If any moment in his, still relatively young, career summed Phil Jones up it was his last gasp attempt to stop the astonishingly well-groomed Olivier Giroud bursting through to the United goal. Jones, with all the grace of a spaniel on a newly polished laminate floor, no longer able to use his legs, committed to a sliding tackle using his face. It was Norman Wisdom defending and amazingly it worked too, like a fish out of water on land flopping around but somehow successfully disarming a bomb to save a city.
When coaches, pundits and fans utter the phrase “use your head son” this was certainly not what they had in mind.
It was the most Phil Jones moment of a Phil Jones career stacked full of Phil Jones moments. Indeed several minutes after faceplanting the floor, he almost cost United a goal by signalling to David De Gea to come out and claim the ball before kicking it himself. Were it not for De Gea’s brisk reflexes Arsenal may well have taken the lead.
Jones is United’s very own bumbling high farce, now permanently removing Marouane Fellaini from that role after his own passable impression of a decent footballer this season. Jones’ has consistency in this area. The kamikaze defending, the total lack of anticipation or finesse, the incredible Les Dawson-like gurning for a comical punctuation mark on it all.
Jones, you feel, would likely launch into a full blooded sliding challenge just to purchase a half time meat pie, before sending the poor service staff clattering into the drinks fridge. You wonder where Jones can go to elevate his comedic game next. Where is there to go after innovating the facial slide tackle, the ‘dying fish?’
How about a spectacular 30 yard own goal?
A goal for each team?
Accidently scoring a corner by bouncing the ball off both posts and the goalkeeper’s head after slicing the ball with his shin?
Yet Jones will always one moment away from disaster or accidental glory and yet he seems to get away with it or falls short. It is difficult to tell on first look whether Phil Jones is a good defender or the luckiest Stan Laurel impersonator in the land. At once compared with Duncan Edwards then doing something which sees him compared to a figure of slapstick comedy.
Indeed it was around 18 months ago that I described Phil Jones as a future United star after superb all action display against Arsenal during the ill-fated ‘David Moyes era’ (stifles a laugh). Unfortunately since then, he has drifted from injury and loss of any form due to incredible clumsiness and a total lack of intelligence to develop his own game.
He is most certainly a contrast to a man who should be considered a club great, Rio Ferdinand. An elegant, technical master at centre half who was able to think three moves ahead of everybody else. A record reflected in his lack of injuries (up until his back troubles in his later years) and superb discipline record. In fact I barely remember Rio getting his shorts dirty, he never needed to! Slide tackles were for the dummies, Ferdinand’s defending had a PhD.
And there is the serious point: That Phil Jones probably does not have what it takes to be a top level centre half. While his partner in comedy Chris Smalling goes through dramatic improvements and is given the captain’s armband in a big match, Jones remains a figure of fun. In a way it is something of a tragedy for a man once touted as the future of England’s defence and captaincy.
However, until we buy a cultured continental defender let us savour Phil Jones, our bumbling high farce.