In Phil Jones, Sir Alex Ferguson has a manager’s dream. After a summer transfer from Blackburn in 2011 for a rumoured £16.5million, one could be excused for thinking this was rather a gamble for Sir Alex Ferguson. Certainly the other two major transfers during the summer months for United; Ashley Young from Aston Villa for between £15million-£20million and the arrival of David De Gea from Atletico Madrid for around the same amount, seemed more understandable and generated the most excitement around Old Trafford. At the half-way stage in the 2011/2012 season, Jones’ performances have totally eclipsed those of the other new arrivals. That is not to say Young and De Gea have made little impact on the Premier League, far from it in fact. However, what Jones has brought to United’s side is an air of professionalism, hard-work and ability that players ten years his senior would be proud of boasting.
In a season where United have struggled desperately at times due to injuries, it has given Jones the chance to get on to the field of play much earlier than most imagined he would. Filling in originally at centre-back for Nemanja Vidic, who was out for five weeks with a calf injury, Jones would go on to play at right-back and centre-midfield between the months of September and December. The willingness of a young player to play out of his comfort zone at centre-half and play wherever instructed by a manager was a breath of fresh air in the Premier League. Too often in today’s modern game do we see players looking disinterested and frustrated due to being played out of position. In Jones though, we had a young player who was thrown into the deep end, at one of the biggest clubs in the world, out of position and took to it like a duck to water. Without complaint or question, Jones has excelled in all three positions, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson with a managerial headache concerning where his best position is.
It is rare we see a player with such levels of adaptability, especially at such a young age. The utility player is by no means a new phenomenon; you only need to speak to John O’Shea about his Manchester United career and he will fire of a list of positions he was forced to play under Sir Alex. Jones, however, is different. He excels at each position he plays and with such desire. Be it winning a header, throwing in a last ditch tackle, meandering through a defence or scoring a goal; Jones looks more than comfortable, adept and excited to do so. He has the hunger that many lack in today’s modern game.
One only has to look across Manchester to Wayne Bridge at Manchester City to see the stark contrast in playing attitudes. Bridge refuses the option to move clubs even with the understanding that he is not part of Roberto Mancini’s plans. As much as you back yourself, one must realise that getting a game at Manchester City is nigh on impossible unless you truly are world class and at the top of your game. Bridge has Clichy and Kolorov ahead of him at left-back and it is about as likely as New Year’s eve involving a night out that City will spend in the January transfer window. Regardless, Bridge is refusing the opportunity to move, but rather stay out his contract at Manchester City and it takes no Sherlock Holmes to understand why. Jones is setting an example to players double his age on how the beautiful game should be approached.
The steep natural progression of Jones really is astonishing and he has the calm head that can be drawn in comparison to the likes of Paolo Maldini. At nineteen he is taking the Premier League by storm and with United’s traditional Ferdinand/Vidici partnership now making up a combined age of 63, it is only a matter of time before Jones replaces one of them permanently. It is no surprise that fans are already backing him to be the future Manchester United captain and some as far as suggesting the future England captain. Jones has now played three full internationals for England, with Fabio Capello describing his debut was “outstanding” and going on to say “the boy is born with talent”. Who is to question how far the lad will blossom, as he is England’s most promising and exciting player since Wayne Rooney and if he continues at this rate, in ten years’ time we could be speaking of him as one of England’s greats.
David P Harrison
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