‘I turned down being a boss for 10 years’: Now Graeme Jones is in at the deep end with Luton as he prepares for the new Championship season
- Graeme Jones turned down five or six managerial roles over the last 10 years
- But Luton felt right, as did the challenge of getting them into the Premier League
- He previously worked under Roberto Martinez as Belgium assistant manager
- Jones still feels as though that group missed out on a chance to win World Cup
Graeme Jones pauses amid the frenzy of the season’s onset, takes the weight from his feet for half an hour and allows his mind to drift back 12 months.
‘We beat England on the Saturday,’ says Jones, eyes widening as he recalls how close Belgium came to winning last summer’s World Cup in Russia when he was assistant manager.
‘We got the bronze medals, flew straight back to Brussels, went to see the King next day and had a parade around the city, it was packed; we ended up on the balcony in the Grand Place. One hell of an experience.
Graeme Jones is preparing to take charge of Luton in the Championship this season
It is his first post as manager after years of working as an assistant across the world
‘We got the bus back to the Belgian Federation, got into our cars and went home. And that was it, the World Cup ended, a brilliant nine weeks.
‘It was demanding and it was successful — the highest-ever finish for Belgium is one hell of an achievement — but I can’t get away from the feeling we wasted an opportunity. That’s the truth.’
The shared success kept the group close. Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard have moved to Real Madrid. Romelu Lukaku is in the midst of a transfer. Thierry Henry, another assistant to Roberto Martinez, went briefly to Monaco. They all remain in contact.
Jones was part of Roberto Martinez’s set-up with Belgium and reached the World Cup last four
Jones with Martinez when the Spaniard was in charge of Everton in the Premier League
Jones is in Luton. Perhaps not the same glamorous destination as some who text him, but precisely where he wants to be ahead of a new Championship season which starts on Friday with his team at home to Middlesbrough.
He has waited a decade for this chance and at the age of 49 is stepping out of the coaching shadows to test himself as a manager.
‘I turned down five or six manager’s jobs in the last 10 years,’ says Jones. ‘I’d seen the impact it had on Roberto’s life and I didn’t want that when my two sons were growing up. Now, they’re 20 and 22, and off doing their own thing.
‘We were on holiday and one of them said, “Dad, you’re always on that phone”. I said, “Hey, I’ve waited 10 years to get on this phone, I’ve waited until you were old enough to understand”.
The 49-year-old sat down with Sportsmail’s Matt Barlow ahead of the new campaign
‘I didn’t want to lose that family time. But I did want the opportunity, the challenge. This time when it came along everything felt right. The timing felt right. The job felt right, manager, not head coach. And the club felt right.
‘It’s a fantastic, traditional, club. When Mick Harford took them to Wembley in 2009, more than 42,000 fans went but the people at the club, and the supporters haven’t forgotten they were non-league not so long ago.
‘They are realistic but ambitious. There’s the probability of moving into a new stadium. No-one has ever got Luton promoted to the Premier League. That’s the challenge. And it’s one I like.’
It was Harford who led Luton over the line, to promotion in May, taking the reins when Nathan Jones quit for Stoke in January, before reverting to a role as chief recruitment officer.
Jones admitted that he had turned down a series of managerial roles over the years
Jones was the man they wanted and accepted the job in February but would not walk out on Darren Moore and West Brom mid-season.
Luton were confident enough to show patience, clinched the League One title and returned to the second tier for the first time since relegation 2007.
There are some parallels to Swansea, a club Martinez and Jones helped to revive and led from the depths into a fresh era of hope.
After all the turmoil so many things feel right at Luton, and yet the task is enormous, fighting on a small budget in a brutal division against clubs with far greater resources.
He is planning to stick to his principles of attacking football and trust his talent at Luton
‘People keep asking me where Luton will finish and I don’t know,’ says Jones. ‘My job is to get the maximum out of what we’ve got. Very similar to what I’ve done before. Totally different but the same.’
Jones will give it his all. He will stay true to his principles of attacking football and trust his talent.
The last time he spoke to Martinez was July 13. ‘I wished him a happy birthday,’ says Jones. ‘He was 46 and I got it wrong. I thought he was 45.’
Martinez will understand. He will have been amused to find his friend finding out how non-football details are sacrificed when you are the manager. And he will be there when needed. Good advice at the end of a phone amid the frenzy.
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