Is Phil Jones' Manchester United Career Set to Hit a Brick Wall?

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Is Phil Jones' Manchester United Career Set to Hit a Brick Wall?
Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

What's holding Manchester United utility player Phil Jones back from being classed in the same category as Marquinhos, Matija Nastasić and Raphaël Varane is the Englishman's inability to say no. 

Therein lies the issue: you don't call Jones a centre-back, you label him as a utility player because he's willing to do the grunt work for the betterment of the team. 

"But if I am asked to play in midfield or at right-back I am happy to do so and as long as I am in the team, it doesn't matter," Jones said, via Sky Sports. "I will want to start cementing a place in a certain position."

When pressed for clarification, Jones responded: "I have said from day one I see myself as a centre-back."

His answer mirrors that of Theo Walcott who for years would give the politically correct answer when asked about his contentment out wide, despite Arsenal signing him as a striker, only for him to remind everyone that he was a No. 9 and not a No. 11. 

This isn't the first time Jones has dismissed his long-term future as a midfielder having revealed his shock role change at Blackburn Rovers, which played a part in his £17 million move to Old Trafford

"When the manager [Sam Allardyce] asked me to move into midfield at Blackburn it was strange," Jones stated, via The Guardian. "If I was asked to do that here [United], I would feel comfortable with it."

The last sentence was just him pandering to United, a view he promptly contradicted. 

"[Centre-back] is definitely where I play my best football," Jones said, via The Guardian. "I like to see the game in front of me and read the play."

For a footballer who reminded Sir Bobby Charlton of the late great Duncan Edwards, renowned for his completeness, Jones has become synonymous in recent memory for his man-marking. 

Jones is reduced to being a more expensive version of Phil Neville who was mentally scarred by the experience of trying to man-mark Gianfranco Zola.

"I remember being told to man-mark him in an FA Cup game like it was yesterday and it was a brutal experience," Neville told the Liverpool Echo. "If I'm honest, he never gave me a kick."

The reason why Jones has made a Duncan Edwards-like impression on Charlton is the 21-year-old's exuberance with the ball as well as his engine. 

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

But chasing Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Marouane Fellaini around the field perpetuates the fallacy that Jones' technical level is below-par—hence why he's playing a limited role. 

That's not the case.

He completes 81 percent of his long-passes which is substantially more accurate than Chris Smalling (62.8), Patrice Evra (59.7) and Rafael (56.4). 

Jones' control of the ball is tight enough for him to charge forward and draw fouls (he wins more free kicks per game than Yaya Touré).

You can draw parallels from Jones' predicament to that of Gareth Southgate being moved into midfield against Germany by the then English manager Kevin Keegan:

Via Red: My Autobiography by Gary Neville: Germany weren't much better. They were rubbish, in fact, just not as rubbish as us. Kevin had put Gareth Southgate in central midfield, even though Incey [Paul Ince] was on the bench, and it didn't make any sense. 

Via Fowler by Robbie Fowler: We went with Gareth Southgate as a marker in midfield, because they [Germany] used to play Mehmet Scholl behind two strikers and Keegan wanted him picked up. Fair enough... until we kicked off, that is. Because Scholl played off only one striker in a more conventional role, so Southgate was redundant in that role. We were completely overrun in midfield.

Via Sven-Goran Eriksson by Joe Lovejoy: For some unfathomable reason, he [Keegan] played Gareth Southgate, a central defender, in midfield, where this most willing and diligent of professionals was a four-square peg in a circular hole.

Yes, Jones' man-marking displays have thus far been more successful than Neville and Southgate, but their failures illustrates how the man-marker relies heavily on his marked opponent to yield under the pressure of being specifically targeted. 

If this doesn't happen, the role of the man-marker is pointless therefore rendering his team a man down with and without possession. 

You don't spend £17 million on one of England's most promising centre-backs to turn him into a handyman.

March 21, 2010. 

Didier Drogba scores for Chelsea against Blackburn in a 1-1 draw but is dominated by Jones.

Jones, then an 18-year-old centre-back, won back possession seven times, blocked a shot, won the most headers (8) and accumulated the most clearances of the game (14).

Drogba lost 78 percent of aerial duels whereas Jones won 80 percent of headers, which was even better than his partner Christopher Samba (67). 

Should David Moyes persist with Sir Alex Ferguson's blueprint of Jones being a man-marker and utility man, the 21-year-old will hit a brick wall in his United career. 

Anderson didn't say no when he was changed from a dynamic No. 10 into an all-action midfielder, with BBC Sport's South American correspondent Tim Vickery reporting a panel of Brazilian coaches unanimously agreed that Ferguson's tactical decision was a role no coach in Brazil would have considered for a nanosecond.

John Obi Mikel, who was technically signed by United, didn't say no when he morphed from a sleek playmaker to a limited holding midfielder and took years to develop into a somewhat respectable No. 6. 

"The system at ­Chelsea destroyed Mikel's game," lamented his former manager Samson Siasia, via Mirror Football

Effectively, it's time for Jones to say no to these menial roles and make it clear to United: 'Only play me at centre-back.'

 

 

Follow @allanjiangLIVE

Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.comFox Soccer and Squawka.com

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