Belfast Telegraph

Jones keen to shed unwanted tag

Phil Jones hopes he will finally be able to rid himself of the "injury-prone" tag that has dogged him throughout his career.

This season may be reaching the halfway point, but Jones has played just five times for Manchester United.

Jones was an ever-present during United's pre-season tour of the United States, but he strained his hamstring during England's win against Switzerland in September and, as soon as he returned, he suffered shin splints and missed seven matches.

It was a pattern Jones is all too familiar with. Ever since he broke on to the scene as a teenager at Blackburn five seasons ago his career has been interrupted by injury - something he is clearly annoyed at.

"It's just the nature of football. People don't wake up one morning and say I fancy being injured today, it is just the way it is," the United centre-back said.

"I started the pre-season and played every single game and every single training session.

"I'd never had a muscle injury in my life and then on international duty, I pulled my hamstring so that was disappointing. And when I was coming back I then had shin splints.

"I didn't go into training and say I wanted to get injured that morning, it is just the way it has been. It has been unfortunate.

"I could stand here and list 10 players who are always out injured."

Jones' injury curse first struck in his final year at Blackburn, when he tore knee cartilage, but Sir Alex Ferguson still signed him six months later for £16.5million.

Sir Bobby Charlton was so impressed with Jones shortly after he joined the club that he compared him with the Busby Babe Duncan Edwards, the greatest player to have worn United red in the eyes of some fans.

But yet more knee problems, and an ankle injury, hindered Jones' progress.

His latest setbacks have restricted his playing time of late, but he suffered no reaction when he returned to action in Sunday's 3-0 win over Liverpool and he hopes to go through the rest of the season without any problems.

"My aim right now is to stay fit and stay focused, and get a run of games under my belt," the 22-year-old said.

"I have been doing a lot of work in the gym - strength work on the reformer, yoga and pilates and loads of stuff.

"Hopefully that will stand me in good stead for the rest of the season.

"Hopefully I can stay fit, and look after myself in games.

"I will do anything I can to improve myself."

Jones is not the only United defender to suffer from injury this season.

Senior officials thought the loss of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic would not be so profound as they said medical testing had shown Jones, Evans and Chris Smalling were expected to have their most injury-free seasons of their respective careers.

Yet all three have missed part of the season due to injury and £16million import Marcos Rojo, who dislocated his shoulder in October, suffered a thigh injury in training last week.

Louis van Gaal has used 17 different players in defence in this season. The United boss has fielded 10 different combinations at centre-back.

Jones hopes Van Gaal will have a full complement of options available to him soon.

"It always helps to play every game at the back with the same players," Jones added.

"You get a good understanding of each other and how one of you works, and what positions to take up."

Luckily for United, goalkeeper David de Gea has had an outstanding season and is one of the main reasons why they are third in the Barclays Premier League.

"Some of the saves he makes are unbelievable," Jones said

"We are lucky to have him. He is one of the best in the world."

Like Jones, De Gea has 18 months left on his current deal.

United are confident of hanging on to their goalkeeper and senior sources are believed to be "relaxed" about De Gea's situation despite interest from Real Madrid, who are searching for a long-term replacement for Iker Casillas.


From Belfast Telegraph