Phil Jones looks certain to play at the highest level for Manchester United and England for years to come. England need a fresher, more energetic and more youthful look next summer, and they will get that through Jones. He is full of confidence and brimming with talent, and at just 19 years of age, he will be a key player for both club and country, and a possible future captain. He is a footballer of boundless promise. No teenage Englishman (not even Jack Wilshere) has been spoken of in such eulogistic terms by Fabio Capello. At Old Trafford he has offered an instant solution to the physical decline of Ferdinand, who is slowing in thought and fitness in every game he plays.
However, he is the second United defender to be given his debut in an unfamiliar position by Capello in England’s past three matches after Smalling won his first cap at right back in Bulgaria. And this showed on Friday night. He was superb in his opponents half, but when it came to defending against Montenegro, he was often out of position and didn’t show the maturity that he has shown for the current champions of England this season. As much as he has impressed for United, his defensive instincts were not like that of John Terry, or even Rio Ferdinand when he is fully fit.
The Times summed his performance up perfectly, saying “Jones looked precisely what he is: a promising centre back being played out of position”. Now, I agree and believe that this is mainly because he wasn’t playing in his usual position. But either way, Jones’ defensive abilities will improve considerably with the experience he will get this season at his club. The lesson Capello needs to learn though, is to keep Phil Jones as a centre back. He is not good enough yet to command a place by playing out of position at right back, but assuming that Ferdinand’s injury problems have finally become too much, especially for England, he is a definite option for the role of centre back.
Phil Jones will have many more searching tests, especially in the Champions League, where the world’s best strikers will look to exploit his enthusiasm and catch him out of position. He is only 19, so of course he is not going to be faultless. But Jones looks the type to learn. Ferdinand and Vidic were the last hall-of-fame central defensive partnership in these positions at Manchester United and I expect we will see Jones moving into Ferdinand’s shoes, through his own talent and self-assurance, maybe even accompanying Chris Smalling in a new-look defensive partnership. Whatever happens, Sir Alex Ferguson can turn promise into greatness very easily, and he has got himself a classy centre back in Phil Jones.
Jones has played at right back for Manchester United, but he often finds himself having to make retrieving runs, missing tackles and therefore, not performing to his high standards. He looks so much more comfortable in the centre of defence. United have a couple of very talented defenders coming through, but Phil Jones seems to be the one who stands out. He can’t let one nervy night, on his England debut, cutback his audacious and exciting style of playing football. Capello just needs to learn that Jones is not a right back, but instead the optimum partner for John Terry at centre back.