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Robbed, but ex-Liverpool defender still sets Manchester United star benchmark

by Richard Buxton. Published Sun 09 Dec 2012 09:00, last updated: 09/12/12
KOP KIDS: Rob Jones (top left) during happier times at Liverpool
KOP KIDS: Rob Jones (top left) during happier times at Liverpool

Should Ryan Giggs step out for this afternoon's Manchester derby, he will undoubtedly come up against arguably one of the world's finest right-backs in Maicon - but the Brazilian may not even rank among the toughest defenders the evergreen Manchester United winger has faced.

Plenty have tried, and failed, to curtail the 39-year-old but Rob Jones's 65-minute containment during a goalless draw at Old Trafford in October 1991 has set an insurmountable benchmark.

A whirlwind 48 hours saw Jones catapulted from Crewe Alexandra in the old Fourth Division to representing Liverpool - the same club as his grandfather Bill - against a side and a player who would become dominant forces in English football and soon cast a shadow over boyhood heroes.

"I always used to have to have an early a night before I was marking him," he admits.

"The one thing he had was, players can run fast but he could run fast with the ball which is very difficult for a full-back to mark when someone's running at you fast with the ball.

"I was quite fast myself and we used to have some great tussles against each other but always came off the pitch shaking hands. Sometimes I did get the better of him but that was my job and it was his job to get past me and get the crosses in."

In a career has seen him take on some of the world's greatest defenders, Giggs still considers Jones one of his fiercest opponents, verified by a glowing tribute in the former full-back's autobiography, 'Robbed', and countless duels during the Premier League's formative years.

"I always say that it's either him or [David] Ginola running at you because he was about six foot. Even though he was fast enough to knock the ball past you, his upper body was stong and he was very, very skillful so I always found him very hard to mark," says Jones.

"But I just loved playing against wingers like that. I would set my whole match on making sure, if possible, that they wouldn't get past me and if they did, try and make sure they wouldn't get that cross in. It's definitely Ryan Giggs or Ginola, the pair of them were always difficult."

Ginola, too, provided regular tests for Jones, notably when Newcastle travelled to Anfield for arguably the most thrilling league encounter of recent times. But while Kevin Keegan's side fell at the final furlong in their title race with United, Liverpool failed to replicate former glories.

The playboy lifestyles of several Reds players during the 1990's would not appear out of place with today's modern footballer but a lack of on-field success could not offset the headline-grabbing antics of the collective that fast became known as the 'Spice Boys'.

Their infamous white-suited attire in the build-up the 1996 FA Cup final defeat proved a watershed moment for Liverpool's youthful side against a blossoming United side, free from tabloid distractions and sweeping virtually all before them in the silverware stakes.

Had Roy Evans's players done likewise, Jones believes the media scrutiny some of his more high profile team mates were subjected to would have been minimal in comparison.

"We still laugh about it and talk about it now. David James was modelling for Armani, Jamie Redknapp was going out with a pop star and Jason McAteer and Phil Babb used to go to London, go to parties and hang around with the likes of Robbie Williams, so we can see where it sort of came from," he concedes.

"We were a young team coming up and the papers just got onto that. I think we were pretty similar to Man United's young lads. The only thing was Man United just kept winning everything and because we weren't winning I think the press were looking for something why - because we had such a good team - weren't we and the Spice Boys [tag] came up.

"I don't think the white suits helped at all in that final - but the less said about that the better!"

In many ways, Liverpool's shortcomings mirrored Jones's career as his brimming potential was curtailed by a series of setbacks, specifically injuries, which forced him to retire at 27.

Seasoned supporters still consider him the best right-back England never had and argue that Gary Neville prospered from Jones's prolonged absence but he harbours no resentment over the premature nature of his retirement, even through his unceremonious Liverpool departure.

"I think it's just football. I'd had my dream; I'd played for Liverpool and I could see it coming to an end, because everything's got to come to an end at some stage, probably a bit early than what I'd have liked.

"When I left, it was pretty sad; there was nobody there. As I left, there was a security guard and a dinner lady just to say 'bye' to me and it was done. After that, I got calls off players so Liverpool were fine about it.

"When I look back now, I was happy with the way Liverpool were. They'd brought a new manager in and he wanted his own players so you can't have a go at him for that."

Now 41, Jones has become one of several players from the Premier League's infancy to turn his hand to alternative employment, running a successful chain of nurseries with wife Sue that has seen operations expand to Abu Dhabi with the help of the Bin Hamoodah family.

But he considers himself one of the lucky ones and is all too aware how some of his fellow ex-pros struggle in post-retirement. In his former parish alone there have been two notable examples.

Twelve years after scoring against Jones and his Liverpool team mates in a Merseyside derby clash, Everton midfielder Mark Ward found himself in prison while just last month Michael Branch, another Goodison Park graduate, was sentenced to seven years behind bars - both for drug-related offences.

Initiatives have been launched to combat the issue but with 128 former footballers currently serving at Her Majesty's Pleasure and countless others failing to cope with life outside the dressing room, Jones believes more should be done by those at the highest level of the game.

"Some of the footballers, I'm not saying all of them, were big pub drinkers, big gamblers, that type of stuff. I didn't fall into that trap even though I was a bit depressed, I never turned to alcohol or gambling, but you hear of it quite a lot because other footballers do," he says.

"I think the PFA have got something in place but I know when I finished I never got contacted at all by them [asking] did I need any help. I did ring them once to ask them for some advice but there was nothing when I'd finished.

"I think they should probably do a little bit more. If they do now, I'm not too sure, but you hear a lot of footballers going off the rails once they finish playing because it is hard; playing football for how many years, with the banter in the changing rooms, to stopping straight away."

Rob Jones's autobiography 'Robbed' is available now. Visit www.robjonesbook.co.uk for details



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"Bit too much white glass for Giggs !!. Herr Slurgeoson has already pre'empted the refs decisions..mind games methinks..come on city 3-0" George, Aintree around 1 year, 11 months ago

 
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