Amid all the hype surrounding the arrival of French World Cup-winning centre-back Raphael Varane from Real Madrid this summer, 29-year-old Jones was quietly continuing his rehabilitation from a serious knee injury that has seen him not play a first-team game for the Red Devils since January 2020.
When Jones’ name has been mentioned over the last 18 months, it has usually been as part of cruel jibes about his ability or his proneness to injury.
In an interview with The Times (subscription required), the former England international has opened up on the injury woes that have plagued him throughout his career – and bitten back at the many online trolls who have taken swipes at him during his recovery.
“Every footballer has a tag and unfortunately mine is, ‘Let’s have a laugh at him’,” he reasoned.
“But – and I say this in the nicest possible way – I know who’ll have the last laugh. I’m proud of my career and when it finishes and I’m enjoying my life – and by the way, I’m super fortunate that I’ll be able to do that, because footballers are fortunate – [the keyboard warriors] will still be in their mum’s spare bedroom, sipping Diet Pepsi that’s flat, eating a Pot Noodle, sitting in their boxers, tweeting”.
Jones also revealed that he had been preparing for a comeback in May of last year – and felt in some of the best shape of his career – before he was blindsided by a further injury setback. It was one that hit him particularly hard.
“I just couldn’t run, couldn’t pick my leg up to bend it. I just walked in,” recalled Jones.
“Everyone was saying, ‘What’s he doing?’ I’d lost my mind completely. I’m thinking, ‘I’m finished, can’t be bothered with all this anymore.’ I went straight to the doc and said, ‘Enough’s enough. I’ve had too many anti-inflammatories, too many injections, too many close shaves. I need this sorted.’
“It was the lowest I’ve ever been as a human being,” Jones confessed. “I used to come back [from training] and be in bits. My head was an absolute mess. I’d be in tears. I’d say to my wife, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I remember us both crying.”
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand branded Jones a “waste of time” last month, in reference to his constant injury woes, even accusing him of costing younger players the chance to graduate to the first-team squad.
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Jones responded to those words, saying: “Listen, the respect I’ve got is enormous. I’ve shared a dressing room with Rio – great professional. Loved playing with him. Great lad, good humour. Learned so much from him. But what he said was poor. Really poor. I’m not into disputes, not into arguments, and if he didn’t know [about the injury], he didn’t know.”
Despite the words of his critics, Jones has vowed to return to play the game he loves at senior level. His most recent knee surgery went well and he is now back representing the United U-23 side as he continues his journey towards full fitness.
“It feels almost like I’ve started my career again,” he said. “I feel young – not 29 but 25 or 26 – and because I’ve missed so much football I feel I have so much left in me.”
“I’ll fight for United until someone tells me, ‘Go somewhere else’,” he insisted.
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