Manchester United ended the Asia-Oceania leg of their pre-season tour with a convincing 5-2 victory over Kitchee SC in Hong Kong on 29 July, and manager David Moyes will take encouragement from the fact that his side responded to disappointing results against Japanese sides Yokohama (2-3) and Cerezo Osaka (2-2) with an energetic display of offensive quality.
Moyes used this tour to great effect - albeit without getting the best results - by testing his young squad out, playing promising youngsters Wilfried Zaha, Adnan Januzaj, Jesse Lingard and Danny Welbeck in different positions, and trying different tactical organisations. While the lack of inroads made in the transfer market so far is a cause for some concern for United fans, they will be absolutely delighted at the plethora of promising young talent available for selection, and with - in addition to the already mentioned players - Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, Rafael & Fabio da Silva, Michael Keane, Scott Wootton, Alexander Buttner, Ben Amos, Davide de Gea and GuIllerme Varela all in their teens or early 20s, it is fair to say the Sir Alex Ferguson has left this squad in good shape for the future. While the futures of Rafael, Cleverley and Co. will be eagerly followed by United fans around the world, it can be argued that perhaps the most promising player in the current squad is former Blackburn prodigy and £16.5m signing, Phil Jones.
Over the course of the two seasons he has spent at Old Trafford, Jones has been lauded for his unwavering commitment to the club and admirable leadership skills, and has been touted by the likes of Fabio Capello and Mr. Manchester United himself, Sir Bobby Charlton, as "the next Franco Baresi" and "the next Duncan Edwards" respectively. Sir Alex Ferguson even said that he could arguably become Manchester United's greatest ever player, high praise indeed, coming from the man who managed the likes of Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona and Roy Keane before Jones.
It goes without saying that, over the next decade and longer, we will see Phil Jones establish himself as one of the most integral cogs in the machine that is Manchester United, and will be crucial to the successes the club is to enjoy (it is fair to say that Sir Alex Ferguson has left the squad in too good a position for the club to go 26 years without winning the league, like we saw after the retirement of Sir Matt Busby).
The only question that one can justifiably raise about the 21-year-old Jones is: what is his best position on the pitch?
Jones has played in the centre of defence - which many consider to be his best position - as a right back, and even as a defensive midfielder - a role in which he performed brilliantly against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil at the Santiago Bernebau last season - and has been consistently excellent whenever called on.
United fans will probably say that good things do not need to be changed drastically, and Jones should be allowed to play in different positions as and when necessary, but another point of view would be that - in order for the player to fully mature and realise his potential - he should focus on one particular position, and be allowed to play in that position on a regular basis. Even though Jones - by his own admission - would like to be played at centre-back on a regular basis, this author genuinely feels that the youngster's best position on the pitch is, in fact, that of a defensive midfielder.
Firstly, take a look at the player's attributes. Granted, Jones is an accomplished header of the ball, and is physically robust, the two attributes you'd expect in every central defender, but looking at his exceptional marking abilities, affinity for tackling, and his mobility, he also has all the qualities necessary to be a great defensive midfielder.
He is capable of covering a lot of ground during a game, owing to his indefatigable levels of stamina, and has a decent range of passing. A look at his performances in midfield shows that he is capable of being compared to the likes of Daniele de Rossi, Arturo Vidal and Javi Martinez, some of the most highly-rated holding midfielders in the world. Phil Jones really does seem perfect for the role, and should be allowed to explore the possibilities of playing in midfield for United.
Also, from the point of view of the club itself, it would be prudent for them to use Jones as a midfielder rather than a defender, simply because the squad does not have another player who can play in the role in question. Anderson has been used as the deepest-lying midfielder by David Moyes, but despite the Brazilian's creativity and range of passing, his movement is far too laboured for him to be able to hold down that berth in the team. United need a player with Jones' attributes, one capable of doing the defensive work as well as surging forward to contribute to counter-attacks. Transfer targets Kevin Strootman and Victor Wanyama would have been perfect, but United failed to acquire either player, and hence must look to Jones to play in that role. Further, there is already enough competition for the centre-back (Ferdinand, Vidic, Evans, Smalling, Keane, Wootton) and right-back (Rafael, Fabio, Varela, Smalling) positions.
In summary, Manchester United will probably continue to use Phil Jones as a utility player for the foreseeable future, but it would be best for both club and player if he chose to play in one particular position on a more regular basis, and this writer thinks that that position should be in midfield.
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