Even the most loyal Man United fan will probably admit that Phil Jones and Chris Smalling aren’t really all that.
After all, the centre-back duo were signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2010 and 2011 respectively and were considered long-term replacements for Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at the time.
But they haven’t really developed into the players they once promised to be and are constantly on the peripherals of both United and England.
And ahead of United’s clash against Liverpool this weekend – a game that Vidic so often went to pieces in – the Serbian has claimed the pair’s slow development can be partly blamed on himself and Ferdinand’s failure to guide them through their early years at Old Trafford.
He said: “It didn’t help them because they didn’t have a more experienced player to pick their brain when they played. It’s not just about playing together with an experienced player.
“If Phil Jones is 24 and playing alongside someone who is 34, the player who is 34 years old is using his brain more than the 24-year-old.
“To rise, he needs to be encouraged a bit and made to feel comfortable in his shoes.”
The former club captain – who played for United between 2006 and 2014, winning five Premier League titles and the Champions League in that time – claims that a young player’s confidence can suffer when uncertainty starts to creep into their game.
He added: “If you lose that belief and think: ‘Should I be here, or here, or be here’ then it’s difficult to play.
“So that didn’t help them. Even if they do something bad, you say: ‘OK, he’s 24 but where was I to help him?”
It’s true that Jones and Smalling were perhaps drafted into United’s first-team sooner than anticipated, mainly due to Ferdinand’s persistent back problems and a nasty cruciate ligament injury sustained by Vidic in December 2011.
Ferdinand and Vidic are widely considered one of the Premier League’s greatest centre-back pairing, and it was always going to be tough to match their success.
Vidic eventually moved to Inter in 2014 and retired in 2016, while Ferdinand spent a solitary season at QPR before retiring in 2015.
This season, Jones and Smalling have been regularly in and out of United’s first-team, although Smalling has started consecutive games under Jose Mourinho in recent weeks, while both players have earned 7.16 ratings on WhoScored so far.
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