Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Boy of the Rovers

This afternoon, Blackburn Rovers youngster Phil Jones underwent a medical at Carrington ahead of a reported £17M move to Manchester United.

Speculation has understandably already arisen as to where Jones will fit into the Manchester United set-up. Is he a long-term replacement for Nemanja Vidic (who doesn't even turn 30 until October)? An expensive replacement for squad-player Jonny Evans?

Jones' transfer to Manchester United has come as quite a surprise, but he was undoubtedly impressive for Rovers last term.

In last season's Premier League, Blackburn Rovers' win percentage was 35% with Jones in the side, compared to just 24% without him.

Rovers also scored less than the entertaining Blackpool and only two more than bottom club West Ham; Jones was a big part of a vital, relegation-preventing defence that compensated for their mis-firing attacking counterparts.

Wayne Rooney today described him as 'one of the toughest defenders [he] played against last season'.

Although naturally a central defender, last season Jones played three times as many games as a defensive midfielder for Rovers than he did at centre-half (18/6).

Sir Alex Ferguson is a great appreciator of versatile players: O'Shea, Brown, Park, Nani, Fabio and Rafael. With Jones sitting just in front of the back four - deeper than Michael Carrick would in that role - Fergie could get creative with his midfield options.

It is, however, possible that Jones has been targetted a year earlier than Ferguson would have liked. This morning the Preston-born 19-year-old was all but being dubbed a Liverpool player by Twitter. It seems that Jones also spoke with Arsene Wenger about a possible switch to North London. Strong interest from two big rivals may have forced Sir Alex's hand in making a move for the player, who may or may not have been of the manager's 'maybe three' targets for the summer.

The triple-pronged Premier League interest probably upped Jones' price tag, but Manchester United has a habit of nurturing youngsters and treating players exceptionally well, and in a decade or so we could be calling this transfer a bargain.

Clearly an important asset to Blackburn Rovers' season, it remains to be seen what role Jones will play in the next couple of years.

With 21-year-old Chris Smalling coming on leaps and bounds under Ferguson and Manchester United's guidance, it would be fantastic to see Jones make similar progress and ultimately fulfill his obvious potential.

Jones and Smalling will play side-by-side at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship this summer. That will certainly be worth tuning in for as we may well be witnessing the future of Manchester United's defensive heart for years to come.