Nathan Jones leaves Luton for Championship challenge
Background image: Ronnie Macdonald (CC BY 2.0)
In an article on its website on the 6th of January, Luton Town wished manager Nathan Jones a happy third anniversary in charge of the club.
It praised the work he had done, including a club-best 51% win ratio, and signed off:
‘Happy Anniversary Nathan, the style of football and success you have brought to Kenilworth Road are second-to-none – here’s to many more.’
Three days later he was gone.
Jones left Luton to become Stoke City’s new manager. While the vast majority of fans are sad to see him leave after three years, very few will have been surprised that he decided to take on a Championship job.
Since taking over as Hatters boss in January 2016m, Jones’ stock has risen and he is now considered to be amongst the most exciting young managers in the game.
The Welshman guided Luton to the play-offs in his first full season in charge, followed by promotion from League Two last year. He leaves with the club second in the table and on 13 game unbeaten run in League One.
Stoke acted fast to secure Jones’ services, they sacked Gary Rowett on the 8th of January and the new manager was in place just over 24 hours later.
Right now, The Potters are marooned in mid-table in the Championship but, with 20 games still to play, have an outside chance of making the play-offs if Jones can get the best out an underperforming group of players.
Stoke are undoubtedly getting a talented manager with an unwavering belief in his way of doing things, that was evident in his first interview after his unveiling he said:
‘We’ll try to play in a certain way which I will work religiously on. This is not a job for me, this is a lifestyle and it is what I believe in to my core.’
His words will be music to the ears of many Stoke fans who have had to endure turgid football over the past few seasons.
Stoke’s gain is very much Luton’s loss and it is hard not to feel sympathy for the club who were riding the crest of a wave with Jones at the helm. Whoever they appoint as his successor will have big shoes to fill.
Jones’ passion for his job is evident. It became clear in his first interview as Stoke manager and it was obvious throughout his time at Luton where he could regularly be seen celebrating with fans after victories at Kenilworth Road.
It is these displays of chest-beating, badge-kissing passion which have come back to haunt him now that he has moved on.
The overwhelming reaction to the news regarding Jones' departure was one of gratitude tempered with disappointment. However there were some who accused him of being disloyal. Some fans said they ‘fell for’ his passion and felt abandoned, they said that he left ‘at the first opportunity’ despite allegedly saying that he wouldn’t leave if the club were chasing promotion
Whether it was a good idea to leave a club very much on the up for one struggling to adapt to life after relegation remains to be seen.
A remarkably similar situation occurred back in 2004 when former Plymouth Argyle manager Paul Sturrock - who, like Jones, had led his side to one promotion and to the brink of another - was approached by Southampton who had just sacked fellow Scot Gordon Strachan.
Sturrock left Argyle, who were top of League One at the time, to take over at St Mary’s.
Few begrudged him his chance to make a fist of football management in the Premier League and the same is true of Jones. Both men earned their opportunities to test themselves at a higher level, let us just hope that Stoke are more patient with their new man than Southampton were with Sturrock.
The Scot was sacked after only 13 games in charge at St Mary’s and was one of seven different managers between 2004 and 2005. Jones is Stoke’s third new manager since Mark Hughes’s sacking this time last year and he will be hoping to be given more time than his predecessor, Rowett who was dismissed after only 29 games in charge.
An idealist would say that the lengthy three-and-a-half year contract that Jones has signed reflects the club’s faith in him. A realist would deduce that it was negotiated by his agent to ensure the security of a substantial pay-off should Stoke chairman Peter Coates decide to get rid of him. Either way, unless you support Luton, everyone is a winner.
Luton fans will be hoping that part of the compensation package will include an agreement to limit, if not prevent altogether, the number of players Jones is permitted to take with him to Staffordshire during the January transfer window and beyond.
James Collins, Sonny Bradley and Danny Hylton are all approaching thirty and would be within their rights to accept one last lucrative move should it be offered by their former gaffer. Jones has assembled a squad that has thrived under his attacking philosophy and the temptation to plunder his former club may be hard to resist.
Moving forward Luton must now trust their board to find a suitable replacement and convince their star assets to stay. After all, if Luton continue on their upward trajectory they could meet their former boss in the Championship next season.
Meanwhile Jones must hope that his new employers give him their full support. If he doesn’t get it he may come to regret leaving his Luton project unfinished.