Manchester United have swept aside Liverpool and Arsenal, two of their most fierce rivals, by agreeing a £16m deal for Blackburn Rovers outstanding England under-21 international Phil Jones.
The highly-rated 19-year-old, a “Rolls-Royce” of a defender and a future England captain according to former manager Sam Allardyce, was at Old Trafford for a medical yesterday and discussions over a five-year deal with the Premier League champions, before joining up with the England under-21 squad taking part in the European Championships in Denmark.
Liverpool had been favourites to sign Jones, who has excelled both as a holding midfielder but particularly as a central defender since breaking into the Rovers first team, but Kenny Dalglish was trumped by Sir Alex Ferguson, as the United boss moved in to trigger the release clause in the youngster’s contract, whilst the powers to be at Anfield continued to haggle over price with their counterparts at Ewood Park.
Jones acquisition is also a blow to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who has now been pipped to two young English centre-halves by United in the space of 12 months. Chris Smalling joined United last summer in a £10m deal from Fulham, when the Gunners were interested and Jones will now do likewise, despite a phone-call from Wenger on Tuesday evening, trying to persuade the player that his star would shine brighter at the Emirates Stadium.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp was also interested in securing the services of Jones but admitted defeat saying: “We tried to sign him. He’s an amazing talent. It looks like one day he could be an England centre-half for many years to come.”
In the short-term, Jones will join his England under-21 team-mate Smalling as back-up for United’s first choice pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, but the duo are seen as the cornerstone of the United side for the next decade. Furthermore, with 32-year-old Ferdinand’s injury struggles, opportunities to play for both will be ample, particularly in the domestic cup competitions, group stages of the Champions League, and home matches against lower-half Premier League sides.
With the arrival of Jones, United defenders will be looking uneasily at the exit door and first through are likely to be Wes Brown and John O’Shea, who, along with midfielder Darron Gibson, could be set for a £12m move to Sunderland. Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans is also likely to leave this summer, the player having struggled when pressed into action for the champions last season.