Phil Jones: A man of great promise
After an impressive debut against Chelsea in March 2010, Phil Jones’ rise in the past 15 months has seen him touted as the future of English football and, in the process, generating great interest from a whole host of clubs who view him as a welcome addition to their side. Interest, it would appear, is there for good reason.
But Jones is a special case; his transition from centre-half to a defensive midfield player has been impressive; and with the news that the Englishman is set to sign for Manchester United it will seem likely that such a talented player will only develop further at Old Trafford. There are some doubts, though – for one, the environment he’ll be brought into will certainly be very competitive if he were to be used primarily as a defender – even with the futures of Wes Brown and Jonny Evans uncertain, it is unlikely that both will depart from the club at the same time. Granted, he can play in midfield but he certainly isn’t a replacement for Owen Hargreaves (nor Paul Scholes ) – not yet anyway having played in the position, despite competently, for only a season.
However, there is much reason to be excited. Sam Allardyce, his former boss at Blackburn Rovers before he was sacked, described Jones as a ‘natural’ and for a player of his age, can make ‘more right decisions than some more experienced players.’ Allardyce did then admit that, long-term, he will ‘ultimately’ play in the back four. But Jones gives off the impression, when I have watched him play, that he is willing to play wherever. In fact, his description of his more advanced role was the following; “I would not say it was central midfield. I would say it was screening the back four for extra security.” That epitomises Jones and just what sort of player he is – a defensive-minded player that perhaps prefers to play at the back, but is willing to do a job higher up the pitch – such versatility will be very useful to United.
Against Manchester United in the penultimate game of the season, Jones reverted back to his natural position of centre-half alongside Christopher Samba. They were both solid, robust and reliable – in fact, United’s goal in the 1-1 draw came from a Wayne Rooney penalty. Indeed, the Red Devils were frustrated by the pair.
<Figure 1> The chalkboard gives a good insight into the game of Phil Jones. His interceptions were in different places in his own half, suggesting his tendency to get forward when needed to prevent Manchester United from playing their own game. Those who watched the game would have witnessed just how United struggled in the final third.
<Figure 2> What is perhaps most impressive about this chalkboard is what you can’t see; all seven of his clearances were headed. Jones is renown for being strong in the air – a quality a defender cannot go without.
So what does this signing mean? Jonny Evans could possibly be used as a utility player, like John O’Shea – but his chances to make an impression will once again be limited. Jones is sure to be seen as part of United’s future and the successor to Rio Ferdinand (although he still has two/three years) – while Evans, and indeed Brown, are resigned to less game time or perhaps a career elsewhere. Don’t be put off by the price of Jones, either (the transfer market usually sees an inflation of price for any English player regardless of age; see Wayne Rooney, Ferdinand or even Joleon Lescott too, being a prime example) and for a 19 year old, that might represent good value if he becomes established and a mainstay at the club. Furthermore he’s signed a five-year contract, which makes the fee a little more acceptable.
Just to fuel any excitement you might have, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will partner each other in the upcoming Under 21 European Champions and is the perfect stage for two players of such quality. Both are very similar – they show good positional awareness and discipline and are strong in the challenge as well as being competent in the air. Plus, both are what the English media would call “no-nonsense types”. One thing for sure, Sir Alex knows talent when he sees it – and such has been his development under the guidance of Allardyce and Steve Kean in the past campaign, that he knows Jones will fit into perfectly at Old Trafford. These are times of promise.