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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fought back against criticism of Manchester United defender Phil Jones, explaining that the 29-year-old has worked valiantly to recover from injury and there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.
Jones made his first appearance for United in 18 months in a friendly against Burnley at Old Trafford last week.
The former England international has been out with injury, the most serious of which has been a long-running knee problem.
Solskjaer, who had a couple of prolonged spells in the physio’s room himself, has sympathised with the United centre-back and offered a detailed explanation of his current situation.
Phil Jones in training on Friday afternoon.
“Phil has had a horrible 18-19 months and probably a year before that as well with injuries,” Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference.
“Phil is a no fuss, get-on-with-it type of guy. I know more than anyone how it feels to be injured at that stage. He’s still not 30 years of age. Since I came here, he’s battled with this knee injury, he’s put his body on the line, every single training session, every single game.
“There are a few times we’ve had to manage him. He’s never done anything but given everything for the club.
“I’ve wanted to say a lot, but I’ve not said a lot about Phil’s injury because I’ve wanted to protect him. Phil’s never on social media, never asked to do interviews, he just gets his head down. He’s a proper, proper professional, a no-fuss family man.
“He just wants to get back fit. We managed to get him half-an-hour against Burnley, which was the first half-an-hour against an opponent, [although] he’s played here in training. He’s working his way.
“I was out for two years in a three-year period with a knee injury. Phil has battled valiantly, I’d say. I know how Phil has felt, you’re embarrassed at times coming in. But he has to look after his career and he’s now getting back to fitness. Now is not the time to throw him in [to games].
“I think you can give him a little bit more, maybe a month, six weeks. Some behind closed doors [games] – he’ll be there. For me, as a manager, to see there’s can be light at the end of the tunnel, it’s great because I’ve been through the same.
“Sorry, that was a long one, but I feel Phil deserves that because he’s played here for 10 years and always given everything.”
Jones scored in his last game for United, a 6-0 win against Tranmere Rovers.
It was a strong message of support from Solskjaer and after a tough year-and-a-half, Jones could be back out on the pitch again soon.
The defender will be working hard again during the international break to continue his road to full fitness.