Comment: Out of his depth… Phil Jones does not deserve a place at Manchester United on current form

By Scott Hunt

At the end of last season Sir Alex Ferguson said Phil Jones could be one of the best players Manchester United have ever had.

That comment came just after United clinched the Premier League title, so perhaps the Scot had been overdoing the celebratory champagne.

Phil Jones has many faces but his football has even more faults.

The Englishman joined United from Blackburn Rovers in July 2011 for a reported £16.5million fee.

At the time this seemed a hefty sum but Jones was a young player and the signing was seen as an outlay on potential.

Two years down the line it still looks a hefty sum and that potential is struggling to come to fruition.

Admittedly Jones, 21, is still a relatively young player and may well improve his game over the next few years.

However it is difficult to see him ever improving enough to be a first choice United player, let alone one of the best in the club’s history.

The constant conundrum with Jones is what his best position is.

At United he has been deployed most frequently at right back, also at centre back and on occasions in central midfield.

When playing at right back, his lack of technical football ability is exposed.

Jones is inaccurate with his passing and his delivery from wide therefore reducing the attacking capability of the team from the flanks.  

At centre back, his complete lack of positioning is horribly exposed, often leading to him losing his man and strikers running in behind the United defence.

He is a liability in the back line, where his defensive frailties and weaknesses in distribution unhinge United as a team.

Also, against Chile for England last week, Jones was all at sea when played at centre back.

Occasionally Jones is asked to play the holding role in central midfield which is without doubt the position he is best in.

Last time out against Arsenal, he was impressive in stifling the attacking flair of the Gunners and showed good energy in getting across the ground.

However in that position, even against Arsenal, the inaccuracy of distribution becomes an issue for United.

At times at the back end of last season, including against Real Madrid, Jones was given a man-marking role from central midfield – a role in which he performed well.

Perhaps, given his total lack of positioning normally, a role where he just has to follow a man instead of requiring any level of awareness is the best for Jones.

His versatility in being able to play a number of positions is a positive thing for the squad but there are those who argue that this has hampered his development.

The fact that he hasn’t been given one position and played in it consistently is purely because he is not good enough to be trusted with a permanent role in the team.

The phrase ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ is one which applies perfectly to Jones.

He has often said that he believes his best position to be at centre back.

With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic reaching the age where United will be seeking long-term replacements, Jones should have been in the position to cement a place in the team.

Instead it looks certain that David Moyes will delve into the transfer market to replace his long-serving defensive duo, with Jones and compatriot Chris Smalling looking set to miss the boat.

It must be said that Jones has had a fair amount of bad luck with injuries, which has hardly helped his development.

Also, at his age there has to be an element of leniency as mistakes are inevitable.

Having said that, leniency can be afforded where potential is prominent and with Jones very little potential is coming forward.

It’s hard to see where he is going as a United player as his multiple weaknesses make him too much of a liability to have in the side on a regular basis.

Often a player with little ability on the ball is described as having the positive attribute of being ‘hard working’.

This attribute is applied to Jones along with other similarly out of their depth footballers, such as Manchester City and England midfielder James Milner.

The fact is that hard work is the minimum that should be expected of players who earn tens of thousands of pounds a week.

What is desired is a player who knows how to pass to his own team on occasion, can position himself effectively enough to repel opposition attacks and one who manages not to arrive at a tackle two seconds after the opposition.

Jones struggles to perform any of these most fundamental tasks with any distinction and as such does not warrant a place in the United team.

There will remain a constant debate around Jones and his role at Manchester United until he begins to show true consistent ability.

The question marks over what is his best position will remain until Jones manages to firmly establish himself in one.

On the evidence so far his best position is without question in central midfield.

In truth though, his best position is probably in the reserves or at a club lower down the Premier League table.

Image courtesy of ChevroletFC via YouTube, with thanks.

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