At the start of his Manchester United career, only 18 months ago in August 2011, Phil Jones immediately caught the eye and excited United fans. His confidence, stepping straight into the first team and performing well at such a huge club, his power and his mazy runs quickly engendered positive impressions from the Red Army faithful. Comparisons were even made with the greatest youngster of all to play at Old Trafford; Duncan Edwards. Perhaps his nationality, raw enthusiasm and broad physique made this an easy connection to make.
However, this thundering start was curtailed somewhat by injury towards the end of 2011 and the period afterwards, as Jones eased his way back in to the first team picture, was not quite as striking. For whatever reasons, initial impetus being derailed, the displays of the team without him as they pursued Man City for the title or just the vagaries of form, Jones found the going that little bit tougher. With that a different image of him began to take shape, one of similar enthusiasm but perhaps with an added clumsiness. Possession began to be lost more regularly and the barnstorming runs gave way to a safety-first approach. He often seemed to career into challenges rather than stand his ground and, at least twice a match, would end up in a crumpled heap on the turf, battered and bruised. The earlier poise had disappeared. ‘Calamity Jones’ may have been a suitable nickname ! Fans’ expectations waned.
Only coming back into contention in November 2012, after more injury woe, Jones has had to prove his worth all over again, such is football’s fickle ways and short memory. The game time has duly been given and Jones has settled back in to his rhythm, happy in the trust afforded him in the central area of the field.
Fast forward now to this week’s mega clash with Real Madrid in Spain and Jones’s reputation is restored, possibly even surpassed. Growing stronger, sharper and more confident with each game, his recent tireless displays against Tottenham, Everton and the darlings of The Bernabeu have thrust his profile higher. The potential Ferguson is so convinced of is emerging once again and his nullifying of older, more battle hardened and physically imposing foes in Bale and Fellaini underlined that. The excellent midfield patrolling in Madrid added to the optimism. Fitness permitting, surely Jones will be in England’s squad for World Cup 2014. Indeed, who is to say he cannot nail down that holding midfield role so beloved of the current thinking on most teams’ shape and approach ? Phil Jones’s time may be about to begin for real.