Confident Jones unfazed by Spanish test
Phil Jones uses a classroom filled with tears at St. Paul's School in Lostock Hall as a permanent reminder of the responsibilities of representing England.
Jones was in that room near his birthplace in Leyland, Lancashire, as a 10-year-old when Brazil's Ronaldinho sent a free-kick floating over David Seaman to end England's 2002 World Cup at the quarter-final stage in the steaming heat of Shizuoka in Japan.
It was one of the Manchester United teenager's earliest memories of the power of football's greats - and he is ready to encounter more when England face world and European champions Spain at Wembley on Saturday evening.
Jones watched at school as Seaman failed to stop Ronaldinho's audacious lob. Photo: Getty images
Jones looks certain to win his second cap after making his debut in the draw in Montenegro that ensured England's qualification for Euro 2012. And wherever coach Fabio Capello deploys his versatility he will come face to face with world class opposition.
The prospect does not unsettle this remarkably assured youngster, who barely blinked apart from demonstrating his defiance and self-belief when questioned about the stellar names in Spain's line-up at England's Hertfordshire HQ on Thursday.
He is confident enough to take on any responsibility Capello cares to hand him, while also being aware of the weight of expectation every England player carries on Saturday, even in a friendly.
Jones said: "The first World Cup I remember was in Japan, when Ronaldinho chipped David Seaman for Brazil's winning goal. I watched the first half at home then went to primary school.
"I went in the half-time break because there was no way I was missing the second half. I got there with my breakfast and sat down to watch the game. The headmaster had drums out to watch the game and when Ronaldinho's goal went in, and when the final whistle went, everyone was in tears.
"I'd never seen anything like it. That's how much it means and that's why I understand when I'm playing for England what it means to onlookers who watch and support the national side."
Jones' adaptability means he may even be handed the task of jumping on Barcelona's midfield-passing "carousel" - a phrase coined by his own manager Sir Alex Ferguson - and trying to stop Xavi and Andres Iniesta when they switch from club to country and inspire Spain.
If the task of somehow slowing down the ride that has made Ferguson and his United side feel sick in two emphatic Champions League final defeats daunts Jones, he makes a very good job of disguising any unease.
"Nothing worries me," he announces with concrete-clad conviction. "I love playing football, I love what I'm doing. You get a few jitters before the game, that's only natural. If I didn't get that I'd think there was something wrong, but in general what have I got to worry about?
"I love playing and competing against the best players in the Premier League and all over the world. What more can you ask for?"
And what of Xavi and Iniesta, who were paid the ultimate compliment by Ferguson when he questioned whether the Catalan pair had ever parted with the ball to the opposition at any point in their career?
Again. No worries.
Jones says: "You can talk forever about how to stop Spain, but if we get in among them and around them and bite away, playing the way we can, we have got a great chance.
"There has been a lot of talk about Spain but not much talk about England. If we concentrate on what we're good at I'm sure we can go out with a good mentality and compete against the best."
The player, already tipped as certain future England captain, has polished a reputation forged at Blackburn Rovers after making his £16m summer move to Old Trafford, and shows admirable composure for someone whose career is only in its infancy.
He suffered an early setback when he was sent away from Bolton Wanderers - but their loss has been the subsequent gain for Blackburn Rovers, Manchester United and latterly England.
"I went on trial at Bolton when I was 10," said Jones. "It was their decision not to take me and I was probably too young for them to tell how I would turn out anyway. They told me I wasn't ready for it, which is fair enough. I went back to Sunday football and played in a final there and got the chance to go to Blackburn."
Jones then watched his football at Ewood Park before starting the journey many sound judges expect him to end with him leading his club and country.
Jones is a confident young man with a strong belief in his ability. Photo: Getty images
He recalls: "I remember going on the terraces at Blackburn and my dad carrying me over the turnstiles to see people like Matt Jansen and Jason Wilcox."
And despite emerging as a serious threat to England captains past and present in Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, the experienced pair have proved more than willing to guide the defender being groomed to lead the next generation.
Jones said: "The likes of John, Rio and all the centre-backs at England are those I look up to. They have quality, class, presence. They rub off on players and their experience can only help you. The pair of them have helped me. John has helped me with England and Rio at club level.
"Whether it is just little tactical things or positionally or technically - it could be anything. I've learned a lot from the pair of them."
Now the learning curve takes a steep upward trajectory with the arrival of Spain's artists at Wembley, but Jones' body language suggests he is ready for the challenge.