Manchester United defender Phil Jones is bizarrely still part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans for this season after playing his first football in 19 months in a closed practice match this week.
Jones hasn’t played a competitive first-team game since January 2020 when he lined up for United in a 6-0 thrashing of Tranmere in the FA Cup.
The 29-year-old, who is rumoured to have refused to give up his number four shirt for new signing Raphael Varane, has been plagued by long-term knee trouble and underwent surgery last summer.
Already struggling for fitness in 2019, Jones had been completely out of favour even before suffering the knee injury that has kept him out for over a year. His first Premier League appearance of the 2019/20 was a woeful 45 minutes against Sheffield United in November and his only other ended up in United being comfortably beaten at home by Burnley in January.
Jones hasn’t had a regular run of starts since Solskjaer first took over as interim boss at the end of 2018. The former Blackburn prodigy started seven of the first nine Premier League games of the new regime, with United dropping only two points.
However, having returned to training, Jones was involved in United’s practice match against Burnley on Tuesday afternoon, which was played behind closed doors at Old Trafford.
The Daily Mail has since reported that it was a 30-minute run-out for him and that there will surprisingly be a role for him this season. United have well-stocked centre-back options of Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and the aforementioned Varane, but it is said that Solskjaer intends for Jones to be part of that group as a fifth centre-back, adding depth and cover.
Solskjaer appears to have a personal soft spot for Jones, sympathising with him as a result of the knee injuries that wrecked the latter stages of his own United career in the mid-2000s.
“It’s disheartening, it’s the worst thing for a footballer,” the United boss said of Jones’ ongoing situation in February of this year. “I’ve been through bad injuries myself and it might take your belief away and your enjoyment away.”
There remains a chance that Jones could leave Old Trafford though, as 90min understands a host of Premier League clubs would be interested in taking him on loan or for free; Newcastle, Everton, West Ham and Southampton among the teams to hold an interest.