Allardyce faith in Blackburn youth paying off for Jones
Phil Jones is such a passionate fan of Blackburn Rovers, the club he serves with increasing prominence, that one day Sam Allardyce quizzed him about his boyhood obsession. "Who was your hero?" asked the manager. "Alan Shearer?" Jones sighed. "I was only three when we won the league!''
Only 18, it is easy to forget Jones' tender years because of the ease with which he has settled into first-team football. None of the other blossoming crop of English teenage talent has been used as consistently as Jones, who makes his 15th successive appearance of the season at Old Trafford today.
Allardyce trusts Jones not be awed. Tried out in the Carling Cup last season, and soon tested against Didier Drogba, Jones "became a man overnight'', says Allardyce. "He roars at his team-mates if they don't do the right job! He's 18!''
Jones takes all these compliments in his stride. "Just because I'm only 18 doesn't mean I can't tell somebody off,'' he says, sitting in Allardyce's office. He has arrived early for training, a habit acquired while learning his trade at Rovers' academy.
That dream factory is only a quarter of a mile away but, significantly, down a hill. Scholars aspire to climb up to the senior training facility, another splendid reminder of the foresight and munificence of Jack Walker.
Down at the academy, others are working hard to follow Jones into Allardyce's plans. Although he intends using some of the new owners' money on Roque Santa Cruz in January, Allardyce is keen to promote from within.
"Last season was traumatic for me, having to sort out the players," he admits. "We had to replace a legend like Tugay. We needed some young enthusiastic players and we had Martin Olsson, Junior Hoilett, Phil Jones, Grant Hanley coming through. These kids are saying to the older players: 'You might not get back in.' These kids are saying to me: 'Go on gaffer, you can't leave us out on that performance.' That's a good dynamic. (© Daily Telegraph, London)