A lot has been said about Phil Jones. He has gone from the top of the world, to down in the dumps. The Englishman made his big break, at 17, against the formidable Didier Drogba. At that stage, Drogba was at the height of his powers yet Jones didn’t look at all fussed. Not many centre backs in world football can say this, but Jones bullied the Ivorian and was duly proclaimed the new John Terry.
It wasn’t for his conquests with his best friend’s ex, or trouble with alleged racism, it was for his steel and maturity beyond his tender years. This talent did not go unnoticed, but it wasn’t just Jones’ talent that caught a certain Scottish manager’s eyes. It was Jones’ drive and will to succeed that led Sir Alex Ferguson to stump up £16.5m on the teenager. That moment was Jones berating his Blackburn teammates during their 7-1 drubbing at OT. Sir Alex saw a winner, and it could have been set in stone that he would be a Manchester United player. So where has his career gone since his big break?
Jones was always destined for greater things, and everyone, including Blackburn, knew that Ewood Park wasn’t the place to achieve those dreams. With the English elite after his signature, it seemed as though Liverpool were in pole position to snap him up only for Manchester United to swoop in and get their man.
Before Jones could link up with United, he had the small matter of the U21 European championships to look forward to and he did not disappoint, unlike another high profile youngster (Jordan Henderson). Alongside Chris Smalling, Jones forged a great partnership. The tournament didn’t end on a good note as England was knocked out in the semi-finals, but the pundits were in awe of United’s two centre backs. So with Jones’ great performances, the excitement grew over his competitive debut.
Jones made his much anticipated first appearance against Tottenham and showed glimpses of his talent and drive. One moment in particular stands out for me, and that was when Jones tracked back against the lightening quick Gareth Bale to make an important block. It wasn’t just his speed of recovery, but his insatiable need to get back and make that block. It was almost superhuman!
A string of impressive performances led some to compare Jones with the legendary Duncan Edwards. Very high praise indeed, as from what we hear about Duncan Edwards, we can assume that he was a once in a generation type of player. Jones could not have had a better first half to a season, even if he tried a million times. So where did it all go wrong?
The second half of the season brought a loss of form and a few injuries for the youngster, and that culminated in Jones being used as more of a utility man rather than a specialist centre back.
Jones’ loss of form was alarming and brought people to question if he was even good enough for Manchester United. It was strange as these were the same people who claimed Jones would rise right to the top.
It wasn’t the bad form that cost Jones, but his faults. His great moments covered the little errors that became more frequent during the end of December to May. So what are his problems?
What I noticed at first glance was Jones’ tendency to be caught under the ball. At centre back and full back, this is unacceptable but not a train smash. This is just a simple case of judgement that will come in time. Jones is also caught out of position too often as was found during the 3-2 loss to Blackburn at OT or when playing at fullback. He tends to want to push forward all the time. This can be put down to youthful exuberance which will work its way out once Jones matures. For a player of his class, Jones seems to get the simple passes wrong, which can lead to dangerous situations at the back.
All of the aforementioned points can be worked on, and if Jones can rid himself of these errors, he will be back to his best. I don’t believe that Jones will fade away at United; I believe that he will be part of a new generation of Manchester United greats. For me, it is not an “if”, but a “when”.
Jones has everything required to make it. He has great pace, a great engine, he is a physical beast and his reading of the game seems to be exemplary. We have seen how his reading of the game can create chances. A few of his trademark lung bursting runs have come on the back of great reading of space and movement into that space so he can receive the ball from his teammate .
Nothing is certain, as injuries can rear its ugly head, but with the attributes that Jones possesses, there is no reason why he cannot succeed. We will hopefully see Jones in full flight during the 12/13 season, possibly as a midfield general.
If you want to read more on Phil Jones, have a read of this post by Tom Pattison
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