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Phil Jones’ sad plight from Man Utd’s “best ever” defender to no games in 18 months


On June 13 this year should have been a special day for Phil Jones, marking his 10 years spent as a Manchester United player — an accomplishment that only a handful of players can claim to have achieved.

Yet from his point of view, there won’t be much to celebrate.

The resounding praise from the legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2013 must be implanted somewhere in the back of his mind as a reminder of just how good he was as a youngster.

The Scot even went as far as claiming Jones could be their “best ever” footballer, which was some statement considering the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Steve Bruce all turned out for the club.

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Sir Alex Ferguson reserved high praise for Phil Jones after signing him from Blackburn Rovers
Sir Alex Ferguson reserved high praise for Phil Jones after signing him from Blackburn Rovers

“Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player,” Ferguson said after winning his and United’s last Premier League title in May 2013.

“I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him.

“At 21 years of age, he is going to be a phenomenal player. I think he can play anywhere on the pitch.

“He has such a massive influence, with his instinct and reading of the game. He has a drive about him.”

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Jones was signed as a 19-year-old who had been thriving in Blackburn Rovers’ defence after coming through the academy.

He was the shining light for his side even when they were dismantled 7-1 by the champions, with his leadership showing a sense of maturity beyond his teenage years.

Manchester United signed Phil Jones from Blackburn in June 2011 for £16m
Manchester United signed Phil Jones from Blackburn in June 2011 for £16m

Where do you think Phil Jones will end up if he leaves Manchester United this summer? Have your say in the comments section below.

Ferguson, in particular, was taken back by his leadership qualities and paid £16million for the centre-back, beating Liverpool to his signature after convincing the youngster to visit him at his holiday home in the south of France.

He was strong in the tackle and a commanding presence in the air, displaying the kind of commitment to challenges that Ferguson demanded.

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With quality defenders at a premium at the time, Jones was a refreshing throwback to the traditional tough-tackling, no-nonsense operator at the back.

Having featured regularly for United in his first four seasons at the club, it was only natural that he was selected for England and among his 27 caps for his country were appearances at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.

Phil Jones played for England at the 2018 World Cup
Phil Jones played for England at the 2018 World Cup

That he featured for his country in the 1-0 defeat against Belgium in Russia only three years ago only serves to show the sharp downward trajectory his career has taken.

Now 29 years of age, Jones has not featured in a senior game for Man United since scoring in the 6-0 victory over Tranmere in the FA Cup on January 26, 2020. Four days prior to that, he featured in the backline for United’s 2-0 defeat to Burnley in the Premier League.

Injuries and an alarming dip in form have robbed Jones of what should have been the peak years of his career. In the time that has since passed, Manchester United have played 52 league fixtures and Jones has missed them all either through injury or not being selected by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

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Only once in his 10 seasons has he played more than 40 games for his club and he has only managed to play more than 30 times in two campaigns.

Remarkably, data from Transfermarkt suggests Jones has sustained 23 separate injury problems causing him to miss a total of 204 games since joining United in 2011.

Phil Jones has not played for Man Utd since January 2020
Phil Jones has not played for Man Utd since January 2020

It goes some way to detailing the extent of how his once promising career has derailed over the past two years. Jones has been denied the chance to fulfil the illustrious career at Old Trafford that was laid out for him when he joined the club.

Even when he was fit, the Englishman became the subject of memes on social media due to the facial expressions he would make during his time on the pitch, going up for headers and making tackles.

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A flurry of own goals also contributed to his new identity as a footballing calamity and such criticism must have affected his confidence, on top of his injury problems.

In one of his last Premier League appearances against Sheffield United, it was his costly error that gifted the Yorkshire side the lead and he was hooked at half-time.

Jones signed a new contract in 2020 which will keep him at the club until June 2023, with the option to extend for a further year, with Solskjaer keen to reward the defender for his work in returning from injury.

Phil Jones' last appearance came in the 6-0 win over Tranmere in the FA Cup
Phil Jones’ last appearance came in the 6-0 win over Tranmere in the FA Cup

“Phil knows what it takes to be a Manchester United player. He has won the Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League and is now one of the senior players within the team,” Solskjaer said.

“He is coming up to his 27th birthday and entering into his prime years as a centre-half. We are delighted Phil has committed his future to the club.”

That was in February 2019. Not much has gone right for the centre-back since then and he remains a peripheral figure at the club, despite earning a reported wage to the tune of £100,000-a-week.

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He was recently seen at Carrington in March 2021 as he continues his comeback to revive his career, although it seems inevitable that United will cut their losses and part ways with the defender this summer.

But that could prove to be a difficult and expensive task considering Jones is under contract until June 2023, with an option of a further year. There are not likely to be any clubs willing to pay a fee to sign him and his injury record may prevent him getting another long-term contract.

Phil Jones has won the Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup with the Red Devils
Phil Jones has won the Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup with the Red Devils

It would mark a melancholic ending to his career with the Red Devils, with Jones turning down the chance to host a testimonial amid fears that “apart from my mum and dad, who else would turn up?”, as reported by The Athletic.

That he has made 224 appearances for the club puts him in the same company as Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford.

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If he does depart, he would do so with medals from their Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup draped around his neck — and no injury or person can take that away from him.





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