Jones’ class places Rio under real pressure

August 23, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 19 comments

“This result tells you that we still believe in youth,” Sir Alex Ferguson said of the young side that beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 at Old Trafford on Monday night. And with the Scot’s young, English, lions – Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones – performing with electrifying confidence so early in the season the 69-year-old Manchester United manager has more reason to believe the statement more than most.

The aforementioned quartet is leading an increasingly youthful evolution at Old Trafford this season, which also includes, at just 20, the da Silva brothers, together with 23-year-olds Javier Hernández, Jonny Evans and Anderson. Yet it the youngest of the group, Jones, that arguably stole the show against Spurs with a performance of remarkably classy maturity.

Indeed, such have been the 19-year-old’s performances in Red this season that injured Rio Ferdinand faces a greater challenge to an automatic place in Ferguson’s side than at any point in nearly a decade at Old Trafford. And while Ferdinand could make Ferguson’s side for Arsenal’s visit to Manchester next weekend, the Londoner is surely now fully aware of the alternate talent available to Ferguson.

Ferdinand’s injury has come at an inopportune time of course, so early in the season and with Jones hardly settled at his new club following the £16.5 million move from Blackburn Rovers this summer. Yet, with outstanding performances against both Spurs on Monday, West Bromwich Albion last weekend and for 45 minutes during the Community Shield, Jones has slotted seamlessly into the ‘United way’. The teenager has, it seems, been at the club not two months but a couple of decades.

The player’s arrival at Old Trafford has been a long time coming though, with Ferguson having settled on the England Under-21 international following Blackburn’s 7-1 hammering in Manchester last season. The game was perhaps a strange stage on which to earn a move to Old Trafford but tough times do true characters make.

“When Blackburn lost the fifth goal, he was out giving them [team-mates] all stick,” Ferguson said.

“He was just one of those players you couldn’t miss when one comes along in the game. We made enquiries in November and were hoping to get him in January but we were prepared to wait. He is an absolutely fantastic young player.”

Ferguson’s is a sentiment echoed by supporters at Old Trafford on Monday, who witnessed not only a mature performance from the Preston-born defender but a genuine air of authority. It is a cliché of course but less than three games into a United career and Jones is already marked as leadership material for club and country. The maturity with which he handled not only his personal performance but media commitments with Sky following United’s victory on Monday night said much for the player’s temperament.

The 19-year-old is close to a full England cap too. After all, Ferdinand’s injury has potentially opened up a space in Fabio Capello’s squad for forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria in Sofia on 2 September and then four days later against the Welsh at Wembley. That each of the Premier League’s top six lodged bids for Jones is all Capello needed to know of the player’s class before calling the teenager into the England squad for the aborted friendly with Holland earlier this month.

Indeed, Jones was one of few that returned home with any credit from England Under-21s disastrous European Championship performance in the past summer. Chris Smalling made the tournament’s all-star team but Cleverley, so bright in central midfield for United this season, looked lost on Stuart Pearce’s right-wing.

In fact Jones’ class has already drawn lofty comparisons, with 1968 European Cup winning midfielder Paddy Crerand claiming more than a hint of a famous Busby Babe. “If you talk to Bobby Charlton, Phil Jones reminds him of Duncan Edwards with his power and build,” says Crerand, who regularly commentates on United’s youth and reserve games for MUTV.

The plaudit is unlikely to phase the level-headed 19-year-old Jones, whose rise is remarkable not only for the quality of his game but for the lack of genuine experience; the player has appeared in less than 50 club games for United and Blackburn combined, in addition to nine Under-21 caps.

Yet, such is Jones’ obvious seamless transition to United’s team that it will surprise few if the defender has supplanted Ferdinand not only in the England side but Ferguson’s by the season’s end. The latter’s poor injury record may accelerate a changing of the guard, with captain Nemanja Vidic a certain starter, injury permitting.

“I’ve always said I aspire to follow the likes of John Terry, Michael Dawson and Rio Ferdinand. I always watch what they do and try and learn from them,” said Jones when he joined United in June. When it comes to performing for club and country, Ferdinand may well have cause to hope the protégé doesn’t learn too fast.


bruce thomas - August 23, 2011 Reply

Couldn’t agree more.

DAVSPURS - August 23, 2011 Reply

You are kidding yourself if you think these will win you the title if they up there tempo like that again they will be ill like Fletcher or banned like Toure. The same defence struggled against West Brom and could have lost if Odenwingie was playing

Ed - August 24, 2011 Reply

So says a Spurs fan. Probably best to look in the mirror first

shauno - August 24, 2011 Reply

Note the use of the word “evolution” not a finished article. That said as far as a suite of defenders go name one squad in world football that has a better defensive line up than Smalling, Evans, Ferdinand, Vidic, Da Silva Twins, Evra and Jones. In terms of depth, experience and youth it’s one of the best I have ever seen. All we need is one more player to spark another handful of years of dominance. Unlike Spurs!

reddread - August 23, 2011 Reply

He is a huge talent, that lad. Huge. The block on Bale v Spurs was just brilliant, and he made an awful lot of them for Blackburn last season. First choice in 18 months, for sure.

“The longbow beats the crossbow, my idiotic friend”


bman - August 24, 2011 Reply

Jones is looking really good, but I don’t think it’s fair that he’s getting all the media attention when Smalling and Evans are looking really good too. Smalling actually looks the best of them to me, he can really play football that kid. And Evans deserves a lot of credit for picking up a yellow in the first half but keeping it cool, especially since he seemed to be doing most of the work against Van der Vaart, who likes to skulk around between the defense and midfield. We’ve got 5 or 6 excellent young defenders in the squad now.

Waxfoot - August 24, 2011 Reply

Jones’ performances are exciting, and his potential is undeniable. But I agree with Bman – the whole defensive performance was impressive. Evans’ turnaround in form is equally as important for us as Smalling and Jones acclimatising so quickly. On another note hinted at in the article, I’ve got my fingers crossed Anderson stays as focussed as he has begun the season. I’ve always been on the pro-Ando side, and he’s started very well- but we need him to play like this for 40-odd games. Especially if our transfer business is done.

Calvino - August 24, 2011 Reply

you really do know how to stir up debates. I thought Smalling was sensational on monday night. Evans on the hand has shown that he really is a class footballer and that he has his bad times behind him. Now, the combined play of these two players made it a lot easier for Jones to play very well too. I like him. I like Evans but it seems that of these three I actually believe that Smalling is going to be the best. That youngman is in second season at united and he looks like he has been here all his life. He reminds me a great deal of Wesley Brown now of Sunderland. I just hope he has better luck with injuries. The lad is a beast of a man but is very comfortable on the ball and has a temperament to match his abilities. We forget that last season he stepped into two very big games – at home to the council tenants and away at Stamford Bridge – and played very well.

So, really we need to slow down on Jones. Smalling will captain United before him.

mongoletsi - August 24, 2011 Reply

Like others said above; good to have Evans back. Season-before-last when he stood in for Rio sooooo many times and was a rock. It’s good to see. Maybe he saw his brother shipped out and realised that could happen to him.

Smalling and Jones just ooze class and composure despite only being in their 3rd years of professional football. They’re both good going forward too.

Can see Jones deployed in front of back 4 for certain games. What do you reckon?

mongoletsi - August 24, 2011 Reply

Smalling has 55 appearances for Fulham/Utd
Jones has 37 for Blackburn/Utd

uncleknobheadforfucksake - August 24, 2011 Reply

a 70 percent rio is still the leagues best defender

Don Pablo - August 24, 2011 Reply

Jones is one hell of a player. However, given his ability on the ball, his tackling and anticipation, he could be the defensive midfielder we’ve been crying for. Smalling abd Evans with Jones ahead of them will be a difficult unit to break down.

mongoletsi - August 24, 2011 Reply

// a 70 percent rio is still the leagues best defender //

Somebody better tell Vidic he’s wasting his time then!

uncleknobheadforfucksake - August 24, 2011 Reply

well if vidic is as good or better than rio jt is as well and I’m assuming you don’t agree with that

Godfrey - August 24, 2011 Reply

he brings genuine promise to the fore for us both at club and international level.he seemed a class act act and like someone mentioned the blockon bale.The boy is just oozing with class,saw hi at the hawthorns and he just seamlessly fit in.Still early days but no heart in the mouth moments yet (unlike johnny evans)..both him and smalling look very assured..Mistakes my come,but they sure as hell look the part and surely a case for rio’s place if his injury woes continue..

captainhormone - August 24, 2011 Reply

Hi Godfrey..nice benders name btw…what does he mistake your “come” for


United 4 Eva - August 25, 2011 Reply

Hi Ed,
Just wanted to point out that the latest Welbeck article is not linking properly. It is linking to

Cheers and keep up the great work

Ed - August 25, 2011 Reply

United 4 Eva – thanks, accidental redirect

baggio365 - August 27, 2011 Reply

uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
a 70 percent rio is still the leagues best defender

i agree with unc. rio to me is still the best all round defender in the world when fit. it makes me feel a lot more secure about our back four when rio’s around. vidic can on occasions throw himself at a player too quickly and get beaten (and jones on bale, reminded me of that. silly thing to do). the question really is, how much longer is rio gonna keep playing with these injuries. personally i think probably only for another 2 seasons.

there is a changing of the guard at Old Trafford. the young’uns look good, and its great that we have them. but the scariest thing for me, is what happens when fergie calls it quit. seeing him in the dugout celebrating welbeck’s goal, made me realise how horrible it will be to see anyone else in his spot. its gonna happen. maybe next year. maybe the year after. who knows. and no matter how good a side he leaves behind, we will struggle without the great man

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