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Phil Jones and Januzaj Should Beware Utility Man Tag at Man Utd

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Phil Jones and Januzaj Should Beware Utility Man Tag at Man Utd
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Versatility is a desirable attribute in a footballer—unless it's their greatest one.

Manchester United have benefited from utility men in the past. Phil Neville filled in at right-back, left-back and in midfield. Sir Alex Ferguson used John O'Shea at full-back, centre-half and occasionally in midfield, too.

Both were successful at Old Trafford, winning titles and trophies most players can only dream of. But neither was ever considered first choice. They had runs in the first team, but it was usually in place of someone else.

While other academy graduates such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville spent their entire careers at Old Trafford, Phil Neville and O'Shea were forced to leave United to find regular football.

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Neville became captain of Everton after leaving United, while O'Shea is turning out regularly for Sunderland. They found a level where their qualities in specific positions outweighed their usefulness as utility men. Unfortunately for them, that was never the case at United.

Phil Jones is battling the same thing now. 

Already this season he's played at right-back, centre-back and in midfield. He would prefer to play at centre-half, but his development in that position has been hampered because he hasn't played that many games there.

He's played 82 times for United since moving from Blackburn in 2011, but not many of those have afforded him the opportunity to nail down a place at centre-back. Instead, he's been used where he's been needed.

At 21 years old, Jones has got time to shed the utility-man tag. He's still a youngster paying his dues, but there will come a time when he'll want to be United's first-choice centre-half.

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Adnan Januzaj is another young player making his way at United; another whose versatility is a bonus. 

The 18-year-old has broken into the team as a wide player, making most of his nine appearances this season on the left.

But regulars at United's reserve games will tell you that he can also play as a striker or as a No. 10. He played in the hole behind Javier Hernandez against Norwich in the Capital One Cup and did it very well. It was a nod to United's future and perhaps Januzaj's central role in it.

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Like Jones and Januzaj, Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and, to a certain extent, Chris Smalling are three others who have regularly played out of position both this season and last.

Jones and Januzaj are young enough to make sure they don't suffer the same fate as Neville and O'Shea. In the end, their versatility could become a hindrance and, eventually, Jones and Januzaj will need opportunities to polish their game in one specific position.

United have the financial power to hire specialists—the best in the world in any position. It's a fantastic asset to have, but it would be a shame if it came at a cost of hampering the development of others who are already there.

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