ENGLAND Under-21 international Connor Wickham has been urged to start playing with a smile on his face as he bids to break his Sheffield Wednesday duck at Watford tonight.
The young striker, on loan from Sunderland, has yet to score in three starts and one substitute appearance for the Owls and was taken off at half-time in the defeat to Nottingham Forest.
Nonetheless, Wickham is expected to partner fellow loanee Leroy Lita at Vicarage Road as Wednesday look to edge further away from the Championship relegation zone.
Jones said: “Connor (Wickham) just needs to keep playing and working hard at his game and enjoy it.
“He needs to get a smile on his face and start enjoying his football again. I think at the moment it is hard work for him. He just needs to relax and play because he is a very, very good player.
“I think the kid has got an abundance of ability. It is just finding the switch which will enable him to go and push on for the rest of his career.”
Wickham’s youth loan expires after Saturday’s clash at high-flying Leicester City but Jones has indicated he wants to retain the 19-year-old’s services.
“I would like to keep Connor,” he admitted. “Definitely. I think he would like to stay. It will all depend on what Martin O’Neill (Sunderland boss) feels about him.
“He is enjoying it here. The only players who are not enjoying it are the ones who are not playing and that’s life. They are coming to work at 10.30am and doing something they love. Anyone who thinks it is a bind the job that they have got in football is crazy. It is a fantastic life.”
Jones accepts Wickham, who turns 20 next month, is lacking match sharpness, having struggled to command a first-team spot at the Stadium of Light. He said: “He has not played a lot of football over the last year and that eventually does catch up with you. He will have his ups and his downs but people forget his age. He is still a baby in footballing terms and if you are not playing week in week out then you are not learning as much. It is game time that gives you the experience.”
It was over 18 months ago Sunderland splashed out £8.1 million to recruit Wickham from Ipswich Town. Jones has cited Sheffield-born Kevin Davies as another striker who took longer to realise his potential following a big-money transfer.
“I think sometimes people forget how young Connor is,” said Jones. “He has then got the price tag on his head. I had this with Kevin Davies when I was at Southampton and we took him from Chesterfield. He went from Southampton to Blackburn and people thought he was the finished article and he wasn’t. He was still a young boy and I got him back two years later because of the demands that were put on him.
“Kevin has gone on and had an unbelievable career. But that period was his learning process. When you pay seven and a half million pounds for somebody, I know people expect the finished article and he was nowhere near.
“Look at Gareth Bale. How much did Spurs pay for him and how long did it take for him to develop? And Aaron Lennon. These are all young players who have gone for big money and are just expected to perform.”