After a few summers of relative scrounging, Alex Ferguson had promised Manchester United fans a spending spree, so how do feel about his first piece of business, Blackburn defender Phil Jones?
For starters, it’s hard for me to take anyone called Phil seriously (been watching a whole lot of Modern Family recently), but I’ll give this guy the benefit of the doubt.
I’ve seen him in action for Blackburn a couple of times, and two words came to mind – Jamie Carragher.
This Phil isn’t a lame-ass but endearing sitcom father trying to stay hip (he’s only 19). He’s a monster. He chases every ball, he tackles everything, and he stops at nothing.
First impressions? Pretty good. On second thought? Not so sure.
At 5 ft 11 in, he ain’t exactly your typical centreback. He’ll struggle in the air at that height. If the idea is for him to replace Rio Ferdinand at some point, he’ll always come up short by at least five inches. Even Carragher is two inches taller, and he isn’t one of the taller centrebacks.
But let’s say the glass is half full. His long term defensive partner will be 6 ft 4 in Chris Smalling, so he should provide some cover for Phil.
And he could take inspiration from Carles Puyol, an inch shorter but so effective for Barcelona. Then again, you could put Johnny Evans in that backline and he’d look like Franz Beckenbaur.
Thomas Vermaelen might be a better example. He’s an inch taller than Phil, and pundits were also wondering if he could cope when Arsenal first signed him. He certainly didn’t have too many problems. Fantastic player.
Phil in the blanks
The good thing about Phil is that he can fill up different positions on the pitch, namely right-back, centreback and defensive midfield. He probably wouldn’t have too many problems at left-back either, given his excellent defensive discipline.
Seeing as attacking full-backs are becoming increasingly important at United, he might not be a regular fixture at right-back cos he’s not exactly the next Cafu. Plus, the da Silva twins are already providing a selection headache in that position, and not just because Fergie can’t tell them apart.
And like we said, central defense might be a problem for Phil with his height; so that leaves the defensive midfield berth, a position Alex Ferguson has resisted employing for a while.
For the past couple of seasons, he’s played with a flat midfield without the midfield anchorman or destroyer so popular at other clubs.
It’s possible that with Paul Scholes retiring, Ferguson realises he has to finally give in to the trend. United’s midfield will have to do a lot more defending without Scholes’ effortless keeping of the ball.
Michael Carrick has never been one for dirty jobs, and Darren Fletcher might be good at tracking back and harrassing opponents, but he’s not a midfield hardman to rival the likes of Michael Essien and Nigel de Jong – or even the young pretenders Sandro, Alex Song and Lucas Leiva – in terms of breaking up opposition play.
Owen Hargreaves was probably brought in for that role a few years ago, but his knees obviously had other ideas.
Could Ferguson be about to redesign Phil as the new Roy Keane? That would make the most sense in my opinion (not saying that’s Fergie’s plan – that’s just what I think would suit Phil and the team best), considering how centreback and rightback aren’t the most perfect options at the moment.