The first time I saw Phil Jones play I knew instantly that he was a player that was worthy of wearing the United shirt. Here was a player, not much older then what I was, shouldering the burden of playing in a centre back pairing in the Premier League. He would fly into tackles left right and centre, meanwhile barking instructions to much seasoned veterans.
Sir Alex undoubtedly saw his massive potential, forking out 16 million for his services. The amount was at the time a steep price for a teenager, a testament to his ability: that Ferguson shelled out the sum on a defender who had minimal Premier League experience.
His first few years at United were far from ideal, struggling to break apart the rock solid partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic, Jones had to be content with time on the sidelines. The playing time that he did get was spent operating in a variety of positions, be it right back, centre back or in a defensive midfield role. He also had to compete with the rising talents of Evans and Smalling, both of whom considered as future world beaters.
Fast forward to today, a time when Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have both departed a club under new management. Phil Jones still hasn’t fulfilled his massive potential, arguably due to many intermittent factors. One of which is that he has been over the years plagued with a whole host of injuries. Due to his gung ho nature and robust tackling, Jones has ended up on the treatment table more times then he would like.
This aspect of his career has greatly hampered his game, for a defender to flourish; he needs a steady run of games. A stable partner is also a bonus, a luxury that none of United’s young defenders were afforded. Under Van Gaal, Phil Jones can rejuvenate his career; with Rio and Vidic out of the picture he has every chance of cementing his place at the back.
As is the hallmark of United teams, the fight for every position on the pitch is high. This hallmark of the club has been cemented this year due to injuries to senior defenders, with Blackett and Mcnair coming to the fore and shining for the first team. Jones who is also currently on the fitness table needs to be the voice that the United team so desperately needs at the back, he needs to step up his general fitness and serve as an example of younger players.
Although still very young himself, this level of responsibility is expected of Phil Jones because he is not an average player by any stretch of the imagination, his performance in Ferguson’s team that faced Real Madrid is vindication of that. Shackling Ronaldo is a insurmountable task for even the best defenders, but over the two legs Jones succeeded in keeping Ronaldo at bay, well as much as you can keep Ronaldo quiet that is.
All the pieces in the jigsaw are in place this season, with Van Gaal under the helm and the added responsibility of replacing the likes of Ferdinand and Vidic, this year is crucial for Jones. It can be said that this season will be career defining, if he can get a stable run of games in his preferred position, improve his general fitness and positioning, there is no reason why Phil Jones won’t be able to establish himself as a mainstay for years to come.