Former Burnley midfielder David Jones recalls the time Roy Keane and Gary Neville stepped in to take care of his contract at Manchester United

"Roy Keane negotiated a contract for me," recalls former Burnley midfielder David Jones when reflecting on his time at Old Trafford.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 12:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 12:24 pm
David Jones of Manchester United attempts to tackle Andrew Taylor of Middlesbrough during the FA Youth Cup Final, second leg match between Manchester United and Middlesbrough on April 25, 2003. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The former Manchester United man was surrounded by superstars on a daily basis during his time working under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Jones, 35, was on the brink of joining Liverpool from Wrexham as an 11-year-old before the Red Devils swooped in at the last minute to steal his signature.

He would work his way through the ranks, captaining the club to FA Youth Cup glory alongside Chris Eagles, Tom Heaton and Phil Bardsley in 2003 before getting his chance with the first team.

Robin van Persie of Manchester United is challenged by David Jones of Burnley during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on February 11, 2015. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

The one-time England Under 21 international, without an agent as a teenager, had been mulling over the terms of his first professional contract when Keane and Gary Neville stepped in.

"I wouldn't say we were 'close', but there were a few players who I'd say were mentors," said Jones. "Roy Keane negotiated a contract for me when I was 18 or 19 on my behalf.

"He negotiated that with the manager with Gary Neville because I didn't have an agent at the time.

"I had been training with the first team and they'd asked me what my contract situation was.

"I told them that I'd been offered something and they said they'd have a look at it for me. It all stemmed from there.

"At first it was Gary Neville and then he got Roy Keane in and we had a discussion about it in the Players' Lounge."

It's safe to say, with Keane in tow, that negotiations went well and Jones signed on the dotted line.

He added: "They then went to speak to the manager about it just to make sure it was fair for where I was in my career.

"I didn't want an agent so I relied on the senior players to give me a helping hand, which they did. I was very grateful for that at the time.

"I sat down with Roy a number of times on pre-season tours to have a good chat with him because he was always willing to help and give advice.

"He was always somebody that I looked up to and he was my 'go to' player to speak to. Other players like Rio Ferdinand would also offer me advice.

"I'd have good chats with him and he was another mentor for me. It was a good relationship for a young player to have."

Jones, who had already seen United collect nine domestic trophies up to that point, including that historic treble in 1999, was completely in his element.

He attended pre-season tours, travelled to games with the first team and, though his Premier League bow eluded him, Jones featured in cup competitions.

During the 2004/05 season, at the age of 20, the middle man lined up alongside the likes of Gerard Pique, Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo in an FA Cup tie at home to Exeter City.

But it was during training sessions at Carrington where he was able to excel alongside some of the best players in the world.

Ryan Giggs, Keane, Ferdinand, Neville, Pique, Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy were all there and that group was later joined by Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic.

There was inspiration, motivation and fascination in every direction. "It was absolutely brilliant being able to learn from some of the top players in the country under the most successful manager of all time," Jones said.

"It was just a great experience to come through over all those years to train with and then become involved with the first team.

"I was involved for a few years, I went on pre-season tours, travelled with the first team and managed a couple of appearances. It definitely stood me in good stead to progress my career.

"At the time I didn't really appreciate how good it was, how much I was learning and how much of a privilege it was to be surrounded by players of that standard because it was all I'd known growing up.

"I can definitely say that it's something that I haven't experienced since leaving United, it was absolutely brilliant.

"A lot of players in my age group had those opportunities and did well, but they didn't quite make it at Man United. They went on and had good careers elsewhere."

Jones, who is due to become a Dad for the first time at the end of the month, added: "It was all I knew so the only thing I wanted to do was to play for Manchester United.

"I'd been around those players for a number of years so I was kind of spoilt really. That was the norm and it was only when you left the club that you realised that nowhere else was like that.

"You think that's the way every club is run, they're all at that standard, but it was a special place for me to have grown up and gain a lot of experience.

"Their standards were so high on a consistent basis. Obviously they can do special things on the pitch in terms of performance, but it was their consistency levels and mentality to keep that going that stood out as well.

"When you're training with players like Scholes, Keane, Carrick, Nicky Butt and Giggs you can see their ability, but hitting those standards every day was what set them apart.

"That's why they continued to be winners throughout their careers. It was a great learning experience and a fantastic time."

Jones wasn't able to eke out a career with the Red Devils, a shock League Cup defeat at the hands of Southend United at Roots Hall in 2006 proved to be his last appearance, but the club had succeeded in providing a pathway for his future.

And a lot of that was down to Ferguson. "Even at age 11 you still feel a part of something because Alex Ferguson would drop in to watch an Under 12s game on a Saturday from the side of the pitch," Jones said.

"You always felt like he was taking an interest in your development. When you got older, at 16, even with all those big names, the manager knew everybody's name at the whole club and that made everybody feel a part of it. That was a big part behind the success of the club at the time.

"I had huge respect for a manager that had won everything. The club had a great tradition for bringing young players through.

"I didn't even like United when I was younger because I was at Liverpool and I was going to sign there, but they came in at the last minute and the moment I walked through the door I felt welcome and a part of something.

"It felt special and that was the case all the way through. Sir Alex Ferguson was a massive part of that and the feeling within the club hasn't been the same since his departure until the feel-good factor returned recently.

"Sir Alex Ferguson brought the whole club together, he made everyone feel like we were all building towards something and it was a great place to go into everyday."