Since he was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson for Manchester United in 2011, Phil Jones’ 6 years at Old Trafford has been plagued by injuries. It seemed his days with The Red Devils were numbered with last season being his worst for spending time in the treatment room. He only made 13 appearances due to ankle problems including a fracture, as well as being diagnosed with mild thrombosis. These injuries kept him out of the team for 36 games; it seemed we would never get to see the real Phil Jones at United and he wouldn’t fill his potential at the top level. It was increasingly likely he would be sold in the near future. However, recent weeks have taken an unexpected U-turn for Manchester United’s number 4. An impressive run in the side and injury free, Mourinho has spoken of his great attitude and determination to play in the team. It would appear, perhaps surprisingly, Jones is just the sort of footballer Mourinho wants in his first eleven.
Jose Mourinho’s first signing when he became United manager in the summer, was Villarreal’s centre-back Eric Bailly. It was a welcome addition to the team as a central defender was deemed a priority signing. With Chris Smalling winning the club’s player’s player of the year award at the end of last season and having been Man United’s best centre-back as well as most improved player in the last few seasons, everything pointed to a centre-back pairing of the former Fulham man and Bailly. It was the partnership Mourinho started with as soon as Smalling was available (he had a minor injury at the beginning of the season) and with Rojo and Blind seemingly ahead of Phil Jones in the pecking order for the central defender role, the former Blackburn player was left out in the cold by the new manager. Jones was fast becoming the forgotten man despite the fact Sir Alex Ferguson had once declared; “the way he is looking, be could become Manchester United’s best ever player.”
Phil Jones may be a little way off the above statement, but on 6th November the centre-back’s fortunes changed when he was named by Mourinho in the starting line-up against Swansea at the Liberty stadium. The Manchester United manager had spoken before the match about wanting players who were “ready for the team,” Mourinho is renowned for wanting warrior-type footballers in his teams, players who make themselves available even if carrying a minor or niggling injury. Jones ticked all the boxes for Mourinho; “He was a brave guy to say I am ready for the team when he wasn’t. After two or three months without kicking a ball, he was only ready in the mind,” were Mourinho’s thoughts on Jones. “But that’s where it matters and he had a great performance.” Jones’ play against Swansea was fearless and resolute for a player who hadn’t played a match for 10 months. Leading from the back, enjoying his centre-back role and a hard-working performance to match, Mourinho had found his perfect player in Phil Jones.
Having had Pepe at Real Madrid and Terry at Chelsea, Mourinho demands a strong player at the back that he can rely on. He wants a player who puts his body on the line for the team, a Bryan Robson or Steve Bruce type of footballer, someone who plays through the pain, giving his all with a man of the match performance in defence. It’s early days, but the signs bode well for Jones who you would have put money on Mourinho selling at the start of the season.
Instead of showing the number 4 the Old Trafford door, Jose Mourinho has had nothing but praise for Jones. “No mistakes in 90 minutes and his condition looks very good and his confidence is improving” are just some of the compliments from the United manager regarding his centre-back. In a very short space of time, he seems pretty impressed with the man Sir Alex Ferguson said had the ability to be “a phenomenal” player. Having already commented that he admires Jones because he “likes to defend and he wants to play as a defender,” maybe The Red Devil’s number 4 could be that “phenomenal” United player Mourinho insists on having in the teams he manages.
Having already made more clearances than anyone else in a red shirt this season and with a pass rate of 91.1%, the stats are proof that all the praise and inspiring performances are not a fluke. If Phil Jones can stay injury free and continue to impressively take the chance his manager has handed him, then maybe he can become one of the best players United have ever had as Sir Alex Ferguson expected. It’s only the beginning of a possible career comeback, but Jones is still young and already fitting nicely into Jose Mourinho’s plans. He is the ideal player for the Manchester United manager and looking like he really could be the man for Jose Mourinho.