David May knows exactly how Phil Jones is feeling following Manchester United’s £16.5m swoop for the England Under-21 defender.
Seventeen years ago, when the Reds’ new boy was just two-years-old, May made the same step up from Blackburn Rovers.
May was five years older than Jones and made the switch from Ewood Park to Old Trafford for a more modest £1.2m, so Sir Alex Ferguson’s 2011 summer buy from Rovers has even more to cope with as he contemplates life with the champions next season.
May joined the ’94 double-winning Dream Team and was immediately daunted by the challenge he had taken on at Old Trafford.
But he has words of comfort for Jones.
“You may have been to Old Trafford before and played there and you know it is going to be bigger than a small club like Blackburn, but it is not until you are in there that you realise how massive the club is,” May said.
“I was over-awed by the size of the place. I walked into the dressing room where there were title and cup winners like Peter Schmeichel, Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, Roy Keane and Eric Cantona. All huge characters.
“It is an awesome situation to go into, but I can assure Phil then you get used to it. Your character eventually comes through and you start to feel more comfortable.
“I don’t know Jones, but to have impressed the way he has in the Premier League as a 19-year-old means you have to have a certain strong character about you.
Hopefully, he won’t be fazed by it.
“Despite the names and achievements of the players around, when I joined they were all still very welcoming and I am sure Phil will find that in the current dressing room.
“It’s all about the team at United and they want players to come in and feel part of it. That helps with the spirit.
“In terms of what he is walking into, you could not find anything better anywhere. You have the best boss in the business in Sir Alex Ferguson and the best players in the Premier League. You cannot buy that kind of experience.
“For a new player going to a place like Old Trafford, you could not have it better to settle you in and get you playing your natural game.
“Even though I was awestruck at first, I eventually warmed to it and fed off it. I am sure Phil will be looking forward to it in the same way and will benefit from it.
“The other great thing he’ll get is patient backing from the United fans and that is absolutely vital. They stick by their players at Old Trafford. The support trust the manager’s judgment and they are very, very patient. That is a huge help for any young newcomer.”
Like Jones, May had versatility to his game that enabled him to play right-back as well as the centre of defence.
The £16.5m capture is comfortable in the number two spot, central defence and in midfield.
“I hope he’s a better right-back than I was!” joked May.
“I have watched Phil a few times and he certainly has the right attributes. He is an out and out defender and very much in the Nemanja Vidic mould because he is strong in the air and loves a tackle. The timing of his challenges and the way he reads the game is superb.
“But not only has a Vidic look about him he also is very comfortable coming out of defence like Rio Ferdinand. I have recently been playing in the Masters football in Barbados for a United side and was alongside Ronny Johnsen.
“We were talking about Phil and about what a good purchase he was, but I was also thinking how much he also reminded me of Ronny. Ronny was versatile. He was a great centre-half but could also fit nicely into a midfield role. I think Jones could do a job like Ronny.
“There is so much scope for him to improve. He has seen the improvement that Chris Smalling has made since he joined from Fulham. It will be great to have been able to talk to Chris with the England Under-21s about the club.
“He has seen someone he knows pretty well cope with it superbly and I am sure that will give him confidence. I’m sure Chris will also be telling him how much he’s learnt from Vidic and Ferdinand.
“To have two of the best central defenders in the world to learn from is just fantastic for any young player. Listen, look and pick their brains and you cannot go wrong.
“He can only improve – he isn’t going to get worse.
“When he finally gets to join up with the United players for pre-season he will look around that dressing room and think at 19 with a five-year Old Trafford contract that he’s the luckiest lad alive.
“I am convinced he will measure up and do United proud. £16.5m might seem a lot but I am sure we will be looking back in years to come and talking about Phil Jones being a bargain.”