Southampton’s new manager Nathan Jones is a man of faith… and tattoos! The Welshman discovered his coaching ambitions in Spain while playing for Stoke. He is now ready to get another chance at a big club.
Nathan Jones, who was a football coach theory lecturer for three hours, would beg his classmates to ask questions.
‘I used to think, “Jesus Christ, Nathan, we’ve been in here for hours”,’ says Reading manager Paul Ince, who did his coaching licences with Jones.
The final episode of Tuesday’s Championship match between Luton and Wales, which was played on Tuesday night prior to Jones’ move to Southampton, brought to mind Jones as a student of English football who had risen from the ashes of English football.
Nathan Jones is ready to take the hot seat at Southampton when he leaves Luton Town
His story starts in the pits — literally. Jones was born in Blaenrhondda at the Rhondda Valley’s tip. He worked for clubs like Maesteg Park and Ton Pentre, before being released by Cardiff at age 18.
Jones was signed by David Pleat at Luton for £10,000, aged 22, but never made a senior appearance. At this point, Jones considered quitting the game but decided to get experience abroad. ‘I was homesick at Luton, so I went to Spain,’ he said with a laugh last season.
After studying Antonio Gomez, their boss, he joined Badajoz (now Numancia), a lower-league team. There he realized his ambition to be a coach.
Jones, a student of football who rose from the ashes of English football, is an expert on the game.
‘The life experience was tremendous and it taught me a lot,’ he said. ‘Particularly the style of Spanish football and a different way of training and preparing for matches.’
His WhatsApp status reads trabajando, Spanish for ‘working’, and he is fluent in the language. The Welshman has several tattoos, such as Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam draped across his back. He openly discusses his Christian faith and his favourite passage is Psalm 46:10, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
Jones played for Brighton, Southend, Yeovil and Spanish lower-league outfit Numancia
After returning to England and playing for Southend and Brighton, he mixed playing at Yeovil with coaching their women’s side. Jones also coached at Huish Park. He took a job under Oscar Garcia at Brighton in 2013 after a stint coaching Charlton’s Under 21s, before he left for League Two Luton in 2016.
‘You buy into the manager because he is an infectious character,’ said Harry Cornick, the Luton striker. ‘What he says, you believe. When you see how much he believes in himself, you believe in him.’
Jones proved his authority when he signed eight new players and released 12 players from the team at the end his first season. Luton was defeated in the play-offs, but was promoted to League One the following year.
Then came the move from Stoke. In a club that boasts top-level talent, he won only six of the 38 games. ‘You never fail,’ insisted the compulsive nail-biter. ‘You just learn. It wasn’t a successful time, but I learned what it takes at a big club, the things I’d do differently.’
After returning to Luton and guiding them to the play-offs, Jones’s chance at a big club comes again.
‘What you strive for is to have a group of players who have those qualities I noticed in the Yeovil women’s team: receptive, responsive and committed,’ he said last year. ‘If you have that, it doesn’t matter where or what level you are at.’