Never one to hide his views on his former club, Roy Keane has voiced his disappointment in the performances of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling since moving to Old Trafford.
We were told Jones was going to be the new Duncan Edwards—Smalling was going to be this and that. I've watched United live nine or 10 times this year and they have been none of those things. If anything I think they have gone backwards.
You say you have to give players a chance to mature, but also you've got players who you say, 'We've given you a chance and you’re not taking it.' They need to do a lot better if they want to cement their place at United. Jones needs to toughen up. Every time I see him he is getting carried off.
The criticisms come in the wake of a disappointing season for United, where positives were difficult to come by across the squad, and not just in defence.
Both Jones and Smalling have been included in Roy Hodgson's England squad for this summer's World Cup in Brazil. But Keane goes on to suggest the pair's versatility in being able to fulfil numerous roles on the pitch is the only thing justifying their call-up. When asked if either could cover for the Three Lions in central defence, he said:
Not on their current form. The two of them have had disappointing seasons. But England might need them; you may get players who get injured. Maybe in other positions they might be needed. Maybe that is one of the reasons why Roy has taken Jones and Smalling, with the thinking that they can play full-back or midfield.
Smalling was played sparingly in his favoured position at centre-back, whereas Jones was preferred in the middle for stretches of the campaign, partnering the likes of Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic.
However, injury did take its toll on the former Blackburn Rovers starlet, as Keane states, with Jones featuring in only 26 Premier League games, while Smalling played in 25 league fixtures.
The time of transition that the Red Devils have undergone in recent years will develop once again this summer. After it was announced earlier in the season that Vidic would depart for Inter on a free transfer, Keane isn't surprised to hear that Rio Ferdinand's contract won't be extended, but he is confident the veteran has a future ahead of him:
If United are interested in keeping players or doing deals, they would have done it months ago. It is no shock to hear that he is leaving. It happens when you get to 35, that’s the other side of football. I don’t think Rio will be short of offers.
Keane played his part in a golden age of football for Manchester United, where Ferdinand was one of the figures that sat behind him toward the end of his Old Trafford tenure.
The Times' James Ducker shares a similar belief to that of Keane, first hinting that the standards of Evans, Jones and Smalling may not be up to scratch before, and then turning to the predicament of their regularly fatigued states:
You also have to remember that the issues of quality around Evans, Jones and Smalling aside, the first problem is that they're never fit— James Ducker (@DuckerTheTimes) May 12, 2014
Although problems are evident across the pitch, defence is a sore subject for United, with the club managing just 13 clean sheets in each of the last two Premier League seasons compared to the 20 amassed in 2011-12.
Keane has a reputation for being somewhat scathing and straight-to-the-point on matters concerning his old outfit, but there may be some truth to the Irishman's assault.