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

"I remember him ploughing through a 50-50 challenge with Didier Drogba," recalled Gary Bowyer, now Rovers manager, "and then going straight into another with Frank Lampard. He came through both tackles with the ball and just stood there, clenching his fist. It nearly lifted the roof off, the reaction it got from the crowd."

While those heroics aided United's bid for an unprecedented fourth straight Premier League crown, he proved equally destructive when the Reds visited Ewood Park later that month, blunting a Dimitar Berbatov-led attack in a goalless draw which would ultimately derail United's title defence. Once again, Jones scooped the man-of-the-match award.

Now painfully aware of the youngster's defensive potential, Sir Alex Ferguson was further impressed later that year, as Jones somehow managed to emerge from Rovers' 7-1 mauling at Old Trafford with his reputation enhanced. Operating in central midfield, Jones was "running everywhere, giving them all [his team-mates] stick," Ferguson recalled. "I took a close interest from that point on."

As with his versatility and nous, Jones" resolve runs deep. "He was a winner, even as a kid," recalls Phil Hindley. "Even in the five-a-side game at the end of training, Phil was desperate to win." "He leads people," adds Blake. "At Blackburn, Phil wanted to do extra every day. He was back at the gym, always wanting to do more. He's self-driven... self-made in many respects."

Jones' drive and talent earned him a string of admirers throughout his time at Blackburn, but it was the lure of United which tempted him away from Ewood Park in the summer of 2011. Within 10 weeks of his first season at Old Trafford, he had operated in three positions with eye-catching results. Initially charged with shutting down Liverpool's Charlie Adam at Anfield in his first man-specific role, Jones was soon frying bigger fish. Last term he became a devastatingly effective coagulant to the free-flowing, free-scoring games of Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo; history's two most expensive players.

On such duties, Jones' energy and reading of the game shine through. As a central midfielder or right-back, his power and bravery elevate him. In the centre of defence, his own preferred role, there is a breathless joy to watching him maraud forward, in the same vein as Jaap Stam used to plough down the centre of the field, opponents clinging to him like

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