Phil Jones Filling In
Phil Jones Filling In
Phil Neville was the right full back who was edged out of the Manchester United line up by future England captain and brother, Gary Neville, so he had to play left full back, although right full back was his natural position. When United obtained the services in January 2001 of the Da Silva brothers from Brazil`s Fluminense, Rafael and Fabio, the situation was repeated, and Rafael played at right back, while right footed left back Fabio`s opportunities were limited, because of United`s traditional preference for left footed players in left sided positions. Consequently, Fabio`s and Phil Neville`s appearances at left full back were determined by the fitness or form of whichever left sided defenders were available to manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, during their playing careers at Manchester United, which in Neville`s case was lengthy, although Fabio and Rafael`s sojourn at Old Trafford`s theater of dreams stadium didn`t weather the end of Ferguson`s reign as manager in 2012-13 when he retired after the team had won 13 league championship titles since his taking over the managerial repsonsibilities from Ron Atkinson in 1986. Phil Neville was amongst the players known as `Fergie`s Fledglings` that began to make their impact on the first team during the club`s first title winning campaign since 1966-67. The players, known as `the famous five`, after a series on children`s adventure novels written by Enid Blyton, were right full backs, Gary and Phil Neville, midfielder Nicky Butt, right winger, David Beckham, and forward, Paul Scholes.
Gary Neville made his debut as a substitute in a UEFA Cup tie against Torpedo Moscow in 1992-93, his only appearance that season, and Nicky Butt made but a single appearance in 1992-93 when making his debut as a substitute in a league game against Oldham Athletic, while David Beckham made his sole appearance that 1992-93 campaign on his debut as a substitute for Ukrainian right winger, Andrei Kanchelskis, in a league cup tie against Brighton. Phil Neville didn`t make his debut until 1994-95, when he made one start and one substitute appearance in the league and a single start in an FA Cup tie, but was kept out of the United line up because of brother Gary`s success in that position, who had edged out England`s Paul Parker, bought from Queens Park Rangers for £2 m on August 8 in the 1991-92 season. Although Irwin was a right footed left back too, who`d arrived from Oldham in 1990, and played at right back in the Cup Winners` Cup Final against Barcelona, which United won, 2-1, he edged out Phil`s challenge for the left back role after Irwin himself had been edged out of the right back berth by first Parker, then Gary.
Paul Scholes, of course, became a Manchester United legend, and scored both goals on his September 24 debut against Port Vale, 2-1, in the league cup. Scholes that season went on to score 5 league goals in 6 starts and 11 substitute appearances as United failed to win the title from Blackburn and lost the FA Cup Final to Everton, 0-1, in which Gary Neville and Butt started, while Scholes came on in the 72nd minute for left winger, Lee Sharpe, and that was after winning the double of league and FA Cup the previous 1993-94 season, with a grande finale against Chelsea in the knockout competition, 4-0, but the famous five didn`t figure in that final encounter. Phil Neville`s career as a utility player was phenomenal. Unable to obtain a regular spot in either full back position, Phil went on to play in defense and midfield, as well as an attacking wide player, or even center forward, during a career that saw him play more games in his stretched repertoire than many of the first team choice outfield players in any particular season. After his debut season of 1994-95, Phil Neville`s lowest number of appearances was 18 in 1996-97 when United won the fourth league title of Ferguson`s tenure, and his last season was 2004-05 when United lost both the title and the FA Cup Final, 4-5, on penalties after extra time and, although Scholes played, the emergence of Eire`s John O` Shea at right back, and the obtaining of the services of Mikael Silvester at left back from Italian giants, Internazionale of Milan for £4 m in September 1999, meant that the only member of the famous five to participate in that final was Phil`s brother, Gary, amongst the substitutes.
During his time at United Phil amassed winning medals in the league, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, and 2002-03; the FA Cup, 1995-96, 1998-99, and 2003-04; the UEFA Champions League, 1998-99; and the Intercontinental Cup, 1999. Gary didn`t retire until 2010-11, when he made just 3 league appearances, although by that time he was 36 years of age, and he`d amassed winning medals in the league, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2006-07, and 2008-09; the FA Cup, 1995-96, 1998-99, and 2003-04; the Football League Cup, 2005-06, and 2009-10; the UEFA Champions League, 1998-99, and 2007-08; the Intercontinental Cup, 1999, and the FIFA Club World Cup, 2008. Although John O` Shea seemed to fill the role of utility player at United for a while, the search for an effective replacement for Phil Neville`s talents didn`t end there. Taking advantage of Ferguson`s policy of blooding youngsters in the League Cup, O` Shea sufficiently impressed the manager in his appearances in that competition in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 to merit 4 (5) league appearances for the first team in 2001-02, and that was the lowest number of appearances John made in a career that lasted at United until the end of the 2010-11 season, during which he amassed winning medals in the league, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2010-11; FA Cup, 2003-04; Football League Cup, 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2009-10; UEFA Champions League, 2007-08; and the FIFA Club World Cup, 2008.
John O` Shea played in every position for United, including making a save from fellow Eire international, center forward Robbie Keane, as United `keeper against Spurs on February 4, 2007, when the team, 4-0 up (which is how it stayed) had used all of its substitutes, and United`s Dutch `goalie`, Edwin Van Der Sar, was taken off the pitch with a broken nose in the 83rd minute. Aged 30, O` Shea left for Sunderland on July 7, 2011, as United manager Ferguson brought in 19 year old Phil Jones as a more obvious utility replacement from Blackburn Rovers for the 2011-12 season. Jones was known for being able to play at right back, or in central defense, and as a defensive midfield player. It may`ve been felt by the management that O` Shea had proven only that he was adaptable in the positions Ferguson had picked him to play in, but age was probably a determining factor and O` Shea went for an `undisclosed fee`. O` Shea`s versatility had begun to emerge as he played at left-back, right-back, centre-back, and in central midfield during the successful 2002–03 league title campaign. In 2003-04 United were without Rio Ferdinand, after he began a suspension for missing a drugs` test in January, and O'Shea took over from Ferdinand in central defence, helping United reach the FA Cup Final where they triumphed 3-0 over Millwall. Injury to right back, and sometimes central defender, Gary Neville, in the 2005–06 season gave O' Shea more first-team opportunities. In 2006-07 O` Shea scored an injury time winner against Liverpool at Anfield stadium for United in the league, having come on as a substitute for England center forward, Wayne Rooney, and the team won the league that term. Against Everton, in one of the final games of the season, O` Shea bundled the ball into the net, after Everton goalkeeper Iain Turner fumbled left winger Ryan Giggs` corner. United won, 4-2, and it was a decisive goal. Bolton Wanderers were drawing with Chelsea, and defeat would have let Chelsea back into the title race.
During the 2007–08 season, Manchester United used O'Shea as an emergency striker, and throughout that campaign O'Shea came off the bench several times to prove himself important as a utility player on the club`s way to a league title and European Cup double. Throughout the 2008–09 season, O` Shea regularly deputized at right back, because of injuries to Gary Neville, and the versatile defender, Wes Brown, a center back often charged with right back duties. On January 20, 2009, O' Shea scored his first goal of the season against Derby County in the 2nd leg of the League Cup semi-final. O'Shea started the 2009 Football League Cup Final against Spurs, before being replaced by Serbian center back, Nemanja Vidić, in the 76th minute, and United won the game 4–1 on penalties. On 29 April 2009, O'Shea scored the only goal of the game in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Arsenal, which set United up to go on and win in the second leg, and 4–1 on aggregate. O' Shea started and played the full 90 minutes in the 2009 Champions League Final 0-2 defeat to Barcelona, and was accounted amongst United's better performers. He captained the team in the second leg of United's 2010–11 UEFA Champions League semi-final victory over Germany`s Schalke 04, although he didn`t make the final, which United again disappointingly lost at London`s national Wembley stadium, 1-3, to Spanish giants Barcelona. In many ways it was a surprise that Ferguson let O` Shea go, but hopes were high when Phil Jones was signed that United`s penchant for selecting effective utility players that performed at a successful level would continue.
Jones didn`t disappoint, although Ferguson retired in 2012-13 to be replaced by Everton manager, David Moyes, who may`ve lasted in the manager`s seat for longer than a year but for his side losing the League Cup semi-final at home to Sunderland on penalties, 1-2, after losing at the stadium of lights, 1-2, before winning, 2-1, at home in Manchester, so incurring a penalty decider. After 2 penalties United were ahead, 1-0, through Scots` mifielder, Darren Fletcher, while Jones was amongst the United players to miss and, indeed, shot over the bar. First young center forward Danny Welbeck, then Belgian left winger, Adnan Januzaj, and Jones struck out before Rafael missed the last penalty that would have drawn the tie, 2-2, resulting in a further round of `sudden death` spot kicks. At end of season Moyes was replaced by Dutch international manager, Louis Van Gaal, whose contributions to United lasted until his team won the 2016 FA Cup Final, 2-1, against Crystal Palace. His other noteworthy success was a supposedly non-trophy, the International Champions Cup, played for in the United States of America, which the club won against stiff competition and defeating Liverpool, 3-1, in the final before the commencement of the 2014-15 season in which Gaal`s team failed to win any domestic or European title. Only one trophy in three seasons since Ferguson`s 2012-13 title success suggested to United`s American owners that Jose Mourinho should be given the manager`s role at the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
Mourinho had steered Porto (2003-04) and Internazionale (2009-10) to European Cup success, and the feeling around the theatre of dreams was that he should have been there sooner. Phil Jones, who`d played in that Louis Van Gaal International Champions` Cup final victory over Liverpool, added to his 2012-13 league winners` medal obtained under Ferguson`s stewardship. That term Jones made 13 starts in the league and 4 substitute appearances. In Gaal`s grandstand finish to the 2015-16 campaign Jones added an FA Cup winners` medal as an unused substitute. He`d made only 6 league starts and 0 in the FA Cup, which left Mourinho to handle a utility player, then aged 24, who hadn`t yet overachieved like his predecessors. Largely due to the absence of £ 30 m Mourinho buy from Spain`s Villareal, Ivory Coast center back, Eric Bailly, playing for his nation in the Africa Cup competition, Jones played in the successful 4-1 quarter-final win in the League Cup against West Ham, and both the 2-0 semi-final first leg win and 1-2 second leg away defeat against Hull City, which took United through to the Final, 3-2, on aggregate. Should Jones play in the final on February 26, 2017, it`d be an opportunity to prove his versatility and rank his name alongside those great utility players that Manchester United have produced over the years.