Roy Keane and Phil Jones: a comparison
When anyone mentioned Manchester United during the years 1997 to 2005, the first name that would spring to mind would probably be Roy Keane. The man was a machine on the field and was probably one of the most feared players in the world.
Keane began his club career in Nottingham Forest where he netted 22 times in his 114 appearances. In 1992, he was voted the club’s Player of the Season and started attracting attention from the top clubs in the Premier League. He was snapped up by Manchester United in 1993 from right under the nose of Blackburn Rovers who had already signed a tentative deal with him, which was cancelled after Keane received a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson. The fee of £3.75 million was a British transfer record at the time.
Despite the high transfer fee, there was no guarantee that Keane would go straight into the first team as Paul Ince and Bryan Robson were still going strong. However, the 36-year-old Robson suffered a series of injuries, which kept him out for most of the 1992-93 season that gave Keane the chance to prove himself to the Old Trafford faithful. Keane grabbed the opportunity as he scored two goals on his home debut in a 3-0 win against Sheffield United and grabbed the winner in the Manchester derby three months later. He also helped seal the club’s first ever Double as United won the Premier League and the FA Cup.
1995 was a year that saw a change of guard for United as Paul Ince left for Inter Milan and Mark Hughes left for Chelsea. Younger players like David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes came into the side. Roy Keane was suddenly the most experienced player on the field for United. Despite a slow start to the 1995-96 season, United came back strongly to earn their second Double in three years. The following season, United won another Premier League title as Keane struggled with a series of knee injuries.
After the unexpected retirement of Eric Cantona, Roy Keane was handed the captain’s armband. However, he missed out on most of the 1997-98 season due to a ligament injury caused due to an incident with Alf-Inge Haland, which later escalated to massive proportions four years later. United missed out on the Premier League that season and many people claimed Keane’s absence as a reason. The following season was Keane’s finest at United as he returned from injury strongly to lead United to the Treble of the FA Cup, the Premier League and the Champions League.
In the first leg of the semifinal of that fateful 1999 UEFA Champions League campaign, United were outclassed by a rampant Juventus at Old Trafford. United went into the second half trailing by a goal. In the very last minute of the game, Giggs smashed in a shot of a Beckham cross to level the tie.
The second leg between United and Juventus at the Stadio Delle Alpi was hailed as Roy Keane’s finest hour. Proceedings began terribly for United as the Red Devils conceded two goals in the opening 11 minutes. That was when Roy Keane decided to step up and change the game. In the 23rd minute, Keane headed in a Beckham cross to get the wheels in motion for United. The goal led to an inspiring spell of play from United at the end of which Yorke headed in to level the tie. The stalemate continued right through the second half until Andy Cole slotted in coolly at the far post with just about 6 minutes to go. The goal put United through to the Champions League final.
Roy Keane was a man on a mission in the match. Unfortunately, he picked up a yellow card in the second half, which ruled him out of the finals against Bayern Munich. After United won the dramatic finals, Roy Keane said, “Although I was putting a brave face on it, this was just about the worst experience I’d had in football.”
Keane led United for another six seasons before announcing his departure on 26 November 2005 after tensions rose between him and the United authorities. Roy Keane was a determined, controversial, strong, feared and well-respected Manchester United legend who led the club to victory on many an occasion. He stood up and took the onus upon himself at times when the team needed him the most.
“It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.” - Sir Alex Ferguson, on Keane’s performance against Juventus.
Jones began his club career in the Blackburn Rovers youth team in 2002 and was later included in the senior team for the 2009-10 season. He was widely praised for his committed and assured performance at centre-half and caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson. On 13 June 2011, United confirmed that they had reached an agreement to sign Jones on a five-year deal. Jones made his United debut in the FA Community Shield Manchester derby. He came on to replace Rio Ferdinand when United were down 2-0. The Red Devils eventually went on to win the tie 3-2 with Jones playing a crucial role.
The first game where Jones made a real impact was on 10 September 2011in the match against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium. The final score read United 5-0 Bolton with Phil Jones providing two assists to Wayne Rooney. His next few performances against Chelsea and Liverpool were very impressive.
Not many people think of Phil Jones as a game-changer, but his performances against Everton and Real Madrid changed my entire perception of the young lad.
On 10 February 2013, United faced Everton in a crucial match. That very fixture had cost Sir Alex the title last season and he was determined not to let history repeat itself. First half goals from Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie gave United what seemed like an easy 2-0 win over Everton and increased the Red Devils’ lead at the top of the table to 12 points over defending champions Manchester City. What people were talking about after the match was not the Robin van Persie goal, not the Ryan Giggs goal, but the performance of a rampant Phil Jones who kept Marouane Fellaini quiet. Jones did such an exceptional job that it was said that whenever Fellaini is on the ball from that day on, he will always look over his shoulder expecting to see Phil Jones charging at him.
Just three days after the Everton game, United faced Real Madrid in the most awaited tie of the year. David de Gea starred as United stole a precious away goal from the Bernabeu thanks to Danny Welbeck. Probably the only player worth mentioning as a candidate for United’s Man of the Match apart from David de Gea, was Phil Jones. In the first half, former United star Crisitano Ronaldo destroyed the United defense with his blistering pace and levelled the tie with a beautiful header in his first match against his old club.
A change in tactics from Sir Alex in the second half saw Jones stalk Crisitano all over the pitch. Jones did what he had done to Marouane Fellaini, to one of the best players in the world. Hr stuck Cristiano Ronaldo in his back pocket and barely allowed him any room in midfield. The second half performances was probably the former’s finest hour as the latter’s shots on goal dried up. Apart from an 83rd minute 40-yard free-kick, Crisitano wasn’t allowed to trouble David de Gea. Unfortunately, Jones may probably miss the second leg at Old Trafford due to an injury. It will be interesting to see how Sir Alex tackles Cristiano Ronaldo without Jones in the crucial second leg tie.
Phil Jones has been nicknamed ‘jack of all trades’ for his ability to play in various positions, both offensive and defensive. Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton has said that Jones evoked memories of the late Duncan Edwards because of their similar physical presence and style of play. After his England debut, Fabio Capello said Jones was “born with talent“. Truly, Phil Jones is one for the future and can grow to become a strong, ruthless and fearless leader. He can become the Roy Keane that United will look to for inspiration, guidance and confidence.