Phil Jones was one of five players selected to represent England in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, but when Gareth Southgate sits down to select his team for Qatar 2022, he won’t even be close to talking.
The 30-year-old defender is also unable to play for Manchester United in the Premier League at the moment, having missed out on the squad. He could be added in January, but that would require him to first prove his fitness, and he hasn’t played back-to-back league matches since May 2019.
In the summer at Old Trafford, the contract ended. It is possible that Jones played his last game for the club he joined as a teenager in 2011. injuries and setbacks that Jones privately described as “hell”, it is likely that a player who was once hailed by managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Fabio Capello and Southgate will be allowed to leave in peace.
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Back in 2011, Ferguson was so eager to sign Jones from Blackburn Rovers that he sent him on a family holiday to the south of France. The offer worked and despite competition from Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, United secured a deal worth over £16m.
Jones had first come to Ferguson’s attention eighteen months earlier when Blackburn had beaten United Under 18s – a side that included a young Paul Pogba – in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup. However, Ferguson was confident of the move as he watched Jones play for Blackburn’s first team during a 7–1 defeat at Old Trafford.
It’s a day Jones even now says he prefers to forget, but Ferguson has seen the 18-year-old yell and yell at teammates who are more than 10 years his senior. One of them was Michael Salgado, a veteran defender who made over 300 appearances for Real Madrid and won the Champions League twice. Ferguson decided that if Jones was confident enough to scold Salgado, he would be fine as he entered the United dressing room, which has Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney. He was right.
Jones played 41 games in his first season and was part of the team that won the Premier League title the following year. By the end of 2013, he was considered so important that an ankle injury dominated the preparations for the Champions League round of 16 clash with Real Madrid. A fantastic 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, he was left out of the second leg in Manchester – best remembered for Nani’s controversial red card for a high challenge – and United lost 2-1.
Injuries have never been far off, but between 2011 and 2019, Jones made 216 appearances averaging nearly 30 games per season. He played wherever he was asked, usually as a central defender, but also as a right back and in midfield.
In 2011, at just 19 years old, he played in the center of England’s midfield against Spain, which included Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. England won 1-0. Ferguson once predicted that Jones’ ability to handle the ball, physicality and versatility could one day make him one of United’s all-time greatest players; Capello, England manager from 2007 to 2012, compared him to legendary Italian defender Franco Baresi.
Southgate is also a big fan, saying in 2017: “He has very good composure with the ball. He can read the game, he’s aggressive defensively, which I like and I think he has fantastic experience. well, and he competes well.”
But despite the approval of almost every manager under whom he has served, Jones’ career is in danger of being remembered for the games he missed rather than the ones he played.
When Louis van Gaal took over as United manager in 2014, the Dutchman wanted to sign Mats Hummels from Borussia Dortmund, in part over fears that Jones would miss a season during which he was sacked three times due to injury due to health problems. head, knee and shoulder. But after a series of tests over the summer, United’s medical staff reported to Van Gaal and Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward that Jones, then aged 22, was in excellent physical condition and that, barring any unusual injuries, for which it is expected to be ready. the entire campaign.
He started the league’s first three games, but by early September suffered a hamstring strain that sidelined him for almost a month. Returning to full fitness and playing for a team that drew 2-2 against West Brom at the end of October, he did not start a new game until mid-December due to a calf injury.
This is the story of Jones’ career in a nutshell: a coach who loves him, a string of promising performances, and then another setback due to injury. This is a recurring theme.
After Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was named interim manager in December 2018, Jones started eight of the Norwegian’s first 11 games. This prompted United to offer him a new four-year deal, but he has only been able to start 16 games since signing him in February 2019. A knee injury sustained in February 2020 ruled him out for almost a year, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a moment when he came close to hanging up his boots.
Jones’ injury issues have led to online abuse, and he hasn’t posted to his 2.1 million Twitter followers since May 2017. Shortly thereafter, messages for his 1.3 million Instagram followers ceased. To make matters worse, he was personally abused while out for a walk with his wife and two young daughters, further deteriorating his mental health over the past two years.
Having not played since April – when Ralph Rangnick inexplicably picked him out of the blue for a 4-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield – he stayed at Carrington this summer to follow a personal training program while while new manager Erik ten Hag took the team to Thailand and Australia for pre-season. Potential transfers with Old Trafford during the transfer window were thwarted by poor fitness and with no timeline set for his return, Ten Hag decided it made no sense to sign him up for the Premier League or Europa League.
And so, when the World Cup starts in Qatar in November, Jones will be watching the tournament from home for the first time since he was 18 years old. He is only 30 and still hopes to play regularly again, even if he now has recognition. be in another club. With over 200 appearances for United, winning 27 caps for England and amassing Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League winning medals, he has already built a career that most footballers can only dream of. But there will always be a sense of what could have been.