Solskjaer has struggled to find a solution for his defensive midfield role at Manchester United but he could play a wildcard once backed by Ferguson by giving Jones a shot in the position
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could take a gamble on Phil Jones in a wildcard move once played by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Jones has recently returned to action, featuring for Manchester United ‘s Under-23s earlier this month, having not played for the senior side since January 2020.
His last appearance, on which he scored, came at Tranmere Rovers in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup but the 28-year-old feels there is “light at the end of the tunnel” and that he can contribute to the Red Devils’s season.
Often harshly ridiculed on social media despite winning multiple trophies during his injury-plagued career, Jones was given the tag of potentially becoming United’s “best-ever player” by Ferguson in 2013, following two impressive campaigns after signing from Blackburn Rovers.
Although much of his playing time at the club has been at centre-back, he was often praised for his versatility.
Jones produced a slew of powerhouse midfield displays in 2013 under both Ferguson and David Moyes, notably starting a Champions League last-16 match there against Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu.
Although Solskjaer has found success with the pairing Fred and Scott McTominay in defensive midfield on a number of occasions, the team’s overall creativity is often limited by their presence, putting pressure on the Norwegian to simply select one of them or Nemanja Matic, now 33 years of age.
Due to Fred’s lack of physical presence, McTominay’s quality driving forward and Matic’s inability to play more than 30 games per-season for the last three terms, Solskjaer is reportedly in the market for a defensive midfielder.
But he could try Jones in the role, who was a favourite of his during his interim period, being rewarding with a new contract in early 2019.
It may sound nonsensical but the Red Devils’ struggles to find a solution are leading them into a tedious cycle of flipping between ‘McFred’ and Matic alongside Paul Pogba until someone like Declan Rice, Wilfred Ndidi or Yves Bissouma can be signed.
Should Solskjaer gamble on Jones in midfield? Give us your verdict here.
“You could play him anywhere,” Ferguson once said of Jones as he likened him to the flexible Brian McClair, who starred for United in the 1990s.
“I think you could play him centre-forward. He’s just that type of player; he’s an animal for football. He grasps the game, he understands it.
“Play him right-back? Brilliant. Play him centre-midfield? No problem. Play him centre-back? Terrific.”
The caveat would be that Ferguson’s comments come from a different era in the Premier League, one in which midfielders were less reliant on technical attributes and physicality was more of a primary necessity.
But his form during his second season at Old Trafford gained him comparisons to one of the club’s lost greats: Duncan Edwards, who despite predominantly being a midfielder, could operate anywhere.
“If you talk to Bobby Charlton, Phil Jones reminds him of Duncan Edwards, with his power and build,” revealed Paddy Crerand, a former teammate of Charlton’s.
As for Jones himself, he recently said on an upcoming episode of his club’s official podcast: “I’m feeling good at the minute.
“Obviously, I’ve been through hell and back over the last couple of years. I struggled with my knee a little bit and [there] came a point after lockdown where I thought enough was enough.”
He added: “Thankfully, I see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and I’ve been back training, played a few behind-closed-doors games and I’m feeling really good at the minute.
“It’s so good to be back out training with the lads and enjoying being a footballer again because for the last 15 months, it’s been all ‘daddy daycare’ and not much football.”