Date: 16th July 2012 at 2:12pm
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If you have Twitter I wouldn’t advise that you follow Piers Morgan.

The man is odious and highly irritating as can be seen in his exchanges with a number of our plays as well as other players and celebrities.

I prefer to avoid him but I must confess I have been on his profile to view his tweets before and one thing I noticed and has stuck with me is his bio. The CNN presenter states:

‘One day you’re the cock of the walk, the next a feather duster.’

A rehashed version of Tina Turner’s quote from the film Mad Max, I find that it is often applicable in football. How often have we been told that a player is going to be the next big thing only for them to fall well short of the mark?

2 years ago we profiled the Brazilian Ganso as a potential world beater, now Santos are looking to get shot of him, attempting to get as much as they can for the share they own in the player. Attitude and injury has seen the talented #10 tail off whilst partner in crime Neymar looks well on his way to superstardom (or at least notoriety due to that awful haircut).

Although nowhere near as extreme as Ganso, could Manchester United also have a ‘feather duster’ on their hands?

Phil Jones’ debut season at Old Trafford was the epitome of ‘rollercoaster’. Early performances saw him praised by everyone from Sir Bobby Charlton to Fernando Hierro. His marauding runs up the pitch caught the eye whilst a combative display against Euro and World champions Spain saw further praised heaped on him.

Having turned 20 earlier this year, it was a bright spotlight to shine on the youngster. At that age one of the biggest problems a player can face is being consistent; it is hard to maintain a good level and Jones like many before him struggled to do so.

An elbow from Clint Dempsey and then being publicly man handled by both Yakubu and Demba Ba signalled a rough spell over Christmas/New Years for Jones thus Sir Alex did the right thing by pulling him out of the spotlight.

He was still a part of the team but he was given less responsibility, although after Rafael’s poor showing against Everton late in the season Jones was restored to the team starting all 3 of United’s remaining games.

Compared to Duncan Edwards and touted as a future England captain, Jones found that the same people building him up were now tearing him down yet the Lancashire born player is just as strong mentally as he is physically and refused to be phased, stating:

“It’s been a massive learning curve for me and I’ve played a lot of games this season and I’ve really enjoyed playing.”

So this coming season with the experience of last year under his belt he should do better, but the question is will he?

Last season as his star shone brightly one question dominated talk about him; will he end up a midfielder or a center back?

Whilst Jones himself agreed with Sir Alex Ferguson and stated that he would end up in the heart of defence, a number of other managers suggested he could ply his trade in different positions.

Sam Allerdyce suggested that he be deployed at right back to get the most out of his ability on the ball and attacking instincts, whilst then England manager Fabio Capello, who played Jones in 3 different positions in the 3 times he was capped under the Italian, suggested that he take up a holding midfielder role.

The uncertainty about his position was compounded by the fact that whilst he struck up a reasonably impressive partnership in midfield with Michael Carrick prior to the return of Paul Scholes, his best performances came at right back. He would go on the rampage down the flank bustling past players as he did against Chelsea and Bolton to brilliant effect.

Ok in midfield, good at right back, so what about his actual position at center back?

To say his performances at center back were a disaster would be too strong, but they left a lot to be desired. It was in this position that he struggled against Yakubu and Ba as well as putting in some rather unconvincing displays in Europe.

Although Sir Alex state that he would be used as a center back, of the 3 positions he played last term center back wasn’t the primary role he was used in.

So having experienced the highs and lows of a season at Old Trafford whilst still failing to ascertain where exactly it is he will make his bones for United, what now for Jones?

Be under no illusion that at just 20, Jones has YEARS left at the top of the game. He has displayed that he is competent at performing a number of roles and is a highly gifted player, but at the same time he faces a task in establishing himself.

He may very well become England captain in the future but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that it will require plenty of work. If Jones is to become a center back then we will have to endure some more uncertain performances and even some horror shows to get him there.
It is only by playing in the position that he will get to the level that people expect, and not against mediocre opposition either, he needs to be tested against quality to not only see how he reacts in certain situations but to give him the invaluable experience he needs.

Gary Neville once said that his brother Phil suffered because of his versatility and some say the same of John O’Shea. Jones’ versatility can and appears to be working against him too as he finds himself played in a plethora of positions except the one where it is stated he will end up.

As a professional and an extremely gifted player I’m sure Jones has no problems being rotated but there comes a point where he will have to focus on one position or his career could very well go the way of Phil Neville and John O’Shea (This is by no means a slight on either player, both were brilliant servants to the club and I will even go as far as saying the sale of John O’Shea was one of the contributing factors in our failure to retain the title last season).

Last summer, after a tough season it was presumed that Jonny Evans would be the player on the outside looking in, in terms of our young center backs. But he redeemed himself with his performances last term, and now the highly touted Jones faces a tough task of securing a place in the heart of defence, especially as Chris Smalling has impressed enough in defence previously to ensure that he will be a strong candidate to step in when the likes or Ferdinand and Vidic wind down their careers.

Opportunities will arise for Jones though, we seem incapable of keeping a clean bill of health at Old Trafford. Rio Ferdinand is a season older and whilst he managed to stay relatively injury free last season, this was an anomaly when looking at previous seasons and I don’t think anyone would put their house on him doing the same this year. Also we don’t know how the ruptured cruciate ligaments in Nemanja Vidic’s knee have affected his game. Such a severe injury at his age can’t be helpful (although we cross our fingers he returns as the colossus that he departed!).

Jones was the ‘cock of the walk’ at the start of last season and he has shown me enough to know that he can get back to being that. It will come with maturity as well as development, which he has a good few years of to come. But he will need to settle on a position, develop in that position and attempt to master it.

What position that is, I’m not sure. Even the ‘experts’ are undecided but I personally can see a role in midfield for Jones (don’t quote me on that!) especially with his energy and the uncertainty over Darren Fletcher’s future.

Uncertainty over where he will operate will only serve to harm his progress, I think most would agree with that. So to avoid the addition of any more feather dusters to United’s long illustrious history, I’d say this season is where we start to nail down a position for the England international.