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17/12/2013 08:49, Report by Steve Bartram
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Jones: Future leader

The old adage decrees that a jack of all trades is a master of none. In Phil Jones, United may well have found an exception to the rule.

Still just 21 and already in his third season at Old Trafford, the England international perfectly showcased his incredible flexibility in November's victory over Premier League leaders Arsenal. Flawless in a defensive midfield role for 45 minutes, Jones was then redeployed in central defence in the second half due to Nemanja Vidic's concussion, and he was equally unyielding.

While Wayne Rooney's line-leading omnipresence earned him the official man of the match accolade, Jones' understated contribution was just as important in stifling the Gunners' creativity and, after his withdrawal from the engine room afforded Arsene Wenger's side slightly more space, demolishing any attacks on United's back four.

It takes a special player to affect such a high-level game so decisively from two different positions, especially at 21. Already in his professional career, Jones has enjoyed successful stints as a centre-back, central midfielder, right-back and man-marker. It turns out that versatility has been a common theme throughout the youngster's football life.

"He never even played in the back four for us," says Phil Hindley, who coached the nine-year-old Jones in Ribble Wanderers' Under-10s team in Preston, where Jones was born. "You could play him anywhere across the midfield or anywhere upfront and he'd regularly be among our top scorers. It's definitely rare to see a kid with the football intelligence to do that at that age. One or two positions, maybe, but not that many, and especially not when they're playing with kids a year older than them like Phil was.

"What particularly struck me about him at the time was his strength. A year's age gap at that stage is quite significant, but he more than held his own. His resistance to physical pain was exceptional as well. At that age, they'll go flying into a tackle, run on for a bit and then require treatment and there would be tears. With Phil you could see he was physically very strong and had a very high pain threshold too.

"He's the best header of a ball I've seen among kids, even at that age. At nine he could make that classic jump where the player seems to almost hover, and I remember him winning a cup final for us with one such header from a corner. You

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