Rise and fall of Phil Jones for Man United and England: a cycle of promise, then injury setbacks
Rise and fall of Phil Jones for Man United and England: a cycle of promise, then injury setbacks: Phil Jones was one of only five players to make the cut for England at both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, but he won’t even be on the radar when Gareth Southgate chooses his squad for Qatar 2022.
The 30-year-old defender is now not on Man United ‘s registered roster. Thus, he cannot play in the club’s Premier League.
While he is eligible for addition in January, he hasn’t started consecutive league games since May 2019. Therefore, his inclusion would be contingent on his health and fitness.
Jones’s contract with the club he joined as a teenager in 2011 will expire this summer. Therefore, he may have already played his final game at Old Trafford.
After more than two years of injuries and setbacks that Jones has privately described as “hell,” it is likely that a player previously praised by managers like Sir Alex Ferguson, Fabio Capello, and Southgate will be allowed to leave quietly. United holds an option to extend his deal by another 12 months.
After Ferguson was so determined to get Jones from Blackburn Rovers, he invited him on a family vacation to the south of France in 2011.
Even though Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal were interested, United convinced them to sign him for almost £16 million thanks to their persuasive sales pitch.
Jones had initially been attracted Ferguson’s eye eighteen months prior, when Blackburn eliminated United’s under-18 team (which contained a teenage Paul Pogba) from the FA Youth Cup in the fifth round.
While watching Jones play for Blackburn’s first team in a 7-1 loss at Old Trafford, Ferguson was convinced about the transfer.
Jones still wishes to forget that day, but Ferguson saw the then-18-year-old yell and scream at teammates who were at least 10 years his senior.
Former Real Madrid defender Michael Salgado was one of them. He appeared in over 300 games for the club and won the Champions League twice during his time there.
Ferguson reasoned that if Jones felt comfortable enough to insult Salgado, he would fit right in with Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, and Wayne Rooney in the United locker room. In this case, he was correct.
Jones made 41 appearances in his debut season and contributed to the team’s Premier League championship run the year after.
When he hurt his ankle in late 2013, it was the main storyline leading up to the quarterfinal match against Real Madrid in the Champions League. Despite playing brilliantly in United’s 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, he was ruled out for the second leg in Manchester, when the Red Devils were eliminated 2-1 thanks to a disputed red card given to Nani for a high challenge.
Although injuries plagued Jones’ career, he still managed to play in 216 games between 2011 and 2019, or about 30 per year. He filled in at center back, right back, and even midfield when needed.
While only 19 years old, he started for England’s midfield against a Spanish squad that featured Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and Xabi Alonso in 2011.
With a score of 1-0, England came out on top. Capello, England’s manager from 2007 to 2012, compared Jones to the famous Italy defender Franco Baresi, while Ferguson said that Jones’ skill with the ball, physique, and adaptability might one day position him among United’s greatest-ever players.
Even Southgate is a fan, stating as much in 2017 “His calmness and control while handling the ball are outstanding. I think he has great experience, can read the game well, and appreciate his aggressive defence. He’s well-organized and competitive.”
Almost all of Jones’ managers have spoken highly of him, although he runs the risk of being remembered more for the games he didn’t play in than the ones he did.
Concerns over Jones’ health stemmed from his previous season, in which he missed time due to head, knee, and shoulder injuries, prompting then-United manager Louis van Gaal to pursue a transfer for Mats Hummels from Borussia Dortmund.
However, United’s medical staff reported back to Van Gaal and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward after a battery of tests conducted over the summer that Jones, then 22 years old, was in peak physical condition and that, barring any freak injuries, he was expected to be available for the entire campaign.
Although he started the first three games of the season, a hamstring issue in early September sidelined him for about a month.
After returning to full fitness and playing in a 2-2 draw with West Brom in late October, he didn’t start another game until mid-December due to a shin injury.
That pretty much sums up Jones’s entire career: he has a manager who loves him, he has a string of good performances, and then he gets injured again. This is a common thread throughout the narrative.
Jones started eight of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first eleven games as caretaker manager after the Norwegian’s appointment in December 2018.
United responded by offering him a new four-year deal, which he signed in February 2019 but has limited him to starting only 16 games since then. After being sidelined for almost a year due to a knee injury he sustained in February 2020, he came dangerously close to calling it quits during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Due to the online hatred he has received because of his injury issues; Jones has not tweeted to his 2.1 million followers since May 2017.
Not long later, he ceased updating his Instagram account’s 1,300,000-plus followers. He has also been the victim of personal abuse while out with his wife and two small girls, further eroding his mental health over the past two years.
He hadn’t played since April when Ralf Rangnick randomly selected him for the 4-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield. So he stayed at Carrington this summer to follow a personal training program. At the same time, the rest of the team went to Thailand and Australia for preseason under new manager Erik ten Hag.
Because of his injury, he could not leave Old Trafford during the transfer window, and manager Erik Ten Hag didn’t see any point in signing him for the Premier League or Europa League because of the uncertainty of his return date.
As a result, Jones will stay at home for the first time since he was 18 when the World Cup began in Qatar in November.
He’ll turn 30 this year, but he’s still hoping for a regular playing role again, even if everyone knows it’ll have to be with a new club.
Most footballers would be thrilled with his career thus far: he has played over 200 games for United, earned 27 England caps, and won the Premier League, FA Cup, and Europa League. But the question of what might have been will always linger.