“Jones, arguably - the way he is looking - could be our best ever player. I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him.”
Sir Alex Ferguson proved himself to be a sound judge of talent throughout his iconic reign as Manchester United manager, but even the legendary Scot will probably admit that he got a little overexcited in his appraisal of Phil Jones in April 2013.
Having seen the England international help United wrap up a 13th Premier League title with plenty left in the tank, the feel-good factor sweeping through Old Trafford clearly clouded the judgement of those at the centre of champagne-fuelled celebrations.
Jones was, and still is, a good player, but to bill him as a future great was a bold call then and a statement of some bemusement now.
The potential was clearly there when United paid Blackburn Rovers £16.5 million for a player with only 40 appearances to his name, but the warning signs were also apparent as a deal was pushed through a few months on from a return to action after a knee cartilage injury.
Spells on the treatment table have been a running theme throughout Jones’ career, with his first season at Old Trafford – in which he made 29 Premier League appearances and 41 across all competitions – still his most productive in terms of first-team outings to date.
As his sixth season at Old Trafford draws to a close, the 25-year-old is averaging just 24 games a season.
Fitness issues and regular changes in management have done little to aid his cause, while Jones has also found that the versatility which made him such a useful asset for club and country at one stage is now actually holding him back. He has become the archetypal Jack of all trades and master of none.
To his credit, Jones has done his best to shed that label this season, with Jose Mourinho offering him a regular run at the heart of the back four when injuries forced his hand.
“I think my days as Mr Versatile are long gone now,” said Jones.
“I don't think the manager would see me as playing right-back or in centre midfield anymore. Who knows if there was a time when I had it do it - I would be more than capable of adapting, but centre-back will always be my position now.”
That is all well and good, but an apparent solution is likely to prove part of a greater problem.
Jones could be seen to encapsulate United in 2017. When signed, and with Ferguson billing him as a global superstar in the making, both club and player had the world at their feet.
Now, though, Jones has, like United, seen his flaws exposed and been made to look ordinary, rather than legendary.
He has been unable to hold down a starting berth after seeing the path clear in front of him, with his misfortune on the injury front summed up perfectly by a return to the physio room after seeing club colleague Chris Smalling stand on his toe during an England training session.
It is now difficult to see how he slots back in, especially when everyone is fit and with the promise of more spending to come this summer.
United have already invested heavily in Eric Bailly, and there is clearly plenty still to come from him after a debut season which has seen him pick up a couple of knocks and spend time away at the Africa Cup of Nations.
With the likes of Marquinhos and Michael Keane being linked with big-money moves to Old Trafford, Jones will continue to be knocked down the pecking order. Smalling and Bailly are already ahead of him and others offer more to the collective cause.
Marcos Rojo has a mistake in him but has performed steadily this term and, like Daley Blind, offers a useful alternative in being left-footed – allowing for rotation or cover at centre-back and full-back when required.
Jones, then, in a season in which he is generally considered to have fared admirably when called upon, has still been unable to post particularly impressive numbers across any given outing (with his per-90-minute stats found in the graphics throughout this article). It is still not hard to feel that his well-known facial expressions offer more entertainment value than his performances.
A career crossroads would appear to be approaching and it is easy to argue that a summer transfer would be beneficial to all concerned, offering a clean slate to Jones and the opportunity to properly cement himself in central defence in new surroundings, while freeing up space for United to bolster their ranks.
Arsenal have been mooted as suitors in the past, but such a move would make little sense given those already on the books at Emirates Stadium. A club like Everton, though, – with Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams not getting any younger – could be a good fit and offer Jones the opportunity to follow in Phil Neville’s lead and trade utility duty at Old Trafford for a leading role at Goodison Park.
It would be a big call for a man tipped to achieve so much at the Theatre of Dreams to head for the exits before reaching his peak years, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to see where he fits into Mourinho’s bigger picture.