No Longer Prospects Without Positions: Jones and Wilshere Break old English Mould

Originally published for The False Nine on February 21 2013.

Phil Jones’ second season at Manchester United began muted by injury. The sight of him initially struggling to find form felt strangely and shamefully satisfying, and yet as he limped off on Monday night against Reading the only thoughts that one could conjure were those of loss and interruption.

A series of gut-busting displays last year flicked the switch on the Phil Jones hype machine, which quickly spiralled out of control. In no time at all, the versatile young defender was being touted as the nation’s latest elemental wonderkid and a future saviour and captain of England. It appeared amorphous potential and purely physical gifts had once again seduced pundits into holding faith in one of English football’s most dangerous and enduring myths: the cult of the individual hero.

Thanks to his gurning enthusiasm, Jones was soon praised from on high as the latest wild prodigy of England – a player of such capacity that his mere presence flies the face of the complicated and unnecessary intellectualism of tactics. Fortunately, it is Sir Alex Ferguson and not some blinkered Luddite who steers the young defender’s progress. Continue reading

Is Berbatov the answer to United’s midfield question?

Is Berbatov the answer to United’s creative gap in midfield?

For the past few seasons, Manchester United’s midfield has become a figure of ridicule, on par with Arsenal’s goalkeeper crisis and the perennial lack of width in Liverpool’s squad. As always, the fans disagree on the solution to Sir Alex’s dilemma, with factions clashing over rival cures: a proven Premiership playmaker like Luka Modric, a hard man in mould of Roy Keane, new signing Shinji Kagawa or a talent trawl for the next Ronaldo.

With his graceful power and embarrassment of elegant technique Dimitar Berbatov is, on paper, the quintessential creative target man for the modern game, yet he has at times struggled to shine on a consistent basis for United. However, the Bulgarian’s ability to read the game, thread a pass and keep possession have lead some admirers to suggest him as a left-field solution to a midfield that often seems to lack inspiration. Continue reading