The need to start focusing on Phil Jones and the future

Phil Jones, Manchester United

How predictable. How predictably English. Is there any other outcome we’re likely to see from John Terry and his statement that he’d be willing to come out of international retirement? We’ve been down a similar path before with the England captaincy, at which point you would have viewed it as unthinkable that he would be offered the armband once again.

It’s so predictability English for each new coach – all of whom are entrusted with doing something different – to just go back to what everyone knows: an ageing, uninspired group of underachievers. I’m not really interested whether the FA has the power to overturn Roy Hodgson’s decision on recalling John Terry. The issue here is that we’re seeing a continuation of the cycle that keeps England moving on from times of complete failure and moderate embarrassment.

We praise the Germans and the Spanish for their academies and attitude of making the best use of their strengths. Germany, in particular, should be applauded for the way they’ve gone about their turnaround from a dry county to a land awash with some of the brightest and most talented players in the game. England want all that; because honestly who wouldn’t? St. George’s Park, the quotas enforced on club squads and the emphasis, which has only recently been picked up, that youngsters need to be brought up on smaller pitches to improve their technique. It’s something many of the leading nations in Europe have caught onto, and they’re seeing the rewards of it. England, however, remain entrenched in the mentality of what they believe to be the safe option.

The John Terry issue speaks for the wider issue. Why not use Euro 2012 to really get the best out of the youngsters in the country and prepare for the World Cup? Sorry, is that because any such act would equate to throwing in the towel? Did anyone really think England was going to make waves in a tournament which boasted the likes of Spain, Germany and Italy, among others?

What we’ve seen this season is the emergence of a player who could quite comfortably captain England in the near future. Phil Jones has been moved about the Manchester United back line as well as taking up a position in the midfield, all the while perfecting his trade for what should amount to one of England’s best talents – in any position – in a few short years.

And the rise has been dramatic. It wasn’t too long ago that you could have looked at Jones and wondered where his best position on the pitch was. On one hand, here is a player who was sent in against Real Madrid as the destroyer in midfield, which he performed incredibly well. Then you have the showings from centre-back, where he’s at times been the very last line of defence and cleared the danger as if playing in his tenth season in the top flight.

The experience of playing in midfield will suit Jones, United and England well for the future. He displays the characteristics of a monster centre-back – typically English – while possessing all the qualities to play the ball out from the back, one of the successful traits of those on the continent.

Raphael Varane has received glowing praise this season for what he’s done; putting in a man-of-the-match performance against Barcelona and earning a regular place in the Real Madrid back four. Varane will be one of Europe’s very best defenders in the future, combining the traditional characteristics with the modern. There’s no reason why Jones can’t reach that level too.

But where does it come from? Manchester United will continue to educate the player in the manner they always have, but what about the FA and England? Shouldn’t this time be used to prepare the younger players for what awaits in the coming years? What good will it do to bring in John Terry? Is England really in a position where the Chelsea defender is the best option? And I’m not talking about youngsters from the Championship or those who are clearly not ready at this time. Jones, however, is a player who needs to be prepared for life at the very top of international football. Not necessarily fast-tracking, but acknowledging where your future strengths are.

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