Manchester United’s summer signing Robin van Persie will take all the plaudits this season for his attacking displays but, as United’s best signing’s go, Phil Jones’ signing from Blackburn the summer before will prove far more astute in the long-term
Sir Alex Ferguson has earned himself a reputation for buying the very best of British over his tenure at Old Trafford and Jones’ signing is comparable to that of Rio Ferdinand’s over ten years ago, back in 2002.
United spent £30 million on Ferdinand and few would argue he’s been value for money but Ferdinand was already 24 and an England senior regular, hence the record fee United’s paid to Leeds United. Jones, however, cost just £16.5 million at 18 years of age and it seems Ferguson has picked the very best that the England U21’s backline has to offer.
Jones’ performance against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier this month was undoubtedly his finest in a Red Devils’ shirt so far. He shackled Cristiano Ronaldo for the majority of the match in his role in defensive midfield where he has been something of a revelation when employed there, just days after doing the same to Everton powerhouse Marouane Fellaini.
He’s fast, strong, agile and for a 5ft11” centre-back, he uses his physical presence well. He’s well drilled and intelligent in defence – he has a keen anticipating eye for danger, which will bode very well for his future and development.
His tackling is improving every season and, in the modern game, a defender who stays on his feet when he can is worth his weight in gold. His tactical understanding is also improving – he knows how to hold his position and shape in the team and he takes his manager’s instructions and sticks to the job he’s tasked with which is something cannot often be said of young players.
Sir Alex Ferguson asserted earlier on this season his belief that Jones will one day be better than Chelsea’s John Terry and I’d even go one step further and say he’s already developing into a more well-rounded player than Terry is now.
His work in midfield will certainly give him a dynamic that Terry doesn’t possess. Terry is a very traditional English centre-back who wouldn’t be out of place in a back four with Tony Adams or Stuart Pearce. Jones is far more adapted to the modern Premier League, which now has far more continental flair and variety.
His ability to handle arguably the world’s second-best footballer in Ronaldo proves that point aptly and as the Premier League continues to adapt to the influx of foreign talent that makes it far more dynamic, a dynamic defender with the ability to handle feisty Premier League centre-forwards and long balls as capably and confidently as he is handling the technical class and skill of La Liga makes him not only the best of British but the best of both worlds for Ferguson.
Jones will only improve but he already has the makings of a top-notch centre-back and when eventually the time comes for Ferdinand to retire or Nemanja Vidic to move on, United are prepared adequately.
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