Every club has a player that surpasses or finally lives up to expectations. In Jonny Evans, Manchester United have the former; a United youth graduate who has everything that a defender requires that has come to the fore this season and has probably cemented his place alongside one of the recognised world class players such as Vidic or Ferdinand.
So, where did it all begin for the Irishman? Evans took a road well-travelled by many of the older youth players. He made the trip to Royal Antwerp, one of United’s feeder clubs, in the first half of the 2006/07 season.
After Royal Antwerp, Evans made the move to a Roy Keane-inspired Sunderland. Not only did the young Irishman impress on his loan (starting 18 games and scoring one goal), he won Sunderland’s young player of the season award in the 2007 season which led to Keane trying to lure Evans away from the bright lights of Old Trafford in a £10m swoop.
This was quickly rebuffed and Evans remained with United until January in the 2007/08 season. With chances limited, due to the colossal partnership created by Ferdinand and Vidic, he made a return to Sunderland in time to play a part in their survival push.
The 2008/09 season brought the moment that most United youth players wait for – their breakthrough season. Evans made his league debut during the season against the formidable Chelsea team and kept the mighty Didier Drogba in his pocket. From there Evans went on to start 17 games and was one of the reasons Gerard Pique was allowed to move back to Barcelona.
The 2009/10 season was when Evans truly showed his class. With Rio Ferdinand out with persistent back injuries, Jonny Evans formed a formidable partnership with Nemanja Vidic and led United to the cusp of premier league glory. Many fans, including myself, felt that United had a gem in their midst.
With Rio Ferdinand returning, the acquisition of Chris Smalling and some horrible performances, Jonny Evans went into a slump that could have seen him ushered out of the revolving doors at Manchester United. His lowest point, in a two season slump, coming after he was sent off in the 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City.
Jonny Evans was staring down the barrel of a gun that was about to go off, but every cloud has a silver lining. With a horrible injury to Nemanja Vidic and injuries to Smalling and Jones, Evans made the centre back position his own once again and has gone from strength to strength.
Every player will have their detractors and many say that he has a mistake in him, but every player has their faults. Rio Ferdinand had a penchant for an aberration or two and so did Nemanja Vidic but with age comes maturity, and we can definitely see the signs of a more mature Jonny Evans.
Jonny Evans has something that Manchester United lack at the moment – a defender who can comfortably come out of defence and start attacks from the back. It’s almost as if we’re watching a young Ferdinand all over again. As with most successful partnerships, there is always a bruiser and an artist.
The artist in Evans has never been so apparent with many forward runs and a few brilliant cross-field passes. The greatest assets of Evans have constantly been on show during the past year. Calmness on the ball, passing, organisation of the defence and his recently acquired goal threat have elevated Evans to a whole new level and has justified Sir Alex’s faith in the Irishman.
Some may go as far as to say that Evans has shown why Pique was allowed to leave Manchester United. Both these players have wonderful abilities on the ball and have exhibited great skills to create or score goals. Where Pique has struggled against players with pace or a really rugged attacker, Evans has shown his ability against pacey players but often fails where Pique fails too.
They both struggle against a physical player and this was shown as Evans was heavily at fault for United’s Carling cup destruction against West Ham last year where Carlton Cole absolutely ravaged him. Evans may not be as highly acclaimed as the world cup winning defender, but I do not regret Pique leaving United for greener pastures.
We have seen Evans’ strengths on the international stage as well when Northern Ireland heroically won 1-0 against Portugal inspired by a captain’s performance from Evans.
At the age of 25, Evans has the world at his feet and some of the best central defensive partners alongside him who will only help to improve and motivate him to raise his game and become one of the best central defenders to ever come through the academy. The only thing standing in his way is his ability to handle adversity and whether he’s mature enough to get out of a rut faster than before. We really could be seeing the birth of one of United’s all-time greats.