Belfast Telegraph

John Laverty: It isn't Calamity Jones' fault he's still at Manchester United... it's theirs

Oh dear: Phil Jones after scoring an own-goal against Spurs last January
Oh dear: Phil Jones after scoring an own-goal against Spurs last January
John Laverty

By John Laverty

Back in the day, we referred to it as 'The Aston Villa Principle'. Ergo: "Look, all I'm saying is… imagine this clown was playing for Villa every week; would United be trying to sign him? Good, I rest my case. Right, who's round is it?"

The Principle has been applied to many promising, but ultimately not delivering, 'home-grown' Red Devils over the years. Tom Cleverley, anyone? (Ironically, he was eventually loaned out to Villa; they didn't make the deal permanent).

Not surprisingly, Jesse Lingard, with no goals and no assists to his name in the whole of 2019, is one of those who's had The Principle applied to him recently.

And so too Phil Jones. Dear, oh dear.

Yes, I know he's not a product of their youth system per se, but the Lancashire-born defender was still a teenager when Sir Alex Ferguson took him from Blackburn in 2011.

It may surprise you that Jones is still only 27-years-old, but perhaps most bewildering is that he's still a Manchester United player.

Not only that, but the club apparently believes his 'best years' are still ahead of him.

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Indeed, one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first tasks as caretaker United boss a year ago was to oversee Jones signing a new £100,000 a week, four-year contract - a thirty grand pay rise, with the option to extend for a further year.

"Phil's entering into his prime years as a centre-half and we're delighted he's committed his future to the club," said Solskjaer at the time.

I wonder if the under-pressure Norwegian was thinking the same thing after seeing the unaffectionately named 'Calamity Jones' performing yet another Bambi-on-ice pirouette and being dumped on his unflatteringly broad backside by Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne during last week's Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at Old Trafford.

It was a slapstick routine his legendary doppleganger Stan Laurel would have been proud of.

Having said that, it would be too easy to join forces with the armchair hordes and keyboard warriors citing the 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford as further proof that the often catastrophic ball-watching, positionally incompetent Jones is just a hapless donkey who should be put out to pasture.

Like many other Mancs, I was delighted when United paid big money for a young man being billed by Fergie and others as "the new Duncan Edwards" and "a future England captain" nine years ago.

It clearly hasn't worked out that way but these things do occasionally happen; remember Arsenal's David Bentley, the "new Beckham?" Or former Liverpool striker John Aldridge telling Anfield fans not to fret about losing Raheem Stirling "because they still have Jordon Ibe, who'll go on to be a better player".

It's hilarious in hindsight of course, although my main beef with the Jones situation is not his questionable ability (in fact, statistically, over the last 18 months United have won more matches with Jones in the team than they've lost) or unrealised potential, but rather his utterly appalling fitness record.

He did play enough games - and, to be fair, some pretty impressive ones - to merit his cherished Premier League championship medal from United's last title success in 2013.

Jones also has FA Cup (2016) and Europa League (2017) winners gongs (something the club's communications department were at pains to point out when he signed his latest contract in February 2019), although he was an unused substitute in both those competitions' showpiece finals.

But hamstring, knee, ankle, shin, toe, shoulder, back, eye and cruciate ligament problems, not to mention concussion and various illnesses, have restricted the 27-times-capped Preston native to fewer than 200 appearances for United, with only 164 of those in the Premier League.

By way of a damning comparison, the club's main striker Marcus Rashford - who made his first-team debut less than four years ago - celebrated his 200th game for the Red Devils with a two-goal haul in Saturday's 4-0 win over bottom club Norwich (Jones was dropped from the starting XI, quelle surprise) and has also played 11 more games for his country.

Yet as you can see from the table - which, incidentally, doesn't even include on-loan, £500k-a-week megaflop Alexis Sanchez - the seemingly myopic United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward still thought it prudent to make Jones one of his club's highest-paid players just under a year ago.

So you can hardly blame the indefensible defender for trousering over £5m a year to continue shuffling between the subs bench, Carabao Cup and Carrington treatment table.

After landing his new deal, a beaming Jones said United was "the only club" for him, presumably missing the obvious irony that no rival club in its right mind would dare take a punt on such a liability.

'Calamity Jones' is symptomatic of the current malaise at a hitherto all-conquering United.

Swamped by delusions of traditional entitlement, they're blowing countless millions on salaries for too many puddings who were either panic buys or so-called 'statement signings' by failing managers and frankly aren't good enough - but have no desire or incentive (and cannot be contractually forced) to go elsewhere.

If Phil Jones is the answer, what on earth was the question?

One more thing:

It won’t surprise you that Ed Woodward is the Premier League’s top-earning director with a £3.16m salary. He is, after all, in charge of a club with a turnover of £627.1m. The highest paid director in the UK, however, is Celtic’s Peter Lawwell, on a cool £3.54m a year for overseeing a one-horse race — and a drop in club turnover from £101.6m to £83.4m.

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