Phil Jones' World Cup Heartache Would Also Be a Blow for Manchester United

Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentMay 8, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26:  Phil Jones of Machester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Norwich City at Old Trafford on April 26, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Think of Manchester United and it's likely you'll associate the names of some wonderful players.

Even just in recent history stars like David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo have all graced Old Trafford. 

They're the type of players children want to be when they kick a ball around in the playground. The names they want printed on their replica shirts. 

But United don't owe their success to just those players. For every Beckham there is a Phil Neville. For every Ronaldo, a John O'Shea.

Neville and O'Shea both had successful careers at Old Trafford. 

Together they made 779 appearances for United and won 22 major trophies. But neither were ever considered first-choice. And both eventually had to leave to get regular football.

They were Sir Alex Ferguson's utility men. 

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 7:  Ryan Giggs of Manchester United celebrates his goal with John O'Shea and Phil Neville during the FA Barclays Premiership match between Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on May 7, 2005 in Manchester, E
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Neville could play at right-back, left-back and once won a midfield duel with Patrick Vieira. O'Shea played at full-back, centre-half and in midfield as well.

Often filling in wherever they were needed, they were the glue that held United's long seasons together.

The same is true of Phil Jones now. He is following in the footsteps of Neville and O'Shea. 

He's a competent right-back, centre-back and central midfielder. Ask him in an interview, and he'll tell you his best position is at the heart of the defence.

But he's never had a run of games long enough to know whether that's true. This season alone he's played in all three positions. It's been the story of his United career since arriving from Blackburn in 2011.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Phil Jones of Manchester United shepherds the ball to his goalkeeper David De Gea of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on May 3, 2014 in Manch
Clive Mason/Getty Images

He'll have a new manager to impress this summer. One who can perhaps be convinced Jones is good enough to be first-choice at the back.

Competition will thin this summer. Nemanja Vidic is committed to joining Inter Milan. There are also question marks over Rio Ferdinand's future. Even if Ferdinand does stay, at 35 years old, he's not capable of playing every week.

This summer's World Cup might have been the perfect opportunity for Jones to showcase his ability. 

Phil Jagielka hasn't played 90 minutes since February because of a hamstring injury. And there was every chance Roy Hodgson might have turned to Jones to partner Gary Cahill in Brazil.

That was before he injured his shoulder against Hull in midweek.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 06:  Phil Jones of Manchester United holds his shoulder after sustaining an injury during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on May 6, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

This summer might have been an opportunity for Jones to make himself part of England's first-choice back four. And United's while he's at it. After all, reputations are often made at the World Cup.

Instead, he's worrying about whether he'll make it onto the plane.

The danger for Jones is that United, and England, continue to use him as a utility man. There will always be a temptation to use him to plug a gap. It's the downside to being so versatile.

But for a 22-year-old still learning the game, experience is everything. And Jones hasn't had a lot at centre-back. The World Cup could have offered some vital time in his preferred position at the highest level.

That he might now miss out is not only a blow to Jones, but also United.