Jones explains emotional Old Trafford return
Manchester United defender Phil Jones has a new mindset after returning from a lengthy injury lay-off, as he appreciates the backing of the club's supporters.
The fans afforded the centre-back a moving ovation when he produced an excellent display on his senior return, against Wolves at Old Trafford, and he also came off the bench in the Emirates FA Cup tie with Middlesbrough.
It has been a long road back for the 30-year-old but he is feeling strong and hopeful of making more appearances before the season is out.
Just getting back out on the field was one of the highlights of his career, and he explained why he was so emotional at the end of the Wolves clash during an exclusive interview with club media.
“It was incredible," he said. "An incredible feeling. One of the best, it’s weird as I’ve won the Premier League and been involved in some huge games but that was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had at United.
“To play in the game and get the reception I did, I just felt that energy and it was incredible. I can never thank the fans enough for the reception they gave me. It was an incredible feeling and it gives you goosebumps just thinking about it.
“I’d been out for so long and worked so hard to get back. I was so focused on the game and wasn’t expecting that but, to have that when the game has finished, you know you’ve lost the game but they were singing my name as I was walking off. It was an incredible feeling, an incredible feeling.
“It was emotional because my little girls haven’t been able to see me play," he admitted. "When they were born, they were too young to realise, I mean they knew what daddy did but haven’t never really been able to see me play and understand it to its full.
“Seeing them in the crowd, them being there, having gone through it with me in the last two years, it was the emotions of the fans, the crowd and just being able to play football again. Simple as that. It was an awful result, not what we wanted but, looking back, it was a huge highlight in my career. People wouldn’t think it’s a highlight but it meant more than a lot of other games.”
The long-serving Red admits he is his own harshest critic and would rather the team had won than his performance be lauded as our best on the night. It was clear he would have been voted our Man of the Match in the 1-0 defeat and the individual display was outstanding, particularly considering it was his first senior appearance since January 2020.
“I'm my own biggest critic," he confessed. “I could have the best game in the world but I’m always like I could have done that, or should have done that, I should have been tighter there, I shouldn’t have allowed the ball to go over the top of my head, I shouldn’t have let it bounce.
“I'm always looking for perfection. It’s just who I am as a person in day-to-day life, forget football. It’s what I’m like off the pitch. Yeah, I played well but, ultimately, and it sounds awful, I’d rather not have played as good and we got three points.”
Jones has regularly been in matchday squads and did get another taste of action against Boro, something he is looking for more of as the run-in to 2021/22 approaches.
“I had 30 minutes against Middlesbrough when Rapha [Raphael Varane] came off,” he said. “Any time I get on the pitch now, I go out and play with freedom, just enjoy playing football. I’ve been out for so long, so you enjoy it, play for freedom, do it for yourself, for the fans, for your family.
“It’s the way you’ve got to be. You can’t live in fear on the pitch or fear of walking out on the pitch. What could it be like if I’ve done that or do that and then this is going to happen… Just go out and play football.”
The centre-back cannot wait for the opportunity to pull on the red jersey again and contribute to the cause.
"I turned 30 the other week and still feel young and fresh," he added. "I feel I’ve a lot more to give still, as long as I feel great, I can continue for as long as I can.
“[My ambition is] Just try to play as many games as I can. Try to be involved in things, to be part of the games. I know, when you’ve been out for a while, people think yeah, he’s been out for a while but I’m ready. I know I’m capable of playing.
"Hopefully, I proved that against Wolves. I don’t want that to be a one-off. I want more. I’ll keep myself in the best shape I can so when the time comes, hopefully I’ll get some game-time towards the end of the season and I can show people why I am here.”