Phil Jones: Sympathy for the Devil
“Exclusive! Water is wet! Grass is green! The world is round!” Statements of a similar ilk greeted the news that Phil Jones has suffered yet another injury. This time around the Manchester United defender is out with a knee injury that will see the Lancastrian sidelined for a month. Yet another setback for Jones who is struggling to salvage his Old Trafford career. The defender’s injury history has become a sick joke. The real question becomes: when does the laughter stop?
In recent years Jones’ name has been synonymous with the treatment room, a Darren Anderton for modern times. According to transfermarkt.com, the former Blackburn Rovers player has suffered 14 different injuries since he moved to United in 2011. To break it down he’s been out with knee problems, sprained ankles, shoulder injuries, shin splints, malleolar issues, concussion, back troubles and thrombosis for good measure.*Not including current injury. All statistics from transfermarkt.com
The statistics are quite sobering. The defender has effectively missed over two league campaigns worth of matches and spent well over a year on the sidelines. Unfortunately for Jones he remains a figure who’s all too easy to mock, from the faces he pulls, to the sheer ungainliness of his defending, such as his party piece against Olivier Giroud – and of course his propensity for injury. He can’t even post a holiday snap without someone going out of their way to ridicule him.
Yet, his debut campaign for United in 2011/12 season was encouraging despite the heartbreaking end delivered by Sergio Agüero’s boot. Jones made 25 starts in the Premier League, scoring one goal, and played four times in the Champions League. Since then the defender has enjoyed a “stop-start” career at United.
At 24, Jones still has plenty of time ahead and there’s the theory that defenders only begin to peak later on in their career. The real problem for United’s number four is that his development has effectively stalled. This season Jones had the opportunity to go out on loan to Stoke City in search of first team football. It was a move that move never materialized. A change of scenery could have been just the tonic for Jones in order to reestablish some form of playing rhythm.
As it stands, Jones will need an extended period of clean health to rebuild his career at Old Trafford – and he must hope that the other players competing for his position suffer a dip in form or a long-term injury. That scenario looks extremely unlikely and even if it came to pass one suspects that José Mourinho would be tempted to dip into the transfer market again to shore up his backline and not turn to the former Blackburn player.
Psychologically Jones must be damaged by the constant run of injuries. In fact, Louis Saha is a good point of reference. The former United striker eloquently explained what he went through during his injury-plagued period at Old Trafford.
“I look at my  league winner’s medal and, in some ways, I’m not sure that I really deserve it,” Saha said in a 2008 interview with The Guardian. “I know that I worked hard to get fit and when I played I did as well as I could so, yes, I probably did deserve it because I gave everything. But it’s difficult to feel you have made an important contribution when you have missed half of the season. If you ask any competitor, they will tell you the same.
“Every time I was close to getting some consistency my injuries dragged me down. I would even find myself getting jealous of the other players because they had one year after another to improve and that’s the only way really to get better as a player. For me, it was really hard to get five or 10 games in a row and I don’t think I was improving as much as the others. But there was nothing I could do.”
“It was really hard to cope because I had all this pressure to play. There were times when the manager would want to put me in the team and I had to tell him I wasn’t able, which was really hard. I’d feel guilty because I felt I was letting down my team-mates and my manager.”
One suspects that Jones shares similar levels of frustration, bitterness and regret. Yes, he is well paid so sympathy is hard to come by, empathy even less so, but it’s hard not to feel a touch of pity. Jones is a footballer whose potential is being unfulfilled because of injury.
"Psychologically Jones must be damaged by the constant run of injuries. Louis Saha is a good point of reference. One suspects that Jones shares similar levels of frustration, bitterness and regret."
Injuries are a curse, but expectations have field the disappointment. Jones’ versatility has prevented him from nailing down a fixed position during his time at United, while being likened to the legendary Duncan Edwards is a burden he did not deserve. One can’t help but feel that Jones has been inadvertently set-up for a fall right from the start.
For his part, the defender admitted that his focus is on making small steps with the hope of getting some game time.
“I’ve always set little targets and goals,” he said. “But this season I just want to play football and enjoy it, to be honest. Just enjoy training, enjoy football and being back with the lads, and take it from there.”
Is Phil Jones stealing a living, or is he a luckless soul who needs fortune to favour him for once? There are many debates to be had about Jones’ value to United, or lack thereof, but one thing is plainly clear, his injury problems is clearly no laughing matter any more.
Maybe this Red Devil deserves more sympathy than he’s used to receiving.