What happened to Phil Jones?

One of the biggest current mysteries in Premier League football has been the involvement or lack of it for Phil Jones at Manchester United.

The English defender has had an unusual career that has left many wondering what his future holds after Man Utd announced he will leave the club at the end of the 2022/23 season.

No decisions have yet been made on Jones’ next move. Retirement would not usually be a consideration given he is still only 31 years old, but Jones’ injury issues have been so severe that it wouldn’t be a shock if he called time on his playing career.

Tottenham Hotspur's Welsh defender Garet

Phil Jones was an important and versatile player for Sir Alex Ferguson / ANDREW YATES/GettyImages

Jones came through the academy at Blackburn Rovers, his local team, when he was playing as a midfielder as well as at centre-back on occasion. Having proved from a very young age he was a superb player, he became the target of a lot of big clubs.

As he explained in his open letter to Manchester United fans, it was a call from the Red Devils he was waiting for while on holiday at the age of 17.

“I had offers from a few clubs but I was waiting and waiting for the call from United. One day, on holiday, the phone rang from Sir Alex. I left my holiday that day, I couldn’t wait to meet him. I couldn’t wait to sign and, most of all, I couldn’t wait to get started. There was only one club where I wanted to continue my journey in the game.”

He was quickly involved in the first team under Sir Alex Ferguson, taking to the pitch 41 times across all competitions during the 2011/12 season. That dropped to 24 the following campaign but rose again to 39 in 2013/14 under David Moyes. He played 3,099 minutes that season, but a sharp decline followed for the next two seasons.

He played 2,074 minutes in 2014/15, and then 1,045 in 2015/16. Under Jose Mourinho in 2016/17, Jones enjoyed a decent patch of form with 2,222 minutes played and a similar figure in the next campaign. He would not reach those figures again, though, as a decline began.

He played 562 minutes in 2020/21 and just 416 in 2021/22 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick.

Phil Jones

Phil Jones played a handful of times in 2021/22 / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Under Erik ten Hag in 2022/23, Jones was not part of the team at all. He last played for United on May 3 2022 in a 3-0 win over Brentford under Rangnick, the fifth time he had played in the second half of that season. He worked hard in the summer to be fit for the arrival of Ten Hag.

Unfortunately, on the first day of training, he suffered a relapse of his knee injury that has marred his whole career and has since not been able to take part in a single training session. Overall, he has played in 229 competitive games for Man Utd, scoring six times. He got the chance to represent his country too, playing 27 times for England.

While the majority of Manchester United fans have understood Jones is seriously injury-prone and working hard to return, there was bemusement when he was offered a new contract in 2019. Despite such limited involvement and major fitness issues, he was handed a deal in 2019 that runs until June 2023 and also contains an option for a further year.

Phil Jones

Phil Jones scored for Manchester United in the FA Cup in 2019/20, his first goal since 2014 / Gareth Copley/GettyImages

Ultimately, injuries. Everyone could see during Jones’ early years at United and at Blackburn he was a serious player who could have enjoyed a career at the top level.

If you take the figures from Transfermarkt, Jones has missed 217 games of football due to injuries without factoring in the current campaign where the club have been fairly secretive about his condition. The primary issue for Jones has been his knees, but these lengthy injury spells put a strain on other areas which is why he has had hamstring, ankle and back issues among other ailments.

In a particularly upsetting moment, Jones decided to turn down the offer of a testimonial when he qualified for one, having been at the club for a decade. He reportedly joked: “Apart from my mum and dad, who else would turn up?”

In Jones’ emotional farewell letter, he addressed his fitness issues and clearly felt he wanted fans to know he tried what he could to get fit.

“I wish I could have played more. I wish I could have given more to the many squads I played alongside. I will say, from the bottom of my heart, I did everything I could. I did everything the medical team asked of me,” Jones said.

“I never left a stone unturned in the pursuit of living my dream and representing Manchester United on the pitch. I spent some difficult days away from my family, rehabilitating and recovering away from everyone, recuperating away from the training pitch, which I was desperate to get back to.

“I’ve said before that I found it hard to even speak to my team-mates, I was hurt that I couldn’t help them. I was hurt that my family couldn’t see me on the matchdays, you feel like you’re letting people down.”

Jones was quick to thank the people close to him and did not say that his playing career is over.

“I want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me at Manchester United, where I’ve made friends for life. But, most of all, my family, who stuck by me through everything. The biggest one to my wife and two beautiful girls, I cannot put into words the support you’ve given me. We’ve stuck together and I can’t wait to see what the future holds,” he said.