the pitch, four goals is good Premier haul at this early stage of the season and there’s even better to come. The pass at Burnley that led to their third goal was a howler, but we all make mistakes at work.

  3. Writing as somebody who clearly has no knowledge of the game (an attribute I share with Jeremy, apparantly), I think that Jones is potentially a top class player. He has started to draw central defenders out of the middle and has won a lot of balls in midfield, heading them on for Bent and/or Campbell.
    Of course, he would be a far better player if teamed up with Darryl Murphy or if Bruce brought back Andy Gray or Jonathan Stead. Now that might start a debate!!!

  4. Leaving aside that G Michaels is unable to figure out who wrote the piece, his comment makes no sense, anyway. Nor does he see fit to give us the benefit of his own football wisdom. How sad and pointless.

  5. We have established that Mr Sixsmith does not understand football, which is the only thing preventing that article from being a TOTAL waste of bandwidth.

  6. Frazier Campbell is far from the finished article, true – but he WILL improve, he’s just a completely different type of player from KJ.
    My biggest reservation regarding KJ personally is similar to that of Peter Crouch for England – the team need to be told to STOP HUMPING BALLS FROM DEFENCE! It seems that all tall strikers provide an ‘outlet’ for defenders, but we all know that means KJ will give away a lot of free kicks because refs don’t like tall strikers having the temerity to jump for balls. Remember the back injury that forced Niall Quinn to retire was caused by speculative balls that allowed defenders to shove their elbows into his spine…
    Kenwynne is still young, getting hungrier with every goal DBtheTruth scores and seems happier than ever to be in Red and White – I simply can’t wait until he’s leading the line with a tuned in Frazier Campbell and DB at his side (4-3-3 – I know!) as we will have a strikeforce that terrifies defenders, whereas right now they are just a little concerned. Our probs aren’t up front – but Steve Bruce is well along the way to addressing the defnsive situation…

  7. Jeremy seems to be arguing against himself when he writes:
    “Yes, his goal rate improved during the 2008-9 season despite the fact that he had missed several months. But in spite of that improved return, he still didn’t look the same player to me.”
    “Yet Jones finished the season with a respectable goal tally for the season, despite the team’s dire run of form, and the long term lay off. And his goals contribution so far this season has been very good.”
    Not the same player? Perhaps effectively a better one.
    Cisse proved to be a liability to Sunderland. Jones, it seems to me, has never been anything but an asset. As he and Bent develop their rapport, we could have another goal-getting partnership in the making to rival that of Quinn and Phillips.

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