Franz Beckenbauer has provided the template that all modern defenders should aspire to. Imperious on the ball and impermeable in defence; the German legend re-wrote the rule-book on defending in the modern game. The idea that a defender could exert such control over a game is a concept that had rarely be seen before the 1960’s and arguably hasn’t been seen, to the same extent, since. To produce a player with an excellent physical presence, masterful technique and acute awareness of the game who is simultaneously impassable in defence and lethal when going forward would be too much to ask from an English player, wouldn’t it?
‘Of course’ you would reply with an air of cynicism that is rarely found outside of a country that has known nothing but defeat and disappointment for the last five decades. Maybe you would be right; at present we don’t have anyone that can even come close to the man who earned the nickname ‘The Kaiser’. Yet that doesn’t mean we don’t have the raw ingredients for such a player. In fact you can find all of those attributes, if a little unrefined, in Manchester United’s Phil Jones.
You can identify defenders with a truly ‘all-round’ game by looking at the number of goals they score, or the amount of goals that they set up; but that is not genuinely indicative of a defender whose game is whole. After all they might be scoring all their goals as headers from corners, or they might be getting their assists as a result of taking set pieces. No, the real way to judge whether or not a defenders has an all encompassing style of play is when their manager cannot decide whether to play them in defence or midfield. To be a defender who has specific attributes that are not usually associated with their position is one thing, but to be a defender whose qualities are so varied that they can be played in a variety of different decisions is a completely different matter altogether.
This is the case with Phil Jones. He can, and has been deployed at full-back, centre-half and central midfield for both club and country. What makes this situation even more exciting is the fact that most cannot even agree on the position he is most adept at. How often in England do we nurture a defender whose technique and vision is so impressive that he can easily play in midfield for games at the highest level? Moreover, could it have come at a better time? John Terry’s ongoing court case has cast doubts over his future with the national team, as has his recent form and the apparent break down in his relationship with England partner Rio Ferdinand. Coincidentally Ferdinand’s own form has been suffering of late leading to his manager telling him that he needs to adapt his game to cope with the rigours of growing old. Whilst Gary Cahill’s form will surely improve at Chelsea he too has been struggling this season to produce the type of displays that lead to him being courted by so many clubs in the first place.
As we approach the European Championships this summer we are in a situation in which the centre back position is as much in contention as it has ever been. This is the perfect time for young Phil Jones to establish himself as England’s first choice centre back. He may not quite be the best yet but you can bet that if any Premier League club were allowed to sign just one English defender most would go for Phil Jones. In terms of ability he is up there with the best our country has to offer, and he will only get better. Furthermore, on the international stage we have been struggling to play the sort of possession football that seems to be so key in such competitions. Whilst Terry and Ferdinand are perfectly competent in possession they do not have the same vision and drive as Jones. If England is to play the way that Capello intends then we must have the ability to keep the ball comfortably in any area of the pitch. Not only does Jones offer this to the defence but he can be the base of our attacks, For too long have England fans had to watch Rio Ferdinand look up when in possession, pretend to pick out a man and then just hoist the ball as far up the pitch as he can. Jones can and will provide genuine creativity from defence and between them, him and Parker could be the key to unlocking the potential of the England’s attacking talent.
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