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The indomitable Phil Jones

The indomitable Phil Jones

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Few players have suffered more abuse or worse luck with injuries than Manchester United’s Phil Jones. But he endures.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story everyday to make sense of the world of football.

Today, Phil Jones’ tale of remarkable resilience.

***

“I wanted Harry Maguire to get dropped, I did not say I wanted him to get dropped for Phil Jones. For me, that’s like having a bucket with a hole in it replaced with a sieve.”

Mark Goldbridge, The United Stand YouTube

Phil Jones told a story to The Times newspaper last year. 

He was walking along a road with his three-year-old daughter, who was pushing a pram with her little sister in it. 

A man came up to Jones and said: “Hey, Phil… You’re [bleep]!”

It was, as you can imagine, quite shocking – a real-life manifestation of the sort of abuse he’d received online for years. 

For years, the Manchester United defender has been the subject of abuse – either because to his performances, or down to the faces he pulls – captured by cameras during matches.

Last year, he told the United Podcast about how it’s affected him in the past.  

“I stepped away from social media a long time ago, but it’s difficult because all your friends read it, your family read it and they support you, they want the best for you. They don’t want to see their mate, their husband, their dad getting slaughtered all over the papers or all over the media, so it’s tough because mentally I was going through a tough time.”

Phil Jones, UTD podcast

But there hasn’t been criticism of him in recent years… because he hasn’t been playing. 

He’s been injured, with severe meniscal damage to his right knee.

He had surgery to repair it – it’s  the part of the knee that acts as a shock absorber around the bones. 

But the surgeon couldn’t fix it, so he removed it completely, meaning Jones just had bone hitting bone inside the joint.

It’s a problem he’s had throughout his career, but the latest iteration of his knee injury had seen him out of action since January 2020.

He described his recuperation, which included additional surgeries and rehab, as ‘the lowest I’ve ever been as a human’. 

He would come home from training in tears. 

But then, on Monday, 707 days after his last appearance, and much to the surprise of, well, everyone, he was named in Manchester United’s starting eleven in their Premier League match against Wolves.

And while United lost, his performance won him plaudits from his team-mates. Here’s his fellow defender, Luke Shaw…

“It was tough but what I will say… Phil Jones should be proud of himself, I think. He’s been criticised for a number of years, constantly people getting at him, but he’s stuck by it, he’s so professional, trains so hard, and he got his chance tonight, and I think he was phenomenal.” 

Luke Shaw, Sky Sports Football

It can be easy to forget that Jones was a player once heralded as the future of English football.

Sir Alex Ferguson said in 2013 that Jones had the ability to be United’s ‘best ever player’. He was compared to Duncan Edwards by Sir Bobby Charlton. 

He’s won the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Europa League, and played 27 times for England. He should be, in theory, anything but a laughing stock. 

But Jones has joked that despite being the club’s longest serving player, he would turn down a testimonial match at United if he was offered one. 

“Apart from my Mum and Dad, who else would turn up?” he said in 2020.

A first appearance in two years is a start, and by no means the end of this particular narrative arc. 

Resilience is a trait that isn’t talked about much as a dividing line between elite athletes and the rest of us – it’s usually the athleticism, the practice, the lucky breaks. 

But it should be. 

Phil Jones’ story is one of immense strength – and, for once in football, the sentiment was shared by fans. 

As he left the pitch on Monday night, United fans chanted his name, with tears streaming down his face.

[Clip: United fans cheering and chanting Phil Jones]

This time, they were tears of joy.

Today’s story was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Claudia Williams.