TOP HAT­TER

Lu­ton Town man­ager Nathan Jones has high hopes for the fu­ture

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

FOR most man­agers, watch­ing their team is nail-bit­ing, nerve-shred­ding tor­ture. For Nathan Jones, man­ager of swash­buck­ling Lu­ton Town, it is the high­light of his week.

“I’ve watched over 200 League Two games this sea­son,” re­veals the 44-year-old Welsh­man, whose side clinched pro­mo­tion to League One last week­end.

“That’s five games a week - and ours is al­ways my favourite. I’m not be­ing dis­re­spect­ful to any­one else. But when I watch us, I see our phi­los­o­phy in ac­tion. I see scin­til­lat­ing per­for­mances that defy our level. I see a won­der­ful foot­ball team, and I’m proud of it.”

As he should be. Since trounc­ing Yeovil 8-2 on the open­ing day, the Bed­ford­shire Barcelona have plun­dered 91 goals - more than any team in Eng­land with the ex­cep­tion of Manchester City.

Steve­nage were smashed 7-1. Cam­bridge 7-0. Five were slammed past Swin­don, whilst the score­board has ticked past three on 12 sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions. Danny Hylton, the 22-goal top scorer, is one of 18 dif­fer­ent play­ers to reg­is­ter in the league.

And it isn’t just the goals. Like Pep’s Premier League cham­pi­ons, Lu­ton have done it in breath­tak­ing style, re­fus­ing to take a back­ward step against even the might­i­est of foes.

That much was ob­vi­ous in Jan­uary, when Lu­ton trav­elled to play New­cas­tle in the FA Cup third round.

Though the Mag­pies even­tu­ally tri­umphed 31, they were played off the park for long spells and were lucky to see a Hylton goal wrongly ruled off­side.

“I’ve had peo­ple - good peo­ple in foot­ball - say to me, ‘That’s a Cham­pi­onship side there’,” says Jones. “That may be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. I don’t know.

“But we played Swin­don and I had peo­ple from Premier League clubs tex­ting to say, ‘That’s as good a per­for­mance as I’ve seen out­side the Cham­pi­onship’. I had some­one from the LMA (League Man­agers As­so­ci­a­tion) tell me yes­ter­day that they’d never seen a game like our 7-1 against Steve­nage.

“I know we can play in League One and we’ll prove that next year, be­cause I’ve got play­ers who could play in the Cham­pi­onship. To sug­gest any­thing less is do­ing them an in­jus­tice.

Of­fers

“I’ll turn down maybe seven or eight of­fers for my play­ers from Cham­pi­onship clubs in the sum­mer. Guar­an­teed. We’re turn­ing them down right now. That’s the cal­i­bre of this side.”

Lu­ton, who sealed pro­mo­tion with a draw at Carlisle, are a side built in the im­age of their man­ager, a man of zeal­ous con­vic­tion in both his faith and his prin­ci­ples.

A com­mit­ted Chris­tian, Jones be­lieves ev­ery­thing in his life - from an itin­er­ant play­ing ca­reer at Yeovil, Brighton and Spain’s lower leagues to his cur­rent success at Ke­nil­worth Road - was pre­or­dained.

“Good or bad, I think ev­ery­thing is God’s will,” ex­plains Jones, who took charge at Lu­ton in 2016 af­ter sev­eral years coach­ing at Brighton and Yeovil.

“I don’t think any­thing hap­pens spo­rad­i­cally. Lots of things oc­curred in my ca­reer to bring me to this point that I don’t be­lieve would have hap­pened if I hadn’t stepped out and shouted that I had faith in God.

“I re­jected Coven­try when they were in the Premier League to sign for Lu­ton and I was prob­a­bly the least suc­cess­ful player that David Pleat brought in. But I just felt com­pelled.

“I loved the club. I knew the club. I didn’t want to leave. Then I went to Spain and learned the lan­guage. And be­cause I spoke Span­ish, that gave me an op­por­tu­nity to work with Os­car

Gar­cia at years back. Some of my de­ci­sions, peo­ple thought, ‘He’s crazy’. But it al­ways felt right and I strongly be­lieve that God was guid­ing me.

“My faith is such a vi­tal part of what I do. It gives you an equi­lib­rium in your life, a con­stant when ev­ery­thing else is in flux.

“God gives me the strength to face chal­lenges. He gives me the de­sire to tackle them. He gives me a shoul­der to lean on. He helps me to avoid cer­tain pit­falls. He helps me to treat peo­ple with hu­man­ity. He’s a mas­sive part of what I’ve achieved here.”

On the pitch, Jones’ faith in his at­tack­ing phi­los­o­phy is equally un­shake­able.

“I don’t like peo­ple who say, ‘Oh, they play the right way’,” he says. “There’s no right way of play­ing.

“It’s about ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple in your be­liefs. I be­lieve in this way of play­ing. I be­lieve I can get the best out of my play­ers this way and I make them be­lieve it, too.

“We have a say­ing, and it’s some­thing my as­sis­tant Paul Hart uses all the time. He says, ‘You have to put the ball at risk’. “We ask peo­ple to be brave. We ask them to de­mand the ball, to look af­ter it. We ask them to move it quickly, to think first and fore­most ‘How can I cause the other team prob­lems?’.

“We ask them to think, to solve prob­lems. For in­stance, if peo­ple press us, what are the solutions to break that press?

Tir­ing

“It’s tir­ing work and you have to be brave, es­pe­cially in the early stages. I’ve had staff say to me in the past, ‘Look, we might not be able to do this. We might need to change this or that’. But I said, ‘No - they have to learn’. And they do.” And much like Guardi­ola’s City, the ap­par­ent free­dom of Lu­ton’s play­ers on the pitch is a prod­uct of rigid prin­ci­ples and ethics off it. “Play­ers con­form, we don’t

bend,” who an coach. min­utes. passes. train­ing. club train. to things, this ex­pe­ri­ence, be “How “Peo­ple ed­u­ca­tor - de­scribes treated. way dis­ci­pline, that “All But I says treat That’s The or say you play­ers peo­ple that’s I’m that rather than a him­sellf as play­ers s is how I want style, you Jones have re­spect, the way we not the wa can’t do cer­tain more than just see is the 90 way. But in my al­ways go­ing to to treat play­ers cul­ture of the the goals, the tell a player what he wants to hear. But I will al­ways tell him the truth. and an­ar­chy I the line, terms, here’. we didn’t “When play.” club. struc­ture. they’d All ‘No want around If of I some­one be - played, that that’s in­dis­ci­pline around told our feeds into the way in no un­cer­tain not ac­cept­able dress­ing room. stepped out of I didn’t want

doesn’t there over cat-naps And end­less on speak­ing Jones the on his turf matches and steal­ing wish of­fice­sofa? rather than por­ing of he was still out be­ing a player,

but in­sists. like “I crazy never I love “I thought thought be­cause man­a­gin ng more,” he I’d miss play­ing I’d d ever say this, I was the most en­thu­si­as­tic into “But my I play­ing ab­so­lutely player. ca­reer love this job. It’s I sucked the life harder. Longer hours, It’s a lot more­work. But I more stress­ful. wouldn’t “I love what swap we’re it. build­ing here. I want great to work. leave I’m a le­gacy . I want to do not a fly-by-night man­ager. money or quick I’m not jumps. I don’t want loook­ing for easy to build­ing play snakes a club and and ladders. I’m I ca­reer.”

BIG DAY OUT: Olly Lee cel­e­brates his equaliser against Carlisle and Lu­ton cel­e­brate pro­mo­tion af­ter the game GOAL KING: Danny Hylton PLAY­ING DAYS: In Brighton colours Brighton. “From that I worked with Eng­land un­der-21s, built a rep­u­ta­tion. Then the...

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