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

can still see that power and desire in him now. He's obviously a long way away from the lad who I worked with, but there are still traits that I recognise. Even at centre-half against Arsenal when he was bringing the ball out, it rings a bell with me."

Already affiliated with Blackburn's school of excellence, Jones shifted position as he steadily ascended Rovers' ranks, moving infield to centre midfield from the right flank, then retreating to central defence, where he settled and played his way into manager Sam Allardyce's first team. The League Cup was utilised as a proving ground for the 17-year-old, at which point he was fast-tracked into England's Under-19s setup.

"With a name like that, I had just assumed that he was Welsh," laughs Noel Blake, England's Under-19s coach. "I was aware of Phil from my time at Stoke, when he impressed against us for Blackburn. When I went to the national team, I went into Blackburn to do some work with Gary Bowyer, who was then their Academy coach. Phil walked past and I said: 'I've always liked him; shame he's Welsh.' 'No, he's English," Gary said. Phil came into the next squad.

"He had always played well at the back for Blackburn and that's where he came in for us for his debut, and for the opening game in our European Championship qualifiers alongside Steven Caulker, but after that his final two games for us were both in a midfield holding role next to [former United midfielder] Matty James. He was outstanding. His team game and understanding were terrific, and his ability to get forward as well was an important factor.

"He wasn't just a holding player who sat there all day long. He had - and has - the intelligence to know when and where to get forward. He did it from central defence too. In a really tight game against Republic of Ireland, Phil stepped out from the back and drove from the edge of our box to the edge of their box and got a foul. We scored from the resulting free-kick and won the game 1-0, so he made the difference from that position."

It was at centre-back that Jones demonstrated his inclination to shine under greater pressure, making his Premier League bow for Blackburn against title-chasing Chelsea in March 2010. Up against Blues behemoth Didier Drogba, Jones was unfazed - even after the Ivorian's early opener - and went on to win the man of the match award in a 1-1 draw.

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