Nathan Jones spoke to the local Press via Zoom after returning to The Brache this morning and says he completely understands that there will be mixed feelings among supporters about him becoming Luton Town manager for a second time.
The Welshman, celebrating his 47th birthday today, spoke of his “regret” and “remorse” at the way he left Kenilworth Road to join Stoke City in January 2019, but that he wants to get back on the journey he started in his three-year spell with the club, when he led the Hatters from 18th in League Two to second place in League One.
“That’s totally understandable,” Jones replied when asked about the potential mixed reaction. “What I will say is before we had the opportunity to move, we were on a real good trajectory, we had a long-term goal and I veered from that.
“We had a number of opportunities to leave if we wanted to and it wasn’t a case of we wanted to leave in any way. It was, at the time, we felt an opportunity that was a good opportunity to be a Premier League club quite quickly, but as it turned out, that wasn’t the case.
“But I love the club and I wholeheartedly regret how those events came about, because I could have handled them so much better.
“I loved working for the club and then suddenly – three or four days of real madness, because it was a whirlwind and something I’ve learned a lot from and something I couldn’t envisage happening – detracted from the long term goal that we always had at the football club, regardless of whether it was the right or wrong decision.
“What I’m really remorseful about and what I regret wholeheartedly was the manner of the exit, because I understand that was bound to cause the animosity that it did.
“I’m very grateful for being given the opportunity to manage this club again.
“We’ve had to build relationships back up a while ago for normality, and then this came about, so I’m very grateful for the club to have given me the opportunity to manage again.
“I had a fantastic relationship with the fans and I betrayed that. I went against everything they had given me, but I had to earn that, let’s not forget, I wasn’t embraced immediately.
“I had to earn that, and that’s exactly what I’m going to have to do again and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
Nathan did that with a brand of attacking football that earned much respect throughout the country, and EFL accolades in the form of four manager of the month awards.
He was pictured receiving the last of those, for the Town's form in League One, wearing a Stoke training top the day after moving.
When asked how that came about, he said: “It was an absolute whirlwind of a week, I didn’t know I’d won it until the day before. I went and did press for Stoke, I had no other clothes on me, because literally it was a whirlwind.
“I was at the training ground, I’d taken the training session, then I had to do press. Then I was told the EFL were there to take a photo. I either did it in a Stoke top or bare-chested, and that was a naive mistake.
“I should have not been photographed. I should have borrowed something, but in the craziness of the week, it was a naive thing that wasn’t meant as anything because I’m very proud of what we achieved at Luton, how we developed certain things.
“Yes, that got detracted from, but at no point did I mean to cause any harm in any way, so if people took it that way, I apologise and I’m sorry.
“But I want to look forward now and not just behind. Yes, I want to give an explanation why, but at no point did I ever, ever mean to cause any harm to anyone, or the fans, who I had a wonderful relationship with.”
On his message to the fans, he added: “I want them to know that I regret my exit, how it was handled. That's paramount in this decision. I want that.
“But I also want them to realise that we did good work. The reason why there was such bitterness it's because of the work we did, the foundations we laid, and the relationship I built with them, because I loved them.
“I was emotional every time with them because they gave me that energy. They were in me and I want to get that back.
“I will have to earn that, but I will get that back. If they have an open mind to me coming back, an open mind to the work we can do here, to continue that, then I will get that back.
“What I need is an open mind. Of course, there's going to be animosity, of course. But you have to build those bridges and I will build those bridges. Just remember, we did good work prior and we want to do that again.”
Sixteen of the players who Jones signed or were at the club when he arrived remain at Kenilworth Road – 17 including George Moncur, whose arrival from Barnsley was already arranged – and the manager was asked how they had taken his return.
“I’ve only had a short time with them and I have to rebuild relationships with them,” he said. “It went from probably the best relationship you could possibly have, to me leaving.
“I betrayed a bit of trust there with them, so I’ll have to build that up.
“But let’s not forget also that I gave them a lot, I have given the club quite a lot in the time that I’d been here.
“I just made an error in terms of leaving. Now I want us to focus on the present and the present is that we need to be together. The players need to be together. I believe wholeheartedly I’ll get a good reaction because I have a good relationship with the majority, and the others I’ll have to learn about.”
CEO Gary Sweet confirmed that Nathan’s return is “long-term”, and likened it to Eddie Howe returning to Bournemouth after a “sabbatical” at Burnley and going on to have much success on the south coast.
Nathan added: “I’m not at the stage of my career where I want a quick little fix. I’ve thought long and hard. As a purely professional decision, it’s a no brainer for me.
“In terms of an emotional one, as we always have at Luton, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s one I’m fully committed to and the reason for me coming back is to resume the journey, not to get a quick fix, not to try and move down south, or whatever it is.
“The big thing is, I want to recommit, yes. It’s much publicised the exit. I want to put that behind me. I want to build new bridges, and I want to continue the journey that we were on as we were on a wonderful journey. I was the one that broke that, now I want to resume that.”
On how the offer to return came about from the board, he added: “We were in the process of speaking and building bridges, if you like, because I never had any peace with the decision to go to Stoke, if I'm honest. So, I wanted to build those, and I built those up over a period of time.
“It was something within me, in terms of that, but when I was contacted and asked, ‘what do I think about it?’ I was excited, I wanted the job.
“It was a very important one, after what happened at Stoke, that I go to somewhere where I was comfortable. Without being disrespectful, I've had a number of offers to re-manage since November. I was very encouraged by that, but I wanted to take time and not rush into anything.
“I needed to go to a club where I felt comfortable. To be honest, I regard this, and I know this is cliched, but this is my club and this is where I'm most at home.
“Yes, I made an error in terms of how I left. Some people would say anyone would have done the same thing but, to be honest, when I look back on it, it's not regret that I went, it's the way that I went.
“Then, whatever happened, happened, but when I was approached, and when I spoke to Gary, then I was confident that I could come back and recreate the work that we did.
“It's going to be tough in the short-term but this isn't just a short term job. Yes, we have to do the job in the short term, but I don't want to move my family for a short time. I want to be here. I want to resume that journey.
“That's my motivation for coming back, that's what I want to do. I do not want to come back here and for it to be a short term thing. I want to build on what we had here previously and that was my motivation to come back.
“So, when I did know there was a possibility to come back, of course I wanted to explore that and I was glad that I was able to do it.”
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