Despite the ignominy of scoring an own goal last night, Phil Jones can, and should, be immensely proud of the great strides forward he has made this season. He's signed for one of the world's glamour teams and become a first team regular, has made his international debut and been praised by the national team manager as 'a footballer born with talent' and, if any further demonstration was needed of his Roy of the Rovers capabilities, he recently returned to action ten days after suffering a suspected fractured cheekbone.
To be called a utility player is often to be damned with faint praise, but in the case of Jones, that is impossible, because he is one of the world's best teenagers at either centre-back, right-back or in midfield. Lung-bursting and well-timed runs, last-ditch tackles, and a good passing range have been the highlights of his season so far. It has been said that too much is being asked of Jones too young, which, to put none too fine a point on it, is nonsense. He is, despite last night's freakish encounter, flourishing in the spotlight and dealing with everything thrown at him like a seasoned professional. It would be wise to place a wager on him reaching 100 international caps such is his talent, and we wouldn’t bet against him being in the mix for individual and team glory come the business end of the season.
And what of Michael Carrick? If you’d have asked him as a teenager if he ever saw himself playing in central defence, he would have probably raised an eyebrow and wondered aloud if you were fully compus mentus. Yet, with his club side suffering from retirements, injury and a lack of recruitment last summer, Carrick, the 30-year-old midfield fulcrum, has been deployed in defence at times.
It is credit to Carrick’s qualities as a footballer that he has taken on the challenge and acquitted himself admirably, but a feeling persists that until the club bring in someone to play alongside him we won’t see the full range of his capabilities. Carrick is at his best as a deep-lying central midfielder, playing with his head up and using his passing range to prompt the wide players and forwards into runs at the heart of the opposition. Too often he’s been asked to be both creator and destroyer, architect and finisher, and will surely hope that new bodies come in during the transfer window.
Yet even if they don’t, these two immensely talented footballers who can and will play anywhere for the team will have a huge say in the race for silverware over the coming months.