Phil Jones has been a revelation at the beginning of the season, but let us keep a sense of perspective and reality in his fledgling career…
Right at the beginning of the summer transfer window, Manchester United acted fast. At £16.5 million, some deemed the money United parted with for Phil Jones’ services, a player with barely a season’s first-team experience under his belt at Blackburn Rovers, too much for a player who has not yet proven himself.
It was yet more proof, as if we needed it, of the premium that comes with purchasing young English talent. Apparently, Arsenal offered £8 million in January to Blackburn for Jones. Blackburn came back and said they wanted £10 million, and Arsenal refused. How the Emirates hierarchy must be ruing that decision now. He has been a revelation so far this season, and he may well turn out to be a contender for transfer of the season. Along with Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, and Danny Welbeck, he now helps to form a youth-full and homegrown English spine to the United first-team squad.
The thing is though, the way some have been going on about Jones, you would have thought he was the finished article. Yet he isn’t, far from it in fact, he is only nineteen years of age though. In the qualifier against Montenegro, Jones probably should have given away a penalty when he fouled Steven Jovetic in the box. It was a clumsy challenge and he seldom got the ball.
We have seen decisions like that in the past, and he was rather fortunate in this respect. Similarly, in the 3-3 draw against Basle a week ago in the Champions League when playing for United, for the visitor’s second goal by Alexander Frei, Jones was still about a third of the way up the pitch by the time the ball went in to the box. It seems the way with young full-backs, that they learn to attack first and they gradually learn to defend later on in their careers. The impetuousness and keenness of youth, combined with the bundles of energy and pace they commonly have, means they are often eager to get forward, sometimes too eager and this can have a detrimental effect. This has manifested itself in Jones.
Indeed, he has contributed to a vibrant and youthful new United set-up, with the Guardian’s Paul Hayward recently writing an article about how Jones could become England and United’s Gerard Pique, a tall and commanding centre-half unafraid to take the ball out of his own half and run with it. They are both, in many respects, the starting point for attacks.
Whilst this is extremely praiseworthy and is fantastic to see, and has helped contribute to United’s electric start to the season when they are traditionally slow starters, the defensive performances of late, primarily against Basle, Norwich City and the second half against Chelsea, have exposed United’s vulnerability on the counter-attack. Ideas will certainly have to be bucked up, particularly with games against Liverpool and Manchester City approaching on the horizon, teams surely more likely to take advantage of any defensive mishaps against United. Jones' talent of getting forward in attacks must be balanced out by getting back when his offensive duties are fulfilled.
Jones can indeed tackle well and dart forward with some great runs for a man of his size and frame, but he must remember the primary responsibility of a defender, which funnily enough, is to defend. If he can hone this over the next few seasons, then what a player both United and England have at their disposal for the next decade.