Manchester United managed to strengthen the defensive options of the team in the summer transfer window, securing the signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid. This signing has seemingly sorted United’s centre-back options for the foreseeable future, however it’s only casted more doubts on long serving defender Phil Jones, who has become something of a forgotten man at the club.
The Englishmen, who has been at the club since 2011, last featured for United in a 6-0 FA Cup win over Tranmere Rovers in January 2020. This means that as of the start of the 2021/22 season, Jones hasn’t featured in a competitive game for over 18 months now.
Just recently Jones was thrust back into the spotlight again after comments emerged from legendary United defender Rio Ferdinand. The now retired Ferdinand claimed that Jones should leave the club on a free after his failure to make a single competitive appearance in the last 18 months.
The current understanding of Jones’s contract situation is that he is on around £100,000 a week with a deal that lasts until 2023, essentially making him an unfeasible asset for potential suitors due to his incredibly high wage. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got wind of Ferdinand’s comments and publicly came to his players defence in a press conference.
Solskjaer claimed that his ex-teammate was “out of order” and continued by saying that Jones had faced a difficult road to fitness after a spate of injuries, likening Jones’s situation to his own experiences as a player. It therefore seems Jones is symptomatic of an issue United have faced for several years now, in the fact that there are too many players on high wages that just don’t play consistently or to a level that justifies their costs.
However, it would be unfair to say Jones has always lacked quality, there was a time when the defender looked like he could be a pillar of United’s defence for years to come. Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly first became interested in Jones’s after witnessing an impressive performance showcasing his leadership qualities in a 1-1 draw against United.
In 2013, Ferguson claimed Jones could have been one of “our best players ever”, evoking memories of Duncan Edwards according to Bobby Charlton. It’s easy to see why Jones was touted to be a top player, he had a good amount of pace about him and was intelligent in reading the game.
Unfortunately, a lack of game time and a defence that has never been sure of itself meant that Jones never really established himself as a top player even when he had injury free stints. Often playing next to former United defender Chris Smalling, the pair garnered a reputation for sometimes being unreliable and not of United’s high quality.
The main issue for Jones came in the form of injuries, in the last six seasons alone the player has picked up a total of 15 injuries- a ridiculous amount compared to the average player. Several of these injuries included ankle, hamstring and knee problems, which are renowned for keeping players out for extended durations.
Jones’s latest affliction is a knee problem, which has kept him out since early 2020 as mentioned previously, and it seems as if even when fit it’ll be difficult to get back into the United setup with all the defensive options available to Solskjaer.
Football is a cruel game and is capable of robbing talented players of a fruitful career, it looks as if Jones may be one such victim with future playing time looking restricted at United.
This being said, there are clubs who would be willing to take a chance on the player if he can prove his fitness. The issue has always been wage demands, and it’s inevitable he would have to accept a huge wage reduction wherever he moves.
United themselves will likely be happy to get the wages off the books, but the club’s treatment of Jones is a testament to the morality and understanding at the heart of United, although some would argue that this is a reason the club isn’t ruthless enough and why United have lost the winning mentality in recent years.
Overall, the most likely destination for Jones is a lower tier Premier League club such as a Burnley or a more defensively orientated team, Jones could excel as a leader in a team like this. It’s likely the earliest Jones’s future will be sorted out is next summer, as player moves are rare in the January window, and it’s highly likely it’ll be a future away from United.
Whatever happens to Jones, it’s clear deep down underneath the mess of injuries is a player capable of playing at a good level, and with a shot of confidence mixed with a dash of luck there could be a resurgence for the Englishmen somewhere in the not too distant future.
Written by Sam Wilson