Phil Jones created huge excitement during his first season at Old Trafford even drawing comparisons to the great Duncan Edwards from some quarters. A little much by the players own admission, but the expectations that surround the Manchester United man remain high to say the least, and comparisons to another past England international may be closer to the mark.
During his first term at the Theatre of Dreams, Jones found himself deployed more often than not at right back or even in the heart of United’s midfield instead of his more natural centre back role. With Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans establishing themselves as first choice pairing in the absence of Nemanja Vidic, Jones along with Chris Smalling had to take his opportunities wherever they came.
Despite this potential setback the Englishman's enthusiasm and desire made him an instant fan favourite, and the plaudits flew in for the Preston born youngster who took to his new club like the proverbial duck. Despite a last day of the season heartbreak, and lack of trouphies Jones emerged with tremendous credit for his performances and flew out to Poland and the Ukraine as part of Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad, making two appearances in England’s four games.
Knee and back problems during pre-season prevented Jones from playing any part for his club until late November when he returned to the fold against Galatasary, in the Champions League. Since then he has been given more game time, already taking in appearances at right back, centre back and in midfield in his 10 games thus far.
This week saw Jones get a run out at in his favoured role in central defence alongside Smalling, the duo impressing and gaining praise from Sir Alex Ferguson for the way they withstood West Ham’s second half dominance.
The chance to see Jones in his natural position was something of a rarity for United supporters and they will not have been left disappointed; solid in the air, quick across the ground and strong in the tackle Jones exhibited all of the abilities required to take him to the top of the game despite concerns over his lack of height, standing at just 5”11.
The former Blackburn man possesses more than just ability though; his determination and desire set him apart from other players of his age, Harry Redknapp describing him as a future England captain when Tottenham missed out on him eighteen months ago. In fact it was his resilience in returning from a knee ligament injury in March when expected to miss the rest of the season during Blackburn’s eventual relegation, along with his performance against United that season; convinced Ferguson that Jones was made of the right stuff, Ferguson later commenting on Jones’ refusal to give up when the rest of his team had seemingly thrown the towel in.
Sir Bobby Charlton likened Jones to Duncan Edwards more in stature and prowess rather than ability, truth be told but former England boss Fabio Capello said there was only Franco Baresi and Fernando Hierro that he had seen like Jones in his career; high praise indeed.
The more obvious comparison is to the man who captained Jones on his England debut John Terry; both courageous to a fault, willing to put themselves and their bodies on the line for the cause and natural leaders. Blackburn team mate at the time and former Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado claimed Jones would even be better than Terry due to him being more comfortable on the ball.
If Jones remains focused and fulfils his potential there’s no reason that he can’t go on and become the new John Terry on the field, hopefully he’ll be a bit more reserved off it though.
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