One of the greatest mysteries about the Manchester United squad now is undoubtedly the immediate future of Phil Jones, even more than the short time he spent taking corners for United, but the more pertinent topic of discussion should be whether Phil Jones has a future at all with Man United. It’s been four years of unfulfilled potential – yes, he has it, although not to the extent that made Sir Alex Ferguson, who sanctioned the £16.5 million signing from Blackburn Rovers, genuinely claim he could end up becoming one of the greatest players in club’s history.
It is somewhat ironic when we look back on Jones’ early Blackburn days when he used to look about 5 years older than his age with his physical maturity quite unparalleled in England at his age group. Aged 20, when he arrived, he was as towering and well built as any centre-half in the league – the like of which Manchester United were crying to sign at the time when they were looking for a raw, potentially top centre-back to flourish under the tutelage of the already successful duo of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. But seldom did we expect fact the man dubbed as the next ‘Duncan Edwards’ would go on to make less than 25 appearances in the league in each of his first four seasons.
In the last two seasons under Louis van Gaal, the 24-year old made 33 appearances – 22 in 2014/15 and a meagre 11 last season. Van Gaal, with his peculiar methods of easing just recovered players in the team – even broke his own philosophy by throwing Jones in the first team immediately after the player returned from injury in the 2-2 draw against West Brom at the Hawthorns. He remarkably missed another seven games in November with a calf injury but restored to the starting XI for a 3-0 win over Liverpool.
Last season, Jones only appeared 11 times for United in a season where United had to pair Chris Smalling with someone that was not a natural centre-back in Daley Blind – which should be seen as an opportunity missed for him – to nail down his favoured position at the heart of the back four, having often, in the past, been a victim of his own versatility. In April, Jones featured in 3 of the last four games for the reserve team that won the league in a thrilling fashion; his last appearance came in the 2-1 defeat to Southampton where he was involved for 76 minutes – but did not get a mention in the FA Cup final against Palace nor considered for the England squad that traveled to France to play in the European Championships, understandably so.
But Jones, as he has done in the past, can always force himself back into the plans of new manager Mourinho by staying fit and earning his place through encouraging performances in the pre-season which is scheduled to begin in the third week of July. The signing of Eric Bailly, who is interestingly very similar to the English centre-half – strong, young and raw talent blessed with potential to go places.
But the good news is that recent reports have claimed Jose Mourinho would want to keep the Preston-born defender as he builds his squad in a mission to revitalise United, as he supposedly envisages the 24-year-old as a Terry-esque figure at United in the future. Whether this is another managerial over-estimation of Jones, is for another day but as someone who has had these recurring injuries and made it a habit to forge a comeback when the odds were slim, Phil Jones really needs to do one more if he were to prove his doubters, including this writer, wrong.