Schalke's Jones draws Magath's ire
U.S. international Jermaine Jones was demoted to Schalke's U23-side Tuesday
He was ill-advised to voice his personal concerns while S04 is close to relegation
Coach Felix Magath has favored new imports over holdovers from 2009
Revenge, according to Felix Magath, is a dish best served frozen. The Schalke 04 coach had promised "immediate consequences" in the aftermath of the disastrous 5-0 defeat at Kaiserslautern on Saturday and didn't disappoint: The strict disciplinarian had his team training in shorts on Tuesday morning in 25-degree weather. Gloves, hats, scarves or snoods were implicitly forbidden, too.
"It was important to me that they all wore the same clothes," Magath told reporters, with a mischievous glint in his eye.
Fortunately for Jermaine Jones, the strict sartorial edict didn't apply to him. The U.S. international was allowed to train in a more suitable outfit, gloves and woolly hats included.
Unfortunately, though, feeling a tad warmer than his colleagues will have been little consolation, as Jones has been frozen out in a different way. On Magath's orders, the 29-year-old has been banished to train with Schalke' U23-side, the B-team. Ghana international Hans Sarpei and midfielder Alexander Baumjohann were also punished in that fashion. All three of them, local media assume, won't be pardoned before the end of the winter break in January.
"In theory, other players might have been picked, too," Magath conceded. "These three were chosen because I wasn't 100 percent happy with their attitude in training, or in Jones' case, with his attitude in matches. He needs to run and fight -- that's what's lacking."
Magath's drastic measures smack of populism. After spending in excess of $40 million on 12 new players, Schalke is 15th in the table, dangerously close to the relegation zone. Its own supporters symbolically turned their backs on the team long before the final whistle Saturday in Fritz-Walter-Stadion, shouting, "Magath out!"
Patience with Magath is wearing thin at the boardroom level, too. On Wednesday afternoon, Magath was asked to explain the team's malaise to the club bosses. To make matters worse, the Royal Blues will play host to resurgent defending champion Bayern Munich next, on Saturday. Naturally, Magath had to do something. Anything.
Picking on Sarpei and Baumjohann, two players at the fringes of the squad, wasn't even a contentious move. Whether they're training with the seniors or the younger players makes little difference, as neither of them has started a game in two months.
But with Jones, it's different. The defensive anchor in the S04 midfield -- the son of a German mother and a U.S. service man stationed in Frankfurt -- has been a mainstay in the club's troubled season. A week ago, he was one of the best players in a 3-0 victory against Olympique Lyons in the Champions League. At his best, his muscular style is perfectly in tune with the largely blue-collar crowd who lives and breathes the game in one of Germany's poorest post-industrial cities.
"Jones is a man for football war, for destroying the pitch and the opponent," wrote local broadsheet WAZ on Wednesday. "So why did Magath send this tattooed lad with street-boy charisma, of all people, to the reserves?"
If Jones is lucky, the answer could be quite straightforward. After picking up his fifth yellow card of the campaign, Jones is suspended for the Bayern game. Sending him to train with Schalke II, the fourth-division team, might be nothing more than a show of strength from Magath, with the emphasis on "show."
Jones was already temporarily ousted from the squad 10 days ago, when Magath refused to pick him for the 4-0 win over Werder Bremen.
"He's having a bad spell," Magath told kicker magazine at the time. "He misplaced too many passes [in the previous match] in Wolfsburg and hardly won any one-v-ones. It didn't look much better in training the week after either."
Within a couple of days, however, Jones was back in the starting lineup and feted as Schalke's "harbinger of hope" in the newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten.
"I've had a poor phase -- that's why the manager left me out," Jones said. "Then I stepped it up in training again, concentrated on my strengths and was rewarded for it."
His second demotion, however, suggests that the problems go deeper than a bad match or two. His enforced break against Werder notably coincided with a controversial interview in Sport-Bild, in which he expressed a whole litany of grievances.
"The new system with two defensive midfielders doesn't suit my game," he said. "Last season I had more freedom and was able to bring my running game to bear a lot more."
Tellingly, he said his old position was like that of new recruit Raśl, "only a bit further back"; Jones has also lost his seat on the team council and occasional captaincy duties to the Spaniard. This obviously rankles him, despite Jones' protestations.
"I'm staying out of all that stuff," Jones said. "I only concentrate on my performance on the pitch from now on."
Jones added that his ambition was "to play Champions League every year," and said he felt unwanted by Magath.
"In the summer, I might have made a move and nobody [at Schalke] seemed to care," he said. "Of course you start thinking about that." A move in the winter break -- perhaps to VfL Wolfsburg -- might be necessary, he intimated.
Jones might be on to something here. Local reporters are convinced that Magath's shopping spree has resulted in a split camp. The new, expensive recruits like Raśl and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are mostly calling the shots, while the few survivors of last year's squad -- when Schalke finished a surprise runner-up -- are being marginalized. At $5.2 million a year, Jones is also one of the best-paid players in the squad and Magath might be quite happy to see him go for economic reasons alone.
The problem is that Jones was ill-advised to voice his concerns publicly, at a time when Schalke is struggling in the league. He has come across as terribly self-centered. There is little backing in the terraces for a player who complains about personal injustices when the club is faced with an existential threat. His opportunistic switch of allegiance to the U.S. in 2009 didn't do him any favors and haven't been forgotten either. And worst of all, Magath doesn't tolerate criticism by players. The 57-year-old coach cannot be bullied into picking discontent players; the opposite effect is much more likely.
If Jones' interview was meant as a coded "come and get me" plea to other clubs, it has also backfired. A stint in the fourth division will do little to make him more marketable and cannot alleviate fears that he won't be the same player he was before suffering a hairline fracture in his leg in 2009. The injury kept him out all of last season.
Training with the U23s must have opened Jones' eyes to the precariousness of his position. The trio of banned players was greeted Tuesday by Albert Streit, a 30-year-old who was once a highly regarded midfielder himself. Streit fell out with previous coach Fred Rutten and was sent to the reserves in January 2009, and that's where Magath has kept him after last season's loan-move to Hamburg came to an end. Despite his big salary, Streit hasn't started a game in Schalke's senior team in more than two years.
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