From keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet at the Bernabeu and being touted as the future of Man United, to playing just EIGHT games in three years… the best and worst moments in Phil Jones’ Old Trafford career with his 12-year stay set to end this summer
- Jones played 229 times for United but was ruled out for another 204 matches
- He was one of six players to make England’s 2014 and 2018 World Cup squads
- United outcast Jones is ‘expected to be released from the club this summer’
At 31 years old, Phil Jones should be playing 30-odd games a season in the prime of his career at the heart of a defence – not being released, quietly, at the end of his contract having failed to make an appearance in over 12 months.
The former England international will leave United at the end of the current campaign, despite the club having an option to extend his deal by a further year, bringing an end to Jones’ 12-year stay at Old Trafford.
While many football fans will remember him for the bizarre facial expressions, lengthy spells on the sidelines and one of the most unorthodox headers you’ll ever see, his stunning display at the Bernabeu may often go unmentioned.
Perhaps he arrived with too much promise hanging over his head, perhaps it was due to the devastating injury record that has plagued his career, but the youngster once predicted to be United’s future will now leave a shadow of the player his potential suggested he could become.
Here, Mail Sport takes you through the highs and lows of Jones’ long, arduous and at times inexplicable career at one of the biggest clubs in world football.
Phil Jones will leave Man United after 12 years at the end of his current contract in July 2023
Jones has not featured in a competitive match since their Premier League run-in in 2021-22
The 31-year-old has never played for Erik ten Hag (pictured) since he arrived at Old Trafford
Jones arrived at Old Trafford under the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson at a time when United were still the dominant force in England, joining from near-neighbours Blackburn Rovers in a deal worth around £16million.
Ferguson himself was so keen to land the then-teenager’s signature that he personally flew him out to join his family holiday in France, having watched him on the wrong side of a 7-1 thrashing against United in the FA Youth Cup.
According to reports, what caught the great Scottish manager’s eye was a willingness to berate, command and instruct team-mate Michel Salgado – the defender who played 371 games, winning two Champions Leagues and four LaLigas at Real Madrid. Jones was just 18.
He went straight into the first team, playing 42 times in seven different competitions and quickly becoming a part of the furniture in a dressing room that included treble-winners, England captains, a Ballon d’Or winner, and somehow more imposing, Nemanja Vidic.
It was clear then that Jones was on the road to success at Old Trafford, following a well-trodden path at the club, which prompted Ferguson to say in 2013: ‘Jones, arguably, the way he is looking, could be our best ever player.’
That now infamous quote – often used as a way to deride United fans – did in fairness come after Jones helped to win United’s last Premier League crown in 2013, in a season that saw arguably his greatest performance in a red shirt.
United went to the Bernabeu in the first leg of their Champions League clash and came away with a massive 1-1 draw, giving them the advantage in the tie.
The England international had already scored the winner in a group game against Shakhtar – converting a Robin van Persie corner with a well-taken half volley – and was a key player in their Champions League campaign.
Jones signed for Sir Alex Ferguson’s United side in 2011 and won the Premier League in 2012-13
Jones is set to depart as one of the only players with a Premier League medal with United
But it was in the Spanish capital that Jones – not 2010 World Cup winner Xabi Alonso or 2014 winner Sami Khedira – controlled the midfield, chasing down runners, making last-ditch tackles, and playing the ball around the back with impressive composure on one of the biggest stages in the game.
Jones was later ruled out of the return leg, which United went on to lose 2-0 at home, falling to a 3-1 aggregate defeat to a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Los Blancos side.
‘He (Sir Alex Ferguson) was just unbelievable for me,’ Jones said of his then-manager’s reaction to his performance years later.
‘I went to the premiere of his film with a few players and he came over, we shook hands and then out of the blue he said: “Hey, you were f***ing terrific against Real Madrid away (in 2013). F***ing marking Ronaldo.” It just gave me so much confidence.’
Jones was somewhat more humble in his own assessment of his performance – widely considered his best to date.
‘There was a lot of hype about [Cristiano] Ronaldo in that game, but we limited him to a few chances and we got a good 1-1 result at the Bernabeu, before we lost in the home leg [and were eliminated],’ he said of the game in 2020.
‘It was incredible: the stadium, the atmosphere. It was a mad game and one that flashes by at the time. You only really take note of it a few years down the line.
‘I had Carras (Michael Carrick) in there alongside me and, for me, he was massively under-rated. His passing and vision were a joke. It was my job basically to get the ball to him, to get us playing and that’s exactly what we did.’
While the defender struggled to replicate the heroics of that night in Madrid, he remained a regular member of the side despite not tearing up any trees, making 157 appearances over the next six campaigns, an average of almost 27 games a season.
One of Jones’ best performances came against Real Madrid in the 2013 Champions League
Jones started in central midfield and was crucial in keeping Cristiano Ronaldo (centre) quiet
But important as he was to the side, Jones began to make a name for himself as one of the most comically cursed players in the game, seeming to attract on-field blunders wherever he went.
Whether he was tripping on a piece of pitch-side carpet at the London Stadium in 2018, kicking the ball into his own hand in pre-season, or blasting a penalty well over the bar and inadvertently into a fan’s face in 2014 – meme-able mishaps seemed to follow Jones’ career very closely indeed.
Then there was that infamous ‘header’ against Arsenal, which saw him throw himself at Olivier Giroud’s feet to stop the Frenchman charging in on goal head first.
Bravery in defence, or a loss of balance? The player’s intent eyes on the ball would suggest the former, but that did not stop it from leaving fans in stitches.
And it wouldn’t be the last time, either. Jones’ impressive array of facial expressions when caught up in the action provided a source of laughter to seemingly no end.
Jones also scored several very memorable own goals, doing so with a stooping downward header against Newcastle and a cute near post finish against Tottenham in the Premier League.
Between November 2011 and December 2018, Manchester United scored only two own goals in the Champions League. Both were scored by Jones.
And that latter strike will surely live long in United fans’ memories, after the defender managed to tuck it past the on-rushing Sergio Romero in goal from outside his own box and hand Valencia a 2-0 lead out of nowhere.
Through all the blunders, though, Jones still showcased enough quality to earn back-to-back World Cup call-ups in 2014 and 2018 – one of only six players to do so alongside Jordan Henderson, Luke Shaw, Gary Cahill, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling.
But it was not just at international level. Louis van Gaal was reportedly going to sign Mats Hummels before deciding not to when convinced Jones could remain fit and Fabio Capello compared him to the legendary Franco Baresi, having kept Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets quiet in a 1-0 win from midfield aged just 19.
The England defender began to gain attention for some strange facial expressions on pitch
The now 31-year-old has suffered from a litany of injury issues, particularly to his knees, ankles and hamstrings
Arguably one of his most famous moments in a United shirt was when he defended with his head from the floor against Olivier Giroud back in 2017
Even later on in his United career, he started eight of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first 11 games as interim manager. No matter who took charge of United, or who was at the helm for England, Jones remained in and around the side, so there was clearly talent and ability there when he was fit.
Yet in 2020 the games dried up, and after missing every single game in 2020-21, he has played just eight times in almost three-and-a-half years.
It is impossible to ignore Jones’ injury record when it comes to explaining his strange career at United – he has been ruled out of 205 matches through injury in his 12 years at the club, only 24 fewer than he has actually played.
There have been four serious knee injuries – one that kept him out for 454 days, according to Transfermarkt – as well as four to his hamstrings and five to his ankles, cruelly curtailing any run of form he could put together.
His injury record and subsequent loss of form have brought no end to disappointment, with fans launching such bad abuse at him on social media that the club had to lodge a complaint with Twitter.
Jones’ account on the platform has not seen any tweets published since May 2017, although it remains active.
There are some fans that will point to his four-year contract extension in 2019, worth a reported £13.6m, and label it a bad decision, and given the minuscule number of games he has managed since then it would be hard to argue with that from a financial point of view.
But as one of the few players in the dressing room at the time with a Premier League winners’ medal – as well as every other English domestic title and the Europa League to boot – there are several reasons why he would have been an important member of the dressing room.
Now, however, his time at Old Trafford is set to come to an end, having played 229 games in the iconic red shirt across 12 years which will have felt like much longer to both the player and fans of the club.
Despite starting well under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (front, second from left, Jones ended up a perennial figure on the bench
Jones has only made eight appearances since picking up an injury in January 2020
A player who was once lauded as the key to keeping Ronaldo, Benzema and Di Maria quiet, now finds himself turning down the option of a testimonial because he doubts anyone would turn up.
That image of him prone in front of Giroud with his face in the dirt and his head on the ball may well live longer in the memory than his Premier League winners’ medal, but that is somehow fitting, and your interpretation of it will likely colour your opinion of Jones as a United player.
On the one hand, you have the clumsy, incident prone defender that can’t help themselves from giving fans a chuckle after yet another blunder at the back.
Yet on the other, you have a player willing to do anything to win the ball back, determined not to let his opponent escape, and hell-bent on keeping his side in the game, whatever the cost to his body.
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