Munich - Tenacious, committed and full of energy, Jermaine Jones has been an integral figure for FC Schalke 04 over the past couple of seasons.
"More experienced now"
Yet it hasn't always been that way for the 31-year-old. The USA international's early years in Gelsenkirchen were hampered by injuries and after struggling to establish himself under Felix Magath and Ralf Rangnick, a loan move to Premier League side Blackburn Rovers FC looked like it might spell the end of Jones' Royal Blues career.
However, the arrival of Huub Stevens in 2011 proved the catalyst for positive change. Earmarked by the Dutchman as a "leader" who could "rally the troops", Jones has become increasingly influential in recent seasons - a far cry from the hot-headed youngster who burst onto the scene with hometown club Eintracht Frankfurt a decade ago.
"I'm more calm and experienced now," he told bundesliga.com in an exclusive interview. "In the past I didn't really look after by body properly. I used to go out a lot, but these days I take more care of myself. I also have my family - they're my No1 priority and they give me the support I need."
"Heart beats for both"
Born in Frankfurt to a German mother and an American soldier, Jones was eligible to represent either country at international level - and that he did. After three friendly appearances for die Nationalmannschaft in 2008, however, he switched allegiances to the States. The reasons for that decision are not something Jones dwells on, but it was certainly the right choice in his eyes.
"I'm very proud to play for the US team. My heart beats for both countries and my family feels at home in both. Germany has given me a lot of opportunities and for that I'm grateful, but after my playing career I want to live in Los Angeles. I've already bought a house there and my family always enjoys our holidays there."
Thoughts on Keller
For now, though, Schalke need Jones in Germany, especially if they are to resurrect their ambitions of UEFA Champions League qualification this term. After a positive start to the campaign, results tailed off towards the winter break and culiminated in the dismissal of Stevens. Unsurprisingly, though, new coach Jens Keller needed no telling as to what Jones brings to the team - and the feeling is mutual.
"He's helped us a lot," said Jones of the new man in charge. "He pays a lot of attention to detail. We've worked on tactics a lot, as well as our counterattacking game. He was a player himself not so long ago, so he knows how to treat us. He's also very open and communicative, which always goes down well with players."
Rocky start to 2013
Nonetheless, results have been far from encouraging since the managerial changeover. After an enthralling 5-4 victory over Hannover 96 to kick off the Rückrunde, Schalke failed to beat either of the league's bottom two sides, FC Augsburg (0-0) and Greuther Fürth (1-2), leaving them seven points off the Champions League pace.
"At the moment we just need to take things one game at a time," said Jones. "We need to work better defensively as a team, show a bit more composure playing the ball out from the back and not play as many long balls. We were doing well at the start of the season and we need to get back to that level."
Bayern "clear favourites"
And fast. The Royal Blues face a daunting trip to runaway league leaders FC Bayern Munich this weekend and after a 5-0 friendly thrashing during the winter break, Jones is well aware that both he and his Schalke team-mates will have to go over and above their usual standard to get a result.
"Bayern have proven enough times this season that they deserve to be where they are in the table. They're the obvious favourites. We'll have to hold firm and put in a fighting display and hopefully gain some confidence for the weeks ahead."