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Phil Jones’ versatility – Friend or foe

by Tom Parker

Versatility is often a trait thought of highly by managers at the top level and it is always helpful to have a player on the books that can fulfil a number of different positions.

In Saturday’s comprehensive victory over Fulham, Phil Jones played alongside Chris Smalling as their centre-back partnership continued to grow, a pairing regarded to be the future for club and country for years to come – and he was superb.

Sir Alex Ferguson was effusive in his praise of Jones’ performance and he likened him to a young John Terry. He said:

“Well, I think he’s got more in his locker than Terry had to be honest with you but Terry gathered experience and became a fantastic central figure for Chelsea.”

“Yes I have said all along that is where [centre-back] I feel most comfortable. I understand and read the game better there. But wherever I am asked to play I will play there.” Phil Jones

And Jones feels the centre back position, despite his versatility, is where his long-term future lies.

He said: “Prior to the two games Chris and I have played together recently we have played quite a lot together for England Under 21s and we understand each other’s game.

“It is not a problem playing together at the back.”

Although, he admitted that his impressive display in midfield at Tottenham Hotspur could see him play there again in the future.

“Yes I kind of shot myself in the foot a bit,” he said. “But I am at Manchester United and I love playing for this club and I am happy to play anywhere.”

The young defender, capped five times by the England side, also tipped United for the treble this season.

He continued: “Definitely. That is what the gaffer said to us before the game and that is exactly what we are going out to achieve.

“We have a good team here and a solid foundation. This year we are more concentrated on us and what we are about. It has definitely helped us on the pitch. You can see that with all the lads and in training. It is a laugh but we are focused and are really gelling.

“We have lots of games coming up. There are a lot of tricky games and it is a tough period but we know if we have everyone fit then with the big squad we have we will be fine.

“I didn’t have a great start to the season [due to back and knee injuries] but hopefully I can push my way into the side and get some games under my belt.”

Indeed, getting regular games in a defined position will be critical for Jones if he is to shake off his utility man tag. The £16.5 million arrival from Blackburn Rovers is certainly more flexible than most as to where he can play.

In his first three months for the club, he played defensive midfield in a gritty draw away at Anfield, at centre-half in a 3-0 victory against Tottenham and he had his best performance in a red shirt at right-back in a fine away victory against Bolton, laying on two goals for Wayne Rooney.

Jones suffered from a poor run of form as well as a number of injuries as he went in and out of the first team. At the beginning of his United career, Jones looked assured wherever he played but by the end of the season, he was in danger of becoming the new John O’Shea – jack of all trades and master of none.

While the comparisons with John O’Shea appeared harsh, it was a reminder of how far his stock had fallen. At the start of the season, Jones was likened to the legendary Franco Bares and by its conclusion, he was being compared to the slightly less distinguished Irishman O’Shea.

The image of a topless Jones on the pitch at full-time after Manchester United were pipped to the title by City was a microcosm of his first season for the reds. He looked lost and appeared visibly distraught by the season’s conclusion. This year he has been slowly getting better the more games he plays and while he is far from the finished product, his impressive performances so far this year suggest he is ready to try and stake a claim to a permanent position at United.

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