Phil Jones: How Good Is Manchester United's Youngster and How Good Can He Be?
Amid the euphoria that came with celebrating the club's 20th league title, a somewhat incredible quote from Sir Alex Ferguson went unnoticed.
The Scotsman was asked about Manchester United's future and the youngsters who will shape it.
"Rafa [Rafael] is incredible. That impetuosity has left him playing with greater maturity now, as the season has progressed. David de Gea has developed fantastically well," he said (via ESPN).
"[Phil] Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player. I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him."
Wait, wait, wait, let's backtrack for a second—Phil Jones could be the Red Devils' "best ever player"?
Sir Alex has been known for talking up his players in the press before, but this is on another level. Better than George Best? Better than Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs?
Coming from anyone else, the quote would be laughable, but the phrase "In Sir Alex We Trust" is so phrased for a reason.
This article will look at Jones' swift rise over the past two or three seasons, assess his current abilities and predict just how good he may be in two or three years' time.
Whether he fulfills Sir Alex's bold prediction or not, the future holds wonderful potential for Jones.
The Tale so Far
Phil Jones always looked a promising player in his teenage years at Blackburn Rovers.
His early days saw him deployed at centre-back under Sam Allardyce, displaying plenty of tenacity and unbridled energy, even if his defensive awareness wasn't yet up to scratch.
With Allardyce's departure, Jones saw increased action in defensive midfield, where his fortunes were mixed.
Steve Kean clearly encouraged his man to get forward as much as possible, moving from box-to-box with relish. But a serious torn knee cartilage injury kept him sidelined for much of the 2010-11 season.
When he was fit, Jones played for Kean's team. The Scottish manager likes to take credit for the discovery of the prodigy, believing the marauding midfield role was his long-term calling (via The Telegraph).
The Red Devils snapped up Jones for £16.5 million in 2011, activating a clause in his contract. Soon after the transfer was completed, Allardyce declared 'When he gets more experience he will be able to control his team-mates and eventually he will wear the armband for England (via The Telegraph)."
In his first season at Old Trafford, Jones played in an impressive 29 of 38 Premier League fixtures and nine European games, becoming the first-choice right-back in the stead of Rafael and Chris Smalling.
But as versatile a player as he is, Jones is just not suited to playing full-back—his strengths in other areas of the pitch are too strong for him to be shunted out to the flanks.
Though injury has deprived him of as much playing time as Sir Alex may have liked, this term has seen him return to being deployed through the middle, both in midfield and defence.
In a key match against Real Madrid, he started alongside Michael Carrick, playing the role of spoiler with Cristiano Ronaldo as his target. In the Manchester derby, he lined up at the back with Rio Ferdinand as his partner.
He has been a standout performer in 2013 and is now a Premier League champion as reward.
Phil Jones' versatility has already been mentioned, but it is worth elaborating on just what this means.
John O'Shea suffered from this tag at Old Trafford—of being a jack-of-all-trades without specialising in one.
I expressed my doubts about Jones from being moved from position to position earlier in the season but have since eased off a little in my skepticism.
Many believe, including Ryan Giggs, that he will eventually settle down as a centre-back (via ManUtd.com).
His natural chutzpah and powerful build lends itself perfectly to the position, and any previous concerns about his sub-six-feet height have been lowly eradicated by his improvement in the air this season.
He plays with an honest industry that harks back to a bygone era in football.
United legend Sir Bobby Charlton likens Jones' abilities to another club great, Duncan Edwards (via The Telegraph).
Edwards was capable of playing just about any position on the pitch but was at his best thundering up the pitch from defensive midfield.
From what I have seen, I strongly believe Jones could develop into a world-class central midfielder.
He has that same dynamic threat bringing the ball up from the back and is notoriously stubborn in relinquishing possession.
He may not be a natural finisher, missing several chances in the game, but his first touch and ability to turn away from a defender were terrific.
If these strengths continue to evolve at such a pace, Jones may be wasted at the back.
Scoping the Future
Phil Jones has not gone wanting for regular first-team football at Manchester United.
In the long term, he needs to find a position and stick to it, but for now he seems to be learning a great deal fulfilling a number of different roles.
Sir Alex is clearly a big fan of his and is sure to provide him with as much experience as possible in the next few seasons.
With the Scotsman's penchant for rotation, there will always be openings and opportunities for a prodigious, young talent.
The Red Devils are in need of a physical, yet creative box-to-box player in this summer's transfer window. But if a move doesn't materialise, Jones' recent development has made him a worthy option.
He has also proven himself capable of filling in at the back—he could well be the long-term successor to Rio.
What's slightly concerning is his knack for picking up injuries. Against the Gunners he threw himself into challenges with an unhealthy zeal.
This being said, the club wouldn't want him to lose the aggressive traits that make him so special.
One word to describe Sir Alex calling Phil Jones potentially Man Utd's best-ever player?
Phil Jones was unable to prevent the Red Devils from being eliminated from the Champions League by Basle last season. He was also on the field at Sunderland when the news came through that Manchester City had claimed the Premier League title in the dying seconds.
When the final whistle blew at Old Trafford last Monday and United were officially declared champions, he was there.
He has suffered the agonies and triumph of football in a very brief amount of time.
He has played in massive games, given the type of responsibilities that young players wouldn't get at other clubs.
Sir Alex's faith and belief in his abilities may be scorned by some, but for now, there is no roof to Phil Jones' potential.
How do you rate Phil Jones? How good can be be for Manchester United?
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