Phil Jones finally proving himself
Centre-back is probably the only position on the football pitch which requires greater nous than athleticism – though, to paraphrase Richie Benaud, don’t try it without both. Very few of its finest practitioners are anything like its finest practitioners until reaching their mid-20s – at least – often taking the best part of a decade to learn the game.
But given the expense now involved in signing elite players, clubs do all they can to identify them in their youth, and this brings with it some aggravation. Inevitably, things do not always go well, inevitably, things do not always go well at crucial moments, and people forget quite why they were excited about them in the first place.
Exactly this happened to Phil Jones, signed by Alex Ferguson partly because Raphael Varane went to Real Madrid and partly because he would otherwise have ended up at Liverpool. Confident after excelling for Blackburn, he began in the form that earned him the move, injecting pace and exuberance into a team playing well, but as the team got worse, so did he, and he was also afflicted by a succession of ever more bizarre injuries.
These, along with his freegurning, uninhibited and avant-garde style of defending - block-tackling with his head and the like – made him something of a joke. Yet through it all, the talent remains, and, amazingly, a run of games, in the same position, alongside the same partner, in an improving team, for a manager who knows about clean sheets, has shown him to be composed, commanding and clever. Ok, perhaps not quite that, but even so: if he can stay fit, Phil Jones is going to make a lot of people look a lot silly. Football never ceases to amaze us.
Rooney adapting to his own limits
Not everyone was impressed when Wayne Rooney started the match on the left hand side of Manchester United’s attack. Partly, this was due to circumstances beyond his control; with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia all absent, United lacked pace and directness out wide, all the more apparent given a life-sized buoy of a centre-forward.
But playing from the left – not on the left – also suits the player that Rooney now is. He is less likely to ruin promising passing with a bad first touch, aimless punt, speculative chip or slowly-spread pass, and adds greater goal-threat to a team lacking both reliable and regular scorers.
And, though neither he nor Zlatan Ibrahimovic are especially into sprinting, they share the obvious chemistry of natural footballers, reading each other’s ideas and intentions. So – as he has been whenever used of late – Rooney was central to United’s most incisive play, prompting and moving with authority and conviction. With everyone fit, he may not be good enough to get into the his team’s first XI, but remains a very good option – increasingly so as the team improves. Not being a transcendent force of nature does not a useless footballer make.
Pardew only man for the job?
Alan Pardew is not everyone’s idea of perfection - a notion of which Alan Pardew seems entirely unaware. Nonetheless, it remains the case, and is surely part of the reason his jobs appear under perennial threat.
But the season before last, Pardew took Palace from relegation candidates to the top half, and just last season, Palace reached the FA Cup final, their first in 26 years and the second in their history; Pardew also scored the goal that took them there in 1990. At first glance, this might appear irrelevant to anything going on these days, but it is not. Given that he has also shown flashes of managerial brilliance in a variety of places, his status as a club legend makes him precisely the kind of manager with whom his club should keep faith. Things may not be going well at the moment, but if not him, then who?