Phil Jones 20 Defender Manchester United
Manchester United didn’t dally once Phil Jones had broken into the Blackburn Rovers first team. A full season in the Premier League during 2010/11 presented the Preston born player with an opportunity to show what he could do without the need for elongated trips for United’s scouting team. Here was a strong and technically adept central defender based in Lancashire and within call of Old Trafford.
Earmarked as a long term replacement for Rio Ferdinand, Jones signed on for The Red Devils in 2011 and immediately seized a starting berth in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first eleven. A series of impressive performances ensued in which Jones demonstrated a coolness and dexterity which belied his young age. Assertive runs from deep positions highlighted what an able player the club had purchased as United purred during the opening months of the 2010/11 season.
With injuries to first choice defensive pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic disrupting their season, it was inevitable that United would slip from time to time, nevertheless Jones, along with Chris Smalling, ensured that the pair were not pined for too much.
We maintain that regular first team football is an essential edification for all young players - it’s what drives our selection of this list after all. To become a better player, individuals must learn from mistakes, but they must make those mistakes first. While Jones was magnificent in some games, he was poor in others. Yet it is abundantly clear that Sir Alex Ferguson maintains complete confidence in his youthful charge, and it is not difficult to see why.
Ferguson will unquestionably get the best out of a classy central defender that can also operate in midfield or at full back, which is good news for club and country. Sir Bobby Charlton’s alleged comparison between Jones and the legendary England star Duncan Edwards is certainly unjustified at this point, but it’s not difficult to see where the former World Cup winner is coming from – if he did make the reference. On the floor and in the air Jones is comfortable, his reading of the game is excellent, his passing good and his positioning impressive. Taken to the European Championships by Roy Hodgson but not used, it’s likely that Jones will remain a key figure for England for many years to come.
From his Opta stats for the last year, we can see that Jones made only 10 starts, which highlights how much an issue injuries have been, especially when you consider the problems Manchester United have endured at centre back. A total of twelve matches in twelve months is troubling.
Our source of uneasiness here is not due to Phil Jones’ ability, but down to his apparent knack of getting knacked. A regular starter for Manchester United when fit, Jones’ first season at Old Trafford certainly wasn’t decimated by injuries during 2011-12, but it was badly disrupted. 2012-13, on the other hand, is already looking ominous and, at time of writing with more than a quarter of the season gone, Jones has yet to kick a ball for the first team.
It’s not just the length of time missed due to injury either, it’s the type and frequency of injuries that have arisen. Problems have been discovered relating to Jones’ knees, ankle and, more recently, back. To see so many different ‘niggles’ appear over a period of twelve months is a justifiable cause of anxiety.
We expect Phil Jones to progress well. He has the potential to become one of the finest players in Europe, and we say that with no hint of irony, but the injuries are an enormous concern. With intelligent young players at a premium, no England fan will want to see Jones endure the sort of oppressive body traumas that hampered the careers of equally talented predecessors Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King.
“Quite simply, Phil Jones could be the best England player of his generation. He has the perfect stage and the perfect manager to get the very best out of him, all that is required is complete avoidance of the treatment room.” - Jeff Livingstone (IBWM)
C- A potentially top class player that requires a large slice of luck
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