Manchester United defender Phil Jones was once tipped by Sir Alex Ferguson to become United’s greatest ever player.
Fast forward a few years and the 25-year-old has started only 113 matches in the Premier League since moving to Old Trafford from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2011. That is still a decent figure, but Jones’ time in Manchester has been marred with injuries.
Add that to inconsistency and the managerial merry-go-round that he had to endure since Ferguson left, Jones’ development as a footballer has not reached the level that his former manager so famously predicted.
But the former Rovers defender is adamant that he has improved. Jones also hit back at critics who have undermined him in the past few seasons.
“It’s weird, I feel like I have still done a lot at United, I still feel like have developed as a player,” he said. “I feel like I’ve grown into myself, if you like, and I’ve seen a lot of faces come and go.
“Some people say in pre-season ‘he might go here, he might be going there’, then you look at all the faces that have gone and you think to yourself ‘I can’t be doing too bad if I am still here at the best club, one of the best clubs in the world?’
“I have won the Premier League, the Europa League, albeit I was on the bench in the final, I have been involved in big games in the Champions League.”
Jones has seen a remarkable change in fortune since Jose Mourinho’s arrival at the club and has started all of the opening three matches in the league this season. Mourinho has been very vocal with his praise for the centre-back saying Jones has “potentially everything I like in a central defender”.
“I have obviously seen them and it’s nice to hear that from the manager, but I am under no illusions,” Jones said.
“It’s a long season ahead and things can change very quickly in football and I need to keep doing what I am doing, not just in the games but in training as well.”
Speaking about his terrible injury record, Jones confirmed how difficult it was to be sidelined on so many occasions.
“I get that people are going to talk about it,” he said.
“Obviously it looms over my head the whole thing, but I just concentrate on doing what I do best and that’s playing football.
“When times are tough, I am not one for just chucking the towel in and saying ‘that’s me, I’m done’. It was difficult towards the end of the second season under Van Gaal.
“I had a good pre-season and I always said to myself that if I can be strong, be mentally strong, I would have a chance under the new manager and thankfully he has given me that.”
Jones’ great start to the new campaign has seen him return to the England set up in a more prominent capacity. The 25-year-old started the Three Lions’ 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Malta on Friday.