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Jermaine Jones Channels His Inner Mario Balotelli

Wednesday 5th April 2017
Back when he was throwing darts at Manchester City youth players and touring women's prisons in the Italian countryside--ah, good times--Mario Balotelli actually had printed, then wore, a t-shirt asking "Why Always Me?" of critics panning his antics. Jermaine Jones has always dressed the part of societal rebel with his extensive tattoos and wild, flying dreadlocks. Nor has he ever been afraid to take a stand. Until this week, however, Jones never came across as immature.

In a recent interview, the former Bundesliga standout complained, "The criticism is always on me," when the United States lose. He expanded on his remark, as well.

Everybody tries it, if we lose the game, they always try to find the next guy who can play for Jermaine. It is never somebody else, it is always me. And sometimes, I'll be honest, it pisses me off. I say, "Wait a minute!." When we play the big tournament, I am always the best player on the field for this country. But then, end of the day, they try to kick me out when we lose games? That is not fair, you know? I cannot change it. I know what it is.

I have a mental image right now, Wayne Rooney jumping up from his seat in the Man United player's box, raising a fist,  shouting "Word to power!" Rooney comes to mind because the operative phrase in Jones' lament is "end of the day."

At thirty-five, it is the end of the day for Jones. He has enjoyed a long, positive career with stops at Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke 04, Blackburn Rovers, Beşiktaş, New England Revolution, Colorado Rapids, and now LA Galaxy. Yet, if Rooney can tell Jones anything, it's that respect is reserved for retirement. While you're still lacing on the boots, football is all about 'what have you done for us lately?'

Rooney's teammate, Zlatan Ibrahimović, more a match in personality and temperament for Jones, understands reality, none better. After winning the EFL Cup with United at Wembley, he explained.

This is what I predicted. Everything I thought would happen has. I think the other ones didn't see it. When I came here to show them what I saw apparently to many I could not do it. 

Ibra doesn't care what "the others" think or see. All that matters is what Zlatan believes Zlatan can do.

The Swede also understands results matter. He has won thirteen league titles in sixteen top flight seasons across Europe. Nor is he interested in taking the easy way out. Going to a fading Milan side proved that. So did accepting the challenge to help build Paris Saint-Germain into a European power. His arrival in the Premier League at thirty-four, where he is approaching thirty goals in all competitions with United cements it.

Yet, he doesn't whine when things go south. He quietly accepted his three-match ban for elbowing Tyrone Mings, whereas the Bournemouth defender tried to mitigate stamping on Ibra's head.

It's a simple formula: self-confidence + self-responsibility = self-determination.
To be fair, Jones did walk back his remarks later in his interview. He acknowledged results drove criticism. Fans love him when the USMNT win but think he's "too old" when they lose. Yet, he also clung to the belief fans should cut him slack for past achievements. One claim rung particularly hollow.

To the haters, you know, I am not hating. I don't care if they hate me or not.

Of course he cares. If Jones were not concerned with public perception and adulation as his due, he wouldn't discuss it, especially at length and in detail.

On the other hand, there is one factor which explains Jones' frustration in a different light. After the US lost its opening two matches in CONCACAF's final World Cup qualifying round, goalkeeper Tim Howard made some unfortunate remarks. Everton's former shot stopper suggested USMNT foreign-born players were not as invested in playing for the United States.

Jürgen Klinsmann had a project to unearth talent around the world that had American roots. But having American roots doesn't mean you are passionate about playing for that country. I know there were players that came in that it didn't matter as much to...one or two can get found out, but if you get enough of those players you lose sight of what you are all about.

From personal experience, I can say Howard was completely wrong in his judgment. I was born in New York, grew up in Canada, and have largely lived my adult life in Florida. I'm a dual citizen. As a child in Canada, I didn't quite fit in because I was American. When I returned to the US (for other reasons), I didn't quite fit in because I was Canadian. Those who denied my right to belong because I wasn't "pure" only made my passion for each nation more fierce. Like a parent must love both children, I can never choose between my two countries.

Jones, like many among the foreign-born players Klinsmann recruited, has a German mother and American GI father. He grew up in a more alien culture, different language, customs, food, etc, but his father was in the US military. You have to believe he learned patriotism for both nations.

I'm also certain he felt out of place as a child. As an adult, it was more of the same. His free-wheeling physical play didn't fit die Mannschaft's more regimented, technical mold. Klinsmann and the USSF welcomed it. Jones was forced to choose. He went with the country that wanted him more. After giving his all for seven years, sixty-nine caps, and two World Cups, to hear a teammate question his loyalty and commitment to the USMNT must feel like betrayal.

Once such a stone has been cast in your direction, you become conditioned to see the same bigotry when others are hurled your way. Given the United States has just elected a populist President who pledged to build walls, deport immigrants, and turn away refugees from terrorism, it's not a stretch to believe some Americans think like Howard. Yet, given that President won office without a majority vote, it's also right to believe most don't.

Still, Jones' bitterness is understandable.

I am a German-American, maybe not a full American that you can sell like a product, you know? 

Bitterness will blind you to truth, though.

I want the people to respect me for what I did. They respect Timmy (Howard), they respect Clint (Dempsey), all the people.

In truth, not everyone respects the older American-born players. There have been many calls for Dempsey and team captain Michael Bradley to be left off the team for younger players based on their age and results, even though Bradley is only twenty-nine.
Jones is not taking heat from pundits and fans because he grew up in Frankfurt rather than Philadelphia. He's thirty-five. He has lost a step. Critics see younger, quicker options. Like Dempsey and Bradley, but with a fuller mane, he is the aging lion whose time has past. The universal respect Jermaine Jones desires only comes after retirement. Until then, he must fight harder than ever for his place, banishing any misguided sense of entitlement from his mind.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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