Phil Jones' rise and fall with Manchester United and England: a cycle of promise, then setbacks due to injuries

The only player chosen to represent England at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups was Phil Jones, but when Gareth Southgate gets down to choose his team for Qatar 2022, he won't even be mentioned.

The 30-year-old defender is currently unable to compete for Manchester United in the Premier League as he was not included in the team's official roster. He might be added in January, but he would first need to demonstrate his fitness since it has been since May 2019 that he has started consecutive league games.

Jones may have played his final match for the team he joined as a teen in 2011, as his Old Trafford contract expires in the summer. However, after more than two years of setbacks and injuries that Jones has privately referred to as "hell," it's likely that a player once praised by managers like Sir Alex Ferguson, Fabio Capello, and Southgate will be allowed to quietly depart. United hold the option to extend his contract by another year.

Ferguson flew Jones out to join a family vacation in the south of France in 2011 because he was so eager to sign Jones away from Blackburn Rovers. The sales presentation was effective since United agreed to a transaction for more than £16 million despite opposition from Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal.

Ferguson had initially become interested in Jones 18 months previously when Blackburn defeated United's under-18 team, which featured a teenage Paul Pogba, in the FA Youth Cup's fifth round. Ferguson, however, changed his mind after seeing Jones play for Blackburn's first team during a 7-1 loss at Old Trafford.

Even now, Jones claims it's a day he'd rather forget, but Ferguson saw the 18-year-old yell and curse at teammates who were more than ten years older than him. One of them was Michael Salgado, a seasoned defender for Real Madrid with more than 300 appearances under his belt and two Champions League titles. Ferguson reasoned that Jones would be comfortable entering a United dressing room that included players like Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, and Wayne Rooney if he was self-assured enough to criticize Salgado. He was accurate.

Jones participated in 41 games during his first season and was a part of the Premier League champions the following year. By the end of 2013, Real Madrid's Champions League round-of-16 matchup with him was so heavily influenced by an ankle ailment. Fantastic in a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, he was unable to play in the second leg in Manchester, which is best known for Nani's contentious red card for a high challenge, and United lost 2-1.

Despite the fact that injuries were never far away, Jones played 216 games between 2011 and 2019—an average of roughly 30 per season. He took on any position that was required of him, mostly at center back but also at right back and in midfield.

He played center midfield for England in 2011 while still a teenager against a Spain team that featured Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and Xabi Alonso. England triumphed by a score of one. Jones was previously compared to renowned Italian defender Franco Baresi by Capello, the manager of England from 2007 to 2012. Jones was once predicted by Sir Alex Ferguson to rank among United's greatest-ever players due to his ball-handling skills, physical characteristics, and adaptability.

Also a great supporter, Southgate stated in 2017: "He keeps his cool while playing the ball. He has excellent game reading skills, is aggressive in his defending, which I appreciate, and I believe he has a wealth of experience. He is well-organized and competitive."

Although practically every manager Jones has worked under has given him their support, Jones' career runs the risk of being remembered more for the games he missed than the ones he actually played.

In part due to worries that Jones had just finished a season in which he had suffered three consecutive injury layoffs due to issues with his head, knee, and shoulder, Louis van Gaal sought to recruit Mats Hummels from Borussia Dortmund when he took over as United manager in 2014. However, following a series of examinations conducted over the summer, United's medical staff informed Van Gaal and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward that Jones, who was 22 at the time, was in excellent physical shape and that, barring any freak accidents, he was anticipated to be available for the entire campaign.

After starting the first three league games, he was forced to miss nearly a month of action due to a hamstring strain in early September. He was back to full strength and in the lineup for a 2-2 draw with West Brom in late October, but a shin ailment prevented him from starting again until mid-December.

The boss loves Jones, he has a string of good performances, and then he suffers another injury setback. It is a common motif.

Jones started eight of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first 11 games as interim manager after the Norwegian was named in December 2018. It led United to extend his contract to four years, however he has only started 16 games since the contract was signed in February 2019. He missed over a year of action due to a knee injury sustained in February 2020, and during the COVID-19 epidemic, he was on the verge of retiring.

Jones hasn't updated his 2.1 million Twitter followers since May 2017 due to injury issues that have resulted in internet abuse. His Instagram posts to his 1.3 million followers likewise stopped shortly after. And to make matters worse, he has experienced personal assault while out with his wife and two young girls, which has had a negative impact on his mental health over the past two years.

He hasn't played since April, when Ralf Rangnick strangely selected him for the 4-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield. This summer, he stayed behind at Carrington to follow a personal training regimen while the team's new manager, Erik ten Hag, led the group to Thailand and Australia for preseason. Due to a lack of fitness that prevented him from leaving Old Trafford during the transfer window and the lack of a timetable for his comeback, Ten Hag concluded it was unnecessary to register him for the Premier League or Europa League.

Jones will therefore watch the World Cup from home for the first time since he was 18 when it begins in Qatar in November. Even though it has been acknowledged that it will have to be at a different club, he is still only 30 and still has hope of playing regularly again. Most footballers can only dream of having a career like his after playing more than 200 games for United, earning 27 matches for England, and winning the Premier League, FA Cup, and Europa League. But the possibility of what might have been will always linger.