Phil Jones: United’s Mr. Indestructible



If ever there is was ever a prime catalyst for the growing cult of Phil Jones it came on Wednesday night during Manchester United’s 5-0 destruction of Fulham at Craven Cottage. In the moments after the 19-year-old defender had taken Clint Dempsey’s elbow squarely on the jaw, Jones staggered around the pitch as if inebriated by a measure or few of Christmas cheer. The youngster was so stunned by the force of the blow that he for a moment he saw double, but with Bryan Ruiz almost baring down on goal, the Preston-born stopped still had the wherewithal to pull off a last-ditch tackle of the highest class. Encapsulated in two moments barely minutes apart was Jones in a nutshell – fearless and talented beyond most players’ dreams.

But Jones’ bravery almost came at a cost, with the player withdrawn during the second half in west London. It brought early fears of a broken jaw, and potentially months on the sidelines. With injuries mounting at Old Trafford, losing Jones now would be a huge blow to United’s Premier League aspirations.

“We feared the worst because he lost his vision a bit in that period when he came back onto the field,” explained Sir Alex Ferguson. “He has some swelling in his jaw but there’s no break, no fracture, which is good news.”

Great news, in fact. It was with a collective sigh of relief, then, that when the manager confirmed Jones suffered nothing more than some bruising and should be fit for United’s Boxing Day fixture with Wigan Athletic. Reports that Dempsey’s elbow will never be the same again are unconfirmed.

Jones’ rapid recovery is symptomatic of a player who has become a firm Old Trafford favourite. Dynamic, energetic, flexible, and with seemingly limitless talent, Jones has become everything expected of a United player in just five short months; and in today’s inflated transfer market, a bargain at £16.5 million. Indeed, the player’s integration into Ferguson’s team has been instant, with the former Blackburn Rovers defender having made 16 appearances in the Premier League this season – 24 in all competitions. Nobody has featured more often for the Reds in the current campaign.

The 19-year-old has certainly made mistakes when featuring in central defence this campaign, but few defenders can claim Jones’ all-round impact. After all, while Jones has made eight blocks and 17 clearances in the Premier League, he has also created three goals, struck 15 shots, made 13 crosses and scored once – his first professional goal – in United’s 1-0 win at Aston Villa in November. All of it has ensured the youngster has become a cult figure at United despite the relative freshness of his arrival at the club.

Meanwhile, the player’s form has earned three caps for England – in three different positions to boot. It is almost certain that Jones will travel to Euro 2012 with Fabio Capello’s squad and has a realistic chance of featuring at right-back, in central midfield, or in the player’s preferred position of centre back. It is this flexibility that has enabled Jones to feature in so many games for United this season, filling in for the injured Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić early in the season, switching to right-back and then latterly featuring alongside a rejuvenated Michael Carrick in midfield.

It is a trait that Ferguson likes, of course. John O’Shea, for example, appeared in around 400 games for United – far more, some might say, than a player of his limited talents should have played. But the Irishman’s flexibility ensure that while O’Shea was rarely first choice in any position, he was first reserve for many.

The longer-term question is whether Jones will be able to bed down a single position in the side. Indeed, Jones’ flexibility may not always be a bonus – some players do not fare so well, or develop as hoped, if they are unable to develop a rhythm and an expertise in one role. But for the moment the player, who Ferguson believes will eventually settle into a central defensive role, is happy to do whatever is asked of him.

“I enjoy playing anywhere. I enjoy playing football, so wherever I am asked to play I will play,” Jones said recently.

“If the manager asks me to play right-back, centre-back or midfield, I will go and do a job there. I don’t think it really matters at the moment that I am cementing a spot in a certain position because I am still young. Hopefully, as my career progresses that will happen.”

Then there is, of course, the debate about Jones’ best role. While the player is currently staring with Carrick in United’s engine room, the Lancastrian is yet to impress against one of the leading lights domestically or abroad. Jones was excellent in United’s wins against Wolverhampton Wanderers and QPR recently in midfield, but failed both at Anfield against Liverpool in October, and when United was knocked out of the Champions League against FC Basel.

Upcoming fixtures with Newcastle United at St. James’ Park and the FA Cup third round tie with Manchester City will test Ferguson’s resolve to deploy Jones in central midfield. In fact Ryan Giggs’ star turn against Fulham – a side that has given United significant trouble in the past few seasons – may yet be telling.

Whatever Jones’ eventual role there is no doubt that the boy is on his way to super-stardom. Another heroes’ turn in upcoming fixtures will only cement the moniker sooner.

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  • denton davey

    It’s not about MrJones’ “favourite position” – it’s about where does he make the most sense for his team. THAT’s central midfield, partnered alongside Michael Carrick. Like all the best partnerships, this one is better than the sum of the parts. There’s been an energy, drive, and determination in UTD’s play with this combination that I haven’t seen in a long, long time.

  • Jumping Jesus

    United’s most valuable player IMO

  • kramer

    eh, he’s a fantastic young player but people are going overboard.

  • Just1n

    kramer said:
    eh, he’s a fantastic young player but people are going overboard.

    Yeah. Agreed. A great talent but let’s not go overboard.

  • dozer

    Yep he talented but a Jones injury wouldn’t cost us when comparted to Nani, Rooney, Vidic and Evra. Maybe even Hernandez.

  • denton davey

    dozer @ 12:48: ” a Jones injury wouldn’t cost us when comparted to Nani, Rooney, Vidic and Evra”

    Thats setting the bar very, very high – for a 19 year-old, with no previous.

    The way I see it MrJones is like a catalyst – he brings different elements of the team-game to life. Certainly Michael Carrick is better playing alongside MrJones than anyone else(SirRyanGiggs’ outstanding game @ Foolham, notwithstanding) and TheWayneBoy benefits enormously from having a box-to-box midfielder behind him.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    kramer said:
    eh, he’s a fantastic young player but people are going overboard.

    Bollocks… I think he’s well worth going overboard about.

    Best young talent we’ve had since Rooney/Ronaldo… different kind of player, but could be just as big a player for us… new Keane/Robson??? possibly…

    • DeadRevel

      Exactly. It’s all fucking doom and gloom around here. He’s a top player now, he will only get better. He’s arguably been our best and most consistent performer this season.

      Don’t agree about mid though, he’s a CB who can do a job in midfield/right back. This is like the whole Smalling at RB thing…
      Rafael – Smalling – Jones – Fabio
      Perfect back 4 for future. With Vidic, Fryers and Evans as back ups.

  • kramer

    he’s got a lot of growing up to do before he gets anywhere close to that level. i hope he gets there, but its very very uncertain. besides, i’m not even sure he’s a central midfielder.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    That’s the thing… he’s so aggressive, and positive… I think he’s too rash to be a centre back… he’s too keen to get forward.

    You’re right, that he’s got a lot of developing to do… I’d personally like to see him stay in the middle, and develop as a box to box monster… what a talent though.

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/danniitronix/ danniitronix

    Good prospect no point getting a hard on about though

  • sheesh

    Agree with Alf. Jones is a great young player who is well worth getting excited about. I didn’t know much about him when he came to United but I’ve been impressed with how he’s adapted to playing in different positions. I love the fact that he has the balls to go forward.
    Bit premature comparing him to Keane/Robson but he’s a terrific talent, for sure. One of the young players of the season IMO.

  • bman

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    That’s the thing… he’s so aggressive, and positive… I think he’s too rash to be a centre back… he’s too keen to get forward.

    You’re right, that he’s got a lot of developing to do… I’d personally like to see him stay in the middle, and develop as a box to box monster… what a talent though.

    I’d prefer to see him develop as a monster ball-playing centre-back who can also do well in midfield. He needs to learn more discipline when we’re playing against the top sides, but against weaker fare when we dominate possession, it’s a huge asset to have a defender with the quality to step up and effectively become an extra body in midfield. That’s how a team like Barca seems to have so many bodies in midfield, that’s how you completely strangle weaker teams.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    sheesh said:
    Agree with Alf. Jones is a great young player who is well worth getting excited about. I didn’t know much about him when he came to United but I’ve been impressed with how he’s adapted to playing in different positions. I love the fact that he has the balls to go forward.

    Bit premature comparing him to Keane/Robson but he’s a terrific talent, for sure. One of the young players of the season IMO.

    It’s only premature to compare him to Keane/Robson because of who they became later… but who the hell was Roy Keane when he was 19?

    The reason I want him to develop as a box to box midfielder, is because it’s a position that suits his natural abilities… aggression and enthusiasm to get forward… centre backs require a lot of discipline and concentration… he’s too gung-ho to be a centre back… he might be the dogs bollocks in a few years, with a bit more experience under his belt, but until then he’s simply too rash for my liking…

  • captainhormone

    FFS..he is a box to box midfielder of the highest class potentially.. energy, dynamic, drive, determination, power, and the ability to create and score goals…leadership quality too

    When his legs start to go he will have the experience and aptitude to play at center back

  • Bill

    Got to agree with the last two comments, he has many of the attributes of a box to box midfielder at present. He can have more of an impact there.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    fabio will never be first choice left back at utd

  • han

    danniitronix said:
    Good prospect no point getting a hard on about though

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    feet well on ground though
    should nuture him like the young giggs and stop him being interviewed by all and sundry
    those duties should be left with the senior players
    we have had the likes of gibson and evans giving it the big i am in i/vs only to fall waist deep in their own shite

  • Pikey McScum

    He went up several notches in my estimation for having the balls to stay on the pitch and make a world class tackle after that whack from the Yank.

    He’ll be a damn good influence on some of those fannies in the squad if nothing else

  • sidney

    See how he fairs in midfield against world class opposition in a big european semi/final or a title winning match

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/danniitronix/ danniitronix

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    It’s only premature to compare him to Keane/Robson because of who they became later… but who the hell was Roy Keane when he was 19?

    The reason I want him to develop as a box to box midfielder, is because it’s a position that suits his natural abilities… aggression and enthusiasm to get forward… centre backs require a lot of discipline and concentration… he’s too gung-ho to be a centre back… he might be the dogs bollocks in a few years, with a bit more experience under his belt, but until then he’s simply too rash for my liking…

    the issue is his development.

    roy keane had robson and ince to learn from – and arguably he eclipsed both of them.
    jones has no one – at the most, scholes in training. he’s already the most dynamic midfielder but how does he take it to the next level?

    fletcher is good but he is not / never has been world class – yet is capable of delivering world class performances. he got good because he got his arse raped by keane everytime he messed up.

    box to box thunder and bluster is brilliant in the epl but pretty shit in the UCL. to make the most of jones he needs to be more of a ball player or fergus needs to invest in one.

    either way, he is a great prospect which hopefully fergus will not ruin by putting shit next to him or playing him in goal

  • baggio365

    jones isnt a ball player and is never going to be someone in the same mould of scholes etc. like alf, i’m sure his future is to be a box-to-box player; the next robson/keane. he’s got tons of energy, looks dangerous running into space, and knows how to put in a tackle or two. and he’ll develop by playing in that position week in week out over the next 2/3/4/5 yrs for united. he doesnt need a mentor. rooney and ronaldo didnt. why does jones?

    he’s the first united player i’ve genuinely got excited about since ronaldo, and just simply love watching his youthful energy. he’s not our most important player. not even in the top 5. but delighted that he’s ours, and that we get to see him develop over the next couple of year.

  • han

    sidney said:
    See how he fairs in midfield against world class opposition in a big european semi/final or a title winning match

    or even against the likes of yakubu and bottom of the league shitehouses

  • han

    he wasn’t half shit on sunday against the massive