Versatility is often seen as a great quality to have in life. Phil Jones even before joining Manchester United from Blackburn Rovers last summer had been earning rave reviews for his versatility, but long-term could this also prove to be his downfall?
After all, how many young players emerge who are comfortable playing at centre-back, right-back and in centre-midfield? England haven’t had too many of those down the years. Why could that be?
One possible reason is that players who can play in two to three positions probably by the time that they break into the first-team have already been specialised in one position by their coaches and manager.
Another factor worth considering also is that the competition for places in a first-team is tougher so that by the time young players are breaking through there may only be a place to play in one position rather than two or three.
That’s why Jones is all that more special and why fans of both United and England need to be patient with him. At only 20 years of age he is still learning and developing as a player and is probably still 2-3 years away from discovering what his best long-term position is.
Right now it looks as though he will be a centre-back. He has been compared to John Terry in the past and the comparisons are there for all to see. Just like Chelsea’s captain he isn’t afraid to put himself about and get hurt from time to time.
The one area where Terry in his prime always excelled in was his positioning. Some may argue that was Ricardo Carvahlo had a part to play in that but ask yourself this, how often under Jose Mourinho did Terry get caught stationary watching the ball go past him? Very rarely if that.
Jones has been compared to Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos over the last year or so and there career-paths look very similar. Jones signed for United at the age of 19 for a reported £17 million. Ramos signed for Madrid from Sevilla in 2005 at the age of 19 for roughly £21 million.
Ramos endured a mixed start to his career at the Bernabeu. He was often criticized for bombing forward whilst playing at centre-back and was prone to looking like a nervous wreck in the big-games with his positioning leading to mistakes that often led to him making rash challenges earning him yellow and red cards.
Fast forward to 2012 and Ramos now aged 26 is one of the best defenders in the world. He has amassed 92 caps for Spain and has played a huge part in their era of dominance. He no longer makes the silly mistakes of old and has probably got another a decade left at the top of European football.
Jones by the age of 26 is going to be a phenomenal player. By then he should be partnering Chris Smalling in the heart of United’s defence and England we can hope. Centre-back is where his future lies and although some fans may hope that he will make it as a centre-midfielder who can run, tackle, shoot and pass – that’s not where his long-term future lies,
Of course that doesn’t mean that he won’t be selected there on the odd occasion - due to injury-problems in that position or if a creative playmaker (akin to Andrea Pirlo) needs to be stopped - but that’s all it should be.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87