The striking parallels between Phil Jones and Marcel Desailly
Match reports can be so simplistic. Often, there is little room – if any at all – for the finer details of a game and even though the intention is to give the reader a good idea of what took place during the 90 minutes, in reality it barely tells half the story. Normally, it’s limited to telling you who scored and how, describing a goalscoring chance or a contentious refereeing decision. In a way, it has come to typify how the average fan views the game; it is usually the forwards who cover themselves in most glory, generating the most buzz. It’s all about the goalscorers. Well, most of the time. Defenders, on the other hand, although never forgotten, do not tend to be plastered with as many superlatives. The well-worn adage goes ‘goals win games’, but a clearance off the line or even a well-timed challenge is equally as crucial.
It would be easy to overlook the efforts of United’s back four considering the manner in which the team have operated as an attacking unit; punishing teams with authority and consummate ease – a return of 22 goals from just six games suggests as much. But the defence should be talked about more. They’ve been that good. Of course, Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Stoke City was largely unconvincing for the team as a whole. (David de Gea, however, demonstrated his worth, making a number of fine saves.) Neither the midfield or any of the forwards were able to get into their stride and in the end, United had to graft hard for the point in a game where they could have easily lost all three. The back four were hardly brilliant either, apart from the omnipotent Phil Jones, who was once again in character. He was at fault for Stoke’s equaliser but that is the only blemish on his so-far near-perfect start to his United career. It would be rather unfair to be critical of the man.
In truth, Jones’ emergence has been a touch surprising; yes, he was excellent for Blackburn Rovers last season but the task of playing for Manchester United is a greater one. It would take time, we thought. As we found out, it was only days, not months that he would get into his stride. Already, he’s been to compared to Duncan Edwards but that would be difficult to comment on having not seen him play live; but there is another player who played the game in a similar vein to the Lancastrian in recent times.
Phil Jones evokes memories of Marcel Desailly. This is by no means a direct comparison, but the similarities are most certainly there. The game needs more cultured players and Jones is your man; a player who is atypical of your average English centre-half, who is a marauding figure just like Desailly was in his day. Something of a “dynamic defender”, perhaps – offering the best of both worlds.
Although in a period where Chelsea were not such a force, Desailly (although ageing) was still a joy to watch and was frighteningly consistent, strutting around the pitch as if he were telling the opponent “huh, try to get past me if you’re good enough”. He certainly did that for France, most notably at World Cup ’98, where he managed to combine great defensive discipline with fearless adventure. And, like Jones appeared to have done in the recent 3-1 win over the Blues, he seemed to have been able to cope with anything and win everything, either in the challenge or in the air.
Desailly also enjoyed some success as a defensive midfielder, particularly excellent for AC Milan in their glorious 93/94 season, while Jones was primarily used as one in the previous campaign by Sam Allardyce (and to a lesser extent, Steve Kean) and flourished. The fact that Jones has been deployed in defence so far this season doesn’t mean he cannot revert back to playing in midfield; indeed, he can alternate like Fabio Capello did with the Ghanaian-born while at Milan (incidentally, he filled in as occasional right back when required – again, Jones has done the same). That daring run where he beat three Bolton defenders is just one example of how good he is at getting forward, and shows just how comfortable he is doing so. He’s an assured passer, too, and tends to read the situation well. Once United’s defensive crisis has come to an end, there isn’t a reason as to why he might not play in the holding role.
It would be foolish to go all hyperbolic on a man who still has a lot to prove – this is the part where you remind yourself that Jones isn’t man – but he appears a player for the present, not just for the future. And Desailly is surely looking on proudly to a player of a similar mould. And enviously, for it’s too late for him to ever have blonde highlights.