Few players have suffered more abuse or worse luck with injuries than Manchester United‚Äôs Phil Jones. But he endures.
Hi, I‚Äôm Andrew and this is the Playmaker.
One story everyday to make sense of the world of football.
Today, Phil Jones‚Äô tale of remarkable resilience.
‚ÄúI wanted Harry Maguire to get dropped, I did not say I wanted him to get dropped for Phil Jones. For me, that‚Äôs like having a bucket with a hole in it replaced with a sieve.‚ÄĚMark 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: ‚ÄúHey, Phil‚Ä¶ You‚Äôre [bleep]!‚ÄĚ
It was, as you can imagine, quite shocking ‚Äď¬†a real-life manifestation of the sort of abuse he‚Äôd received online for years.¬†
For years, the Manchester United defender has been the subject of abuse ‚Äď¬†either because to his performances, or down to the faces he pulls ‚Äď captured by cameras during matches.
Last year, he told the United Podcast about how it‚Äôs affected him in the past.¬†¬†
‚ÄúI stepped away from social media a long time ago, but it‚Äôs difficult because all your friends read it, your family read it and they support you, they want the best for you. They don‚Äôt want to see their mate, their husband, their dad getting slaughtered all over the papers or all over the media, so it‚Äôs tough because mentally I was going through a tough time.‚ÄĚPhil Jones, UTD podcast
But there hasn‚Äôt been criticism of him in recent years‚Ä¶¬†because he hasn‚Äôt been playing.¬†
He‚Äôs been injured, with severe meniscal damage to his right knee.
He had surgery to repair it ‚Äď it‚Äôs¬† the part of the knee that acts as a shock absorber around the bones.¬†
But the surgeon couldn‚Äôt fix it, so he removed it completely, meaning Jones just had bone hitting bone inside the joint.
It‚Äôs a problem he‚Äôs 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 ‚Äėthe lowest I‚Äôve ever been as a human‚Äô.¬†
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‚Äôs starting eleven in their Premier League match against Wolves.
And while United lost, his performance won him plaudits from his team-mates. Here‚Äôs his fellow defender, Luke Shaw‚Ä¶
‚ÄúIt was tough but what I will say‚Ä¶ Phil Jones should be proud of himself, I think. He‚Äôs been criticised for a number of years, constantly people getting at him, but he‚Äôs stuck by it, he‚Äôs so professional, trains so hard, and he got his chance tonight, and I think he was phenomenal.‚ÄĚ¬†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‚Äôs ‚Äėbest ever player‚Äô. He was compared to Duncan Edwards by Sir Bobby Charlton.¬†
He‚Äôs 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‚Äôs longest serving player, he would turn down a testimonial match at United if he was offered one.¬†
‚ÄúApart from my Mum and Dad, who else would turn up?‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôt talked about much as a dividing line between elite athletes and the rest of us ‚Äď¬†it‚Äôs usually the athleticism, the practice, the lucky breaks.¬†
But it should be.¬†
Phil Jones‚Äô story is one of immense strength ‚Äď¬†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‚Äôs story was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Claudia Williams.
How a lucrative fantasy collided with the reality of the body