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The Manchester United manager may deploy the struggling centre-back in midfield for good, while Theo Walcott paid old team-mate Robin van Persie a visit after the Manchester derby

THE
SWEEPER
TIDYING UP ALL THE LOOSE STORIES IN FOOTBALL THIS WEEK


By Wayne Veysey and Greg Stobart


STRUGGLING JONES FORCES SIR ALEX TO RETHINK DEFENSIVE PLANS

When Manchester United fought off competition from all of their Premier League rivals to sign Phil Jones from Blackburn in a £16.5 million deal in 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson thought he was a player in the mould of John Terry and Tony Adams.

Jones, however, has so far failed to flourish as a central defender and the 20-year-old has been predominately played at right-back or in central midfield.

While he has plenty of time on his side to develop his awareness as a centre-back, United sources have told The Sweeper that Ferguson increasingly feels Jones’ future lies as a box-to-box midfielder.

“He is making slow progress at centre-back and has so many problems to iron out, particularly his positional errors,” an Old Trafford source told The Sweeper. “With his power and stamina there’s a feeling he could be best used as a driving midfielder.”

Concern over whether Jones can cut it at centre-back has prompted United to consider potential defensive targets for the summer transfer window, especially with their tried and trusted partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic expected to be broken up.

Goal.com revealed in October that United are considering selling captain Vidic as a consequence of his on-going injury problems amid interest from big-spending Anzhi Makhachkala.

Ferdinand, meanwhile, is out of contract at the end of the season and despite his impressive form this season is believed to be “miles away” from agreeing a new deal.

WALCOTT VISITED VAN PERSIE AFTER MANCHESTER DERBY

Manchester United are among the elite clubs who are keen to take advantage of Theo Walcott's contract stand-off with Arsenal.

The forward's excellent relationship on and off the pitch with Robin van Persie could play a part in a race that also features rivals Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea, with the European champions understood to be the marginal favourites to capture the England international's signature if he cannot agree new terms with Arsenal.

The Sweeper understands that Walcott visited Van Persie after last Sunday's Manchester derby and the X Factor final, which the United striker attended.

Van Persie spoke highly of Walcott's contribution to his own success last season, in which he was the double-winning Footballer of the Year, and is believed to have encouraged the winger to follow him to the Old Trafford giants.

Walcott's camp have said that Van Persie's exit last August was crucial in the wide player's decision to reject Arsenal's offer of a five-year contract.

Negotiations with the 23-year-old are continuing and there is still hope among senior officials that he will sign a new deal.

Nevertheless, there is a fear at the top of the club that Walcott will 'do a Flamini' and follow in the footsteps of the Frenchman four years ago by leaving on a free transfer at the end of the season.

FULHAM INVESTIGATE BOATENG CONTRACT 'ANNULLMENT'

Fulham's lawyers have been enlisted to investigate the legitimacy of Derek Boateng's contract with Ukranian club Dnipro.

In talks at Fulham's Motspur Park headquarters last week, Boateng and his representatives are believed to have told the club that his deal with Dnipro, who he joined in the summer of 2011, has been annulled.

The midfield anchorrman, who is a firm January target for Martin Jol, claims that the expiration of the contract means that he is now a free agent and available to move to Craven Cottage.

Fulham are investigating whether Boateng's claim is watertight before offering a contract to a player who had fallen dramatically down the pecking order at Dnipro under another former Tottenham boss, Juande Ramos.

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