On Tuesday night I shuddered as the words “United are looking to shore up their defence as Phil Jones replaces Fred now” left the commentator’s lips. Lancashire's loosest cannon didn’t disappoint – he rarely does – contributing to United’s downfall with a missed header and a trademark gurn.
To somehow come away with less credit than the guy who actually punched the deciding goal into his own net is some feat, but my word he achieved it.
When Ole came along and showed a ruthless streak in immediately culling club captain Antonio Valencia, I prayed, begged to the gods, he’d take the same merciless approach with another defender whose time at the club had long gone.
Instead, the Baby Faced Assassin rewarded Phil Jones with a contract extension that could eventually see him celebrate 13 (!) years at the club. For a man with all the spatial awareness and dignity of Mr Blobby, that’s quite staggering. For a club with genuine desires on closing the gap to City and Liverpool, it’s unforgivable.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of why his presence in the United team makes my skin crawl.
WHAT ARE YOU PHIL?
The answer is nothing. He is miscellaneous. A very vague concept of a footballer. A Poundland John O’Shea.
Signed from Blackburn as a mercurial defensive talent with the ability to slot in at right back, centre half and in the midfield, the hype was real. Footballing icons were tripping over themselves to heap praise – Sir Alex tipped him to be United’s best ever, Fabio Capello compared him to Franco Baresi and Fernando Hierro. In spite of this, he’s failed to master a single position in the decade since his debut.
Blessed the same quality on the ball as Antonio Valencia’s left peg, his career as a full back was swiftly ended in 2012 with Fergie even preferring Chris Smalling on the right to him in Rafael’s absence.
Experiments in central midfield around the same time yielded similarly disappointing results, meaning we all convinced ourselves that centre half must be where his destiny lies. How wrong we were.
Truly great centre-halves tend to be blessed with four things – pace, strength in the air, strong decision making and ability on the ball. Excellent players might have three of those locked down, whilst some carve out a decent career with just two of the four.
I’d argue Phillipe falls well short in all those four categories. There is nothing he truly excels at.
All United’s centre half options are all flawed at the moment, but each has at least one area in which they excel – Lindelof offers quality in possession and reads the game well, Bailly boasts similar composure on the ball as well as genuine pace whilst Mike Smalling is dominant in the air and the organisational leader of the backline.
Phil’s not the sharpest tool in the box. That much is clear from the regular pratfalls, his unique ability to self-harm and the spectacular own goals. Don’t just take my word for it though, here’s humourless former teammate Paul Scholes on where to put him, “I just think at centre-half he is not quite clever enough to do it”.
Want an example? How about this moment of genius in the World Cup 3rd place playoff? Marvel as he weighs up his options as Hazard is played in – continue his natural turning circle and usher Hazard away from the goal or attempt to cut out a pass whilst facing a full 180 degrees away from the ball? Easy.
Consider the complete failure of logic required to consider clearing the ball with your right leg at this split second.
Any more for any more Grade A duncery? Revel in this exemplary display of Avant-Garde defending as he lampoons conventional decision making and technique in a thrilling homage to bovine Sunday league cloggers up and down the land.
For once, it seems, Paul Scholes was emphatically right about something.
Average In The Air
Not particularly tall, a poor judge of flight and easily shrugged off the ball Jones is a far softer touch that you’d hope under the high ball.
Wednesday night’s debacle at Wolves was a classic example of where he falls short. Despite being well positioned and favourite to reach the initial cross, Jones woefully mistimed his leap, making contact with the ball on his way down and using his ungodly face to head the ball down into the six-yard box.
Not convinced? Watch as he gets caught under the following basic cross to the tune of a good 3 feet.
How about how he succumbs the genius of Choupo Moting’s cunning movement here?
Need any further evidence, your honour? We’re now 10 years into his Premier League career and he’s only ever scored one header. For a lad that goes up for every single set piece, that's properly bobbins. For comparison, in the same period Vincent Kompany’s duffed home 10 headers, Smalling’s nutted in 8; even Juan Mata’s on 2.
Either way, for a club with Champions League designs, such weakness in the air at the heart of the defence is a real issue.
He’s nowhere near quick enough to be as ropey as he is positionally.
Last year’s FA Cup final was a perfect microcosm of all that’s wrong with him at centre half – caught on his heels in no man’s land, comprehensively outpaced before taking the extraordinary decision to go to ground from behind in the penalty area.
Not Fit For Purpose
Whilst this is hardly his fault, the lad sadly possesses all the structural integrity of an any Apple produced charger.
His career to date has seen him rack up 20 separate knacks and ailments, keeping him out of action for well over two years (744 days) in total. Aged 27, those numbers are hardly going to come down in the next few years, especially considering his genuinely demented attitude to any kind of physical contact.
I understand taking a risk on contracts for fragile star players, but a broken third/fourth choice centre half? Has Arsene Wenger’s slow demise taught us nothing?
How has no one else in the history of sport suffered from a similar affliction? Actually quite weird now.
The Commitment To Truly Emphatic Own Goals
All defenders score own goals, it’s an occupational hazard. Phil Jones only seems to deal in screamers though. You’ve witnessed his Magnus opus at Newcastle, here are a couple of other noteworthy finishes.
The Penalty Kicks
You've got to admire the misplaced confidence if not the execution. Jones’ two penalty kicks at United have both been missed in losing League Cup shoot outs.
I rest my case.
So what’s the point in this petty character assassination? In light of his chunky new contract, nothing, I guess. We’re stuck with him until 2023. It’s nothing more than an impotent howl into the abyss.
At its heart is probably a larger gripe, how the world's most profitable football club keeps muddling on with proven mediocrity as their rivals pay up for elite talent year in year out.
A phenomenon epitomised by a player with no single area of excellence and so many obvious flaws hanging onto a first-team place for what could end up being his entire career.
But whatever, it’s totally fine, Jones only has Lionel Messi to mark this week.