Phil Jones believes everyone is taking Manchester United seriously again having been “a bit of a laughing stock” at the start of the season.
Few could have predicted the upturn in fortunes that caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen since replacing Jose Mourinho in December.
United have won 10 of the Norwegian’s 11 matches in the hotseat, leading him to break records, become United’s first manager of the month since Sir Alex Ferguson and be installed as the bookmakers’ favourite to get the job permanently.
Solskjaer’s excellent audition continued with a 3-0 win at embattled Fulham on Saturday – a result that moved them into the top four for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.
United were 11 points shy of the top four when Mourinho was fired, but Jones, a Premier League champion with the club in 2013, believes they are back on the up.
“It was a big game for us,” he said. “We knew we could get into the top four.
“It’s a big statement from where we were, we just need to keep improving and keep picking up points.”
Asked if it was a big psychological boost to be in fourth, Jones added: “Yeah, huge.
“Everyone’s got to take us seriously now, you know?
“OK, we might have been a bit of a laughing stock maybe at the start of the season but certainly not now.
“We’ve proven that in the last 10 or 12 games. We’re improving, still getting better.”
United have won 25 points in nine league matches under Solskjaer – just a point less than Mourinho managed over the opening 17 games of the season.
Quizzed on the change of mindset, Jones said: “Yeah, just a positivity about the place to grind results out when we’re not playing well, to play forward, to play with intent and purpose and that’s exactly what we’re going.
“You can see it in every game. We’re creating a number of chances and putting them away.
“It was tough for everyone involved (at the start of the season).
“Everyone at the club, the supporters, everyone. But it’s about becoming stronger and seeing that through. I think we have done.
“I’ve said in the past, we’ve not achieved anything yet. We’re under no illusions of that but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Jones’ excitement at the future was clear after signing a new deal until 2023, with the option of a further year, on the eve of the Fulham game – an extension that some fans expressed disappointment about.
“Listen, I don’t lose sleep over what people say about me,” the England international said. “It’s football.
“I’m going to get criticism in the future, I’m going to get criticism in the past. Honestly, I generally don’t care.
“I have a wonderful family, wonderful friends. I play football for Man United and I’ve been given an extra contract and I’m grateful for that and thankful for that. It’s great.”
It is the kind of thick skin required at a club like United, whose desire to improve at centre-back under Mourinho was clear throughout the summer.
A variety of different names were mentioned but Jones was not stung by that hunt for new faces.
“If I’m being brutally honest, not really at all,” the centre-back said. “Since I’ve come to the club, we’ve signed players left, right and centre: forwards, defenders, goalkeepers.
“Listen, we’re Man United, of course we’re interested in the best players in the world. I’d be pretty amazed if we weren’t, so yeah, it’s great.”