Jose Mourinho has revealed he feared the injury jinx which has plagued Phil Jones would end the Manchester United defender’s career.
With resources depleted, Jones has become as vital as £89million signing Paul Pogba, strike star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and midfield playmaker Juan Mata since returning earlier this month after more injury woe.
And as Mourinho starts a five-game run of fixtures against West Ham that could shape United’sseason at home and abroad, he hailed Jones for keeping his team “safe” after a string of impressive displays.
Jones, 24, burst into United’s first team at just 19 after a £16.5m move from Blackburn five years ago.
The Lancashire-born star played 41 games in his first campaign at United – but in the last three seasons made just 39 appearances with injury ravaging his career.
Now he’s back and on song – and Mourinho has claimed it’s a sight he wasn’t altogether expecting.
“The team is always the most important thing but I’m happy for him when so many people were thinking about him being injury prone and that it is difficult for him to be back to his level,” said Mourinho.
“I have to confess even myself, when he was injured again at the beginning of the season, I was also feeling that fear.
“But in the last month we have seen him deliver great performances at a moment when the team has lost Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling. Phil gave us the stability we have at the moment.
“He has a good personality and now, with one or two weeks of football and training, looks very sharp and the team are safe.”
In an era where modern coaches like their defenders to be elegant, classy and carry the ball Mourinho likes Jones because he’s a “proper” defender – like his former Chelsea skipper John Terry.
“He likes to defend as a defender,” said the United boss.
“Sometimes defenders now think the most important quality is to build from the back.
“That is not the most important quality. The most important quality is to defend.
“Then, if you can add quality in the building up, you become a very good player. It is difficult to compare players. Jones is faster than John, John is better in the air than Jones.
“They are different players but what I like is defenders that enjoy to defend. That is the most important quality in a central defender.
“I am getting that from Jones when he was not really ready to play.
“He stepped up because the team didn’t have players to play at Swansea and gave one step forward.
“I went for it and the most relevant thing is that he has now played three matches in a row and he hasn’t done that for quite a while.
“The biggest enemy of a player is injury and he has had many.
“So if he managed to get over that he is a very good player and it looks like he is doing that.”