‘Jones will be one of the best ever’, says Ferguson
United manager admits he still doesn’t know where former Blackburn player’s best position is
Phil Jones (left) will be on the greats, according to Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Jones has endured a difficult season at Old Trafford, suffering a couple of injury absences that have restricted him to just 16 starts in all competitions.
Yet his value to United has been in evidence over the last two months.
Whether it was keeping Real Madrid quiet after being handed a defensive midfield role in the Bernabeu, subduing Stoke from his right-back station or strolling through Monday night’s Premier League-title clinching effort against Aston Villa at centre-half, Jones has excelled.
The last player capable of filling such a wide variety of roles was John O’Shea. And ultimately, that versatility prevented the Irishman from holding down a regular berth in Ferguson’s team.
At 21, one senses that will not happen to Jones. It is just that Ferguson himself does not know where his talents are best suited.
“Jones is going to be a phenomenal player,” said Ferguson. “He has a fantastic influence, no matter where he plays. He has an instinct for the game and a drive about him. I have no idea where his best position is. He could play anywhere on the pitch. But he will be one of the best players we have ever had.”
High praise indeed, underlining why Jones has previously been compared to Duncan Edwards, who was only 21 when his life was tragically cut short in the Munich air crash.
Yet Jones is not the only youthful member of the United squad to excel this season.
It did seem Brazilian full-back Rafael was destined to be remembered for the red card that ended up condemning United to a Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich in 2010 every bit as devastating as the one they suffered at the hands of Real Madrid this season.
As the 22-year-old missed all United’s pre-season preparations due to his commitments to the Brazil Olympic quest, only to make a mistake in the final that allowed Mexico to claim a shock win, Rafael looked set for a bit-part role at best.
Instead, with Jones and Chris Smalling both missing the start of the campaign through injury, Rafael slotted into the right-back role Antonio Valencia had filled for the opening game at Everton, and he lost it only once in a match of note until December.
“Rafael has had a fantastic season,” said Ferguson. “His impetuosity has left him and he is playing with great maturity now.”
It is such contributions which have convinced Ferguson that United are on the brink of another golden period.
Wayne Rooney’s future is likely to provide the most significant talking point of the summer.
The lack of a handshake between player and manager when he was replaced by Danny Welbeck last night has created yet another talking point and speculation will surface on a regular basis until such time as Rooney either signs a contract extension or signals an intention to leave.
Ferguson though has other priorities at present.
His targets over the final four games are to reach United’s own Premier League best tally of 92 points, from the 1993-94 campaign, and Chelsea’s mark of 95 from 2004-05, the most any team has collected since the new league was formed 21 seasons ago.
And there is one more thing bothering him too.
Since January, Paul Scholes has been sidelined by a knee injury, and the Scot has repeatedly said his long-serving midfielder was on the brink of a comeback.
Thus far, it has not happened. But with time ticking away on what seems certain to be Scholes’s last season, Ferguson wants the 38-year-old back in his team again.
“I could still have Paul Scholes fit in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “He deserves to play in the last few games.”