Defiant Phil Jones defends his career & backs Solskjaer to bring glory back to Man Utd

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The defender insists the criticism and even mockery that he receives does not bother him as he prepares to play his part in a new era at Old Trafford

Phil Jones knows what you might think of him. He is far from the only Manchester United player to have struggled in the post-Ferguson years, but he seems to attract criticism, sometimes even ridicule, more than most.

But he believes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is leading United out of their damaging “transition period” and, having signed a new long-term deal at Old Trafford just last month, insists he is ready to play his part in the club’s future.

He has a message for his doubters, too.

When that new contract was announced in February it got plenty of attention – and not all of it good - but it is one that puts him on course to celebrate more than 10 years at Old Trafford. He could soon join the likes of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in having a testimonial to honour his service to the club.

Jones, though, is not so sure about that.

“I wouldn’t go that far, there’d be only my mum and dad who would turn up,” he laughs, in an exclusive interview with Goal.

The 27-year-old insists the criticism he has endured at times over the past few years does not bother him, but he clearly knows it is there.

How could he not?

United love their social media insights and they might have noticed that tweets announcing Solskjaer and Marcus Rashford as manager and player of the month for January received 246 and 419 replies respectively. On the very same day, the announcement of Jones’ new contract garnered more than 6,500 replies.

The most-liked of those is a picture showing Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez crying. There is a picture of former United boss Jose Mourinho covering his eyes. You get the idea.

That kind of response has become commonplace as Jones’ United career has progressed, but he says his self-deprecation regarding the prospect of his own testimonial, perhaps his entire reputation, stems from his formative years as a footballer rather than some difficult recent seasons at Old Trafford.

“Ever since I was at Blackburn, when you talk about getting pro contracts I was never the guy that was talked about as, ‘This guy is going to be the best player, the next best thing’,” he says.

“I was always the guy who just managed to get one and went under the radar a bit, and the next minute I was playing in the first team and the lads who were tipped to be the next best thing are working in an office, and that’s how it goes.

“I enjoy that, I enjoy the way I go about it. I feel like I’m improving, I’ve still got a lot to improve, a lot to learn, and I’m excited for the challenge.”

That’s not all strictly true, though. Not only was he tipped to be the next best thing at Manchester United, he was tipped to be the best thing since Duncan Edwards, the beloved Busby Babe who lost his life following the Munich air disaster in 1958. What’s more, it was the legendary Ferguson who came up with the comparison.

“Bar that one,” Jones smiles. “Bar that one.”

He insists, though, that it has not been hard to deal with. “Not really, because when I was younger I used to take a lot of things for granted, you hear that and it’s great at the time but you don’t dwell on it, you don’t look back on it.

“It’s only in time that’s gone by and you look back on what people have said about you that, yeah, you do realise that it was such a good comment, maybe it did put me under a bit of pressure but at the time I don’t feel like I did.”

It certainly set a high bar, and initially it was one Jones looked ready to live up to. He impressed in his first season at Old Trafford, especially as he could play right-back, centre-back or in midfield.

And while back, knee and ankle problems kept him out for large parts of his second season, he still played his part as Ferguson signed off with his 13th and final league title.

Jones quote

Injuries have been common in the years since then, and like many United players in the past five years he has been done few favours by constant managerial upheaval.

Very few of his team-mates have been able to demonstrate their best talents in the years since then under David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, but Jones is cut less slack than others.

“I’m lucky, I’m lucky enough that I am strong mentally,” he says. “I know a lot of players will come out and say in the press that it doesn’t bother them and then two minutes later they’ll be on the Daily Mail on their phones, but it genuinely doesn’t bother me.

“I have a wonderful family, wonderful friends and I have a little girl now and I don’t care what people say. People can make their own opinions up, ultimately I’ve got another contract at United, I’ve been here for eight or nine years now and I’ve won the Premier League, been to two World Cups, been to a Euros, played in the Champions League, won the Europa League, the FA Cup, so people can talk but ultimately they’re the stats and that’s what I’ve done.”

Perhaps he has not done himself any favours. Barely a game goes by without Jones pulling an amusing face while throwing himself into some sort of challenge or other, and he says even his wonderful friends have got in on the act when it comes to memes and gifs.

“It’s banter, my mates banter me all the time about it. It is what it is. I’m not too fussed about that either. My mates send me pictures every single night on the Whatsapp group taking the mick out of me. It’s banter, it is what it is. It doesn’t bother me.”

Jones can always reel off his list of honours if things go too far and it just might be the case that he will be able to add to that tally of trophies won over the course of his new contract.

Solskjaer won manager of the month for January but his golden touch has not worn off since, and with the former United striker set to be handed the job on a permanent basis Jones believes - genuinely, he emphasises - that the club are close to the glory years once again.

“When I’ve been asked that question in the past and we were going through a transition phase I always used to say, ‘I don’t think we’re far’, but I genuinely don’t think we’re far away.

“I think we’ve got a really good squad, we’ve got exciting players coming through, we’ve got a good mix of youth and experience and you can see, the way we’re playing, teams fear us again, don’t want to play us again and slowly but surely we’re getting back to our best. We’re still learning, we’re still improving but we’ll get there.”

Jones quote

So United are finally out of their transition period then?

“I think we are out of that. Well, we’re not out of it completely, we’re probably going to add a few more players in the summer, but we’re looking good, we’re looking sharp, we look a threat every time we go forward and like I said, teams fear us again.”

United are bound to make some moves in the transfer market, and a centre-back is sure to be close to the top of their wish list.

But that prospect seems to bother Jones about as much as the jibes and the memes.

“The way I see it is it’s just like when I signed; we’re Man United, of course we’re going to be attracted to the best players in the world and I’d be disappointed if we weren’t, I want to win things as well.

“It might sound very clichéd but it’s great. You want to win things, you want the best players to come to Manchester United and if we’re playing better and we’re winning things and we’re challenging for things then we’re going to attract the best players.

“We’re always going to attract the best players because everybody wants to play for Man United. It’s like when I signed, that’s how the club works and the club runs, but I embrace the challenge and I look forward to it.”

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