When I marked Ronaldo
Phil Jones’s enthralling episode of the UTD Podcast has covered many important issues off the pitch, including mental health and the pitfalls of social media.
But the centre-back also talks at length about a decorated career which has so far seen him make 224 appearances for Manchester United and win five trophies.
One of many performances in a red shirt that earned Phil widespread praise came in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League, when our no.4 was deployed by Sir Alex Ferguson in an unfamiliar central midfield role.
Playing out of position can be challenging at any time, but Jones was asked to fulfil the role in the round-of-16 first leg against Real Madrid, champions of La Liga and a side containing names such as Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil and a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Phil was given the thankless task of protecting the back four and shadowing Ronaldo, who was in his merciless prime having scored a barely believable 180 goals in 177 games for the Spanish giants at that point. Goal no. 181 would follow during an exciting 1-1 draw, when the forward rose above Patrice Evra to head home at the far post and equalise 10 minutes after Danny Welbeck had put the Reds ahead.
Jones felt he performed his job well, though, even if he had to resort to some unorthodox tactics to stop the Portuguese star.
“That’s probably one of my stand-out games for United, at the Bernabeu,” Jones said.
“Cristiano was playing for them at the time and I remember the manager said to me, ‘wherever he goes, you follow him’.
“So, I went up for our corners just to be able to run back with him. I didn’t go up to score or anything, it was just so I ran back before he ran back, so the counter-attack wasn’t there! It was a crazy game.”
Eight years on, Jones appreciated it when Sir Alex reminded him of his accomplished midfield showing when, last May, he attended the premiere of the former manager's film Never Give In.
“I was with a few of the other lads, and for him to say that, to say he hadn't forgotten about you and understand what you did, was really nice,” Jones told the UTD Podcast.
“You don’t really get chance to look back at your career, it's only when you finish that you do that and look at how well you played. It was a nice feeling.”
Phil has since been reunited with Ronaldo after the latter’s shock summer transfer from Juventus. And while, like many other members of the squad, Jones is delighted to be able to count the five-time Ballon d’Or winner as a team-mate, he’s also keen to praise the person behind the famous face.
“It’s incredible to have him back at the club, he’s a legend here,” Phil added.
“The fans love him, you could see that in his first game back at Old Trafford. Just the way he conducts himself in and around the training ground. The aura he has when he’s here.
“He’s a nice human being first and foremost. People don’t realise he’s just a human being at the end of the day. He might be an incredible footballer and the best in the world but he’s a dad and people just forget all that sort of stuff. It’s great to have him back.”
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