Can Phil Jones finally realise Red Devils potential after new contract?
After arriving from Blackburn Rovers for £16m in 2011, Phil Jones has endured an indifferent career at Old Trafford, showing glimpses of his Manchester United potential, but those glances of true quality have been constantly followed by prolonged problems with injuries and form.
The 23-year-old versatile defender has just put pen to paper on a new long-term contract keeping him with the Red Devils until 2019, as his previous deal was set to expire next summer, and such a commitment suggests Dutch boss Louis van Gaal still regards Jones as a genuine asset in his ranks.
Louis van Gaal on Jones' contract: "Phil is a talented footballer with great versatility and can play in a number of positions." #mufc
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 29, 2015
Next season, Van Gaal will lead his side out in Europe’s elite club competition, providing they can overcome a Champions League play-off clash, and will also be finally aiming to challenge for the Premier League title again since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure after 27 years in charge (5/1 with Coral to win).
Before a hopeful silverware challenge on all fronts, United have been busy trying to bolster their squad, with the high-profile arrival of extremely talented Dutch winger Memphis Depay representing a sublime piece of business on Van Gaal’s part, but defensive reinforcements have been the main basis of speculation still.
England international Jones ended last campaign as one half of the club’s regular centre back pairing, alongside the rejuvenated presence of Chris Smalling but, with the rumoured arrival of Real Madrid stalwart Sergio Ramos, among others, is this the best long-term option in the Old Trafford backline?
A confident Smalling seemed to believe so, recently claiming: “We have proven we can fill the gap.
“When you consider the outgoings at centre back, players had to step in and luckily I’ve been one of those who has had a good run, especially in the second half of the season.
“It’s one where it just builds over time and we’ve [Smalling and Jones] had our chance this season and now it is all about building on that next season.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 29, 2015
Jones made 24 appearances in all competitions for United last term, helping them return to the top four places of the league, and at 23 years of age he no longer represents the future at Old Trafford, but the present crop of stars.
An all-English defensive unit would be welcomed by anyone related to the country’s most successful club, though Jones is yet to prove whether or not he can deal with being relied upon as United’s key central defender for an entire campaign, despite his contract renewal.
Although, the Preston-born defender’s talent has never been questioned by staff within the club, who regard him very highly, and the Rovers academy graduate instantly received praise of the highest degree upon arriving at Old Trafford four years ago.
Speaking during Jones’ debut campaign as a United player, former boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who signed the local defender, declared: “Arguably, the way he is looking, he could be our best ever player.”
Such reactionary praise was a shocking statement at the early stage of Jones’ United career, but has grown even more outrageous with each injury-plagued term on the red half of Manchester. However, the end of last season saw this young defender regain form and fitness, also featuring for his country in Euro 2016 qualifying (12/1 to win).
Due to his versatility, which allows him to deputise in defensive midfield and at right back, Van Gaal was obviously keen to secure Jones’ future at the club and very eager to conclude his new deal, following Smalling in committing long-term.
Known for his brute force and power, Jones clearly has all the astute attributes to become a top class centre back for club and country, but his potential can only be realised when he can finally complete an entire campaign with little or no set-backs, something he may not even get next term.
Madrid defender Ramos is being linked with a switch to United, possibly swapping sides with David de Gea, along with Valencia’s hugely impressive Argentine Nicolas Otamendi and Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels (1/4 to join), meaning Jones could soon dauntingly face further competition for places.
However, with the ability to feature at right back, and the Red Devils currently without a regular starter in that key position, could Van Gaal see Jones as the man to take up that role on a permanent basis? Young Northern Irish prospect Paddy McNair has impressively stepped in at times, with Van Gaal evidently not keen on Rafael’s contributions and Antonio Valencia a temporary risk that hasn’t paid off.
If a high-profile centre back was to finally arrive, then the all-England international pairing of Jones and Smalling will surely be separated before it even gained any momentum, but a new contract for the former means it’s time to sink or swim under the demanding watch of Van Gaal.