West Brom’s Jonny Evans could find himself at the centre of a bidding war over the next couple of weeks, with Man City, Man United and Arsenal all interested in signing the 30-year-old centre-back. Evans joined the Baggies back in 2015, when he was deemed surplus to requirements at Old Trafford, by then Man United manager Louis van Gaal. But with West Brom currently struggling in the Premier League, Evans may get another shot at joining at top team – a move that seemed hugely unlikely just 18 months ago.
But why Jonny Evans?
It’s easy to forget that just a few years ago, Jonny Evans was a key defensive player for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Having joined Manchester United in 2006, Evans was immediately sent out on loan to both Belgian side Royal Antwerp and Sunderland, helping the latter earn promotion to the Premier League under Roy Keane in 2007. Upon returning to Old Trafford, the Belfast man became an understudy to United’s powerful centre-back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, and in the 2010/11 season, Evans became a regular feature in United’s starting XI.
Evans continued to flourish under Sir Alex Ferguson, making 40 appearances during the 2011/12
season, and 30 appearances in the title winning 2012/13 season. When Fergie retired however, Evans’ playing time was greatly reduced by both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
At the beginning of the 2015/16 season, Evans was part of a huge squad overhaul, that saw a number of established players and promising talents axed by LVG, in order to make room for the likes of Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Memphis Depay, and Anthony Martial. Current manager Jose Mourinho would later admit that had he been in charge at the time, he would not have allowed certain players to depart the club, and while it is widely accepted that the Portuguese was referencing Javier Hernandez and Rafael, Jonny Evans would certainly not look out of place in a Jose Mourinho team.
In many ways, Jonny Evans was a victim of circumstance. Man United had been so reliant on Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, that their new batch of centre-backs: Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Jonny Evans, found themselves under immense pressure to perform. From week to week fans would see a different centre-back pairing, and while healthy competition can breed success, the constant rotation of Smalling, Jones, and Evans did little to aid their development. If one player made a small mistake in a match, you could almost guarantee that they would be benched the following week.
Chris Smalling emerged as the most competent centre-back of the LVG era, and formed an unlikely partnership with versatile Dutchman Daley Blind. Yet back in the summer of 2015, it would have been no surprise to see either Smalling or Jones pushed out of the picture.
When Jonny Evans joined West Brom, there was a very real danger that the now 30-year-old would disappear into the realms of mediocrity. In stead, the move proved to be hugely beneficial to both Evans and the Baggies.
Due to a shift in tactical trends and the impact of Pep Guardiola on the Premier League, ball playing centre-backs have become immensely popular. The key attribute of any good ball playing centre-back is composure, and this is where Jonny Evans stands out from many of his contemporaries.
At West Brom, Evans has been given time to develop the weaker areas of his game, without being subjected to constant pressure from the club and it’s fans. This has led to a sharp upturn in form over the last two seasons, with Evans evolving into a composed defensive player with a fantastic range of passing abilities. Just this season alone, the Northern Irishman has made 702 passes, boasting a 81 percent pass success rate. He has delivered 58 successful long balls, with no errors leading to a goal in his 19 matches for the Baggies during the first-half of their 2017/18 campaign.
Statistically, Evans has outperformed some of the Premier League’s best centre-backs, including Laurent Koscielny, John Stones, and Chris Smalling – all of whom have featured in superior defensive teams. The former Manchester United man has also excelled on the international stage, putting in a sting of solid performances, during Northern Ireland’s world cup qualification campaign.
Following Northern Ireland’s 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic last year, manager Michael O’Neill said of Evans: “Jonny has been fantastic this week, he had stuff going on the background and he has been outstanding.
“He handles it very well and his performances in both games have been fantastic.
“I thought Aaron Hughes and him were fantastic tonight. They had to defend tonight and the Czechs had a physical player up-front and they also had lots of movement in front of them.
“You need a player with top game intelligence to handle that and Jonny has that is abundance.
“He organises the players around him and we have played eight games in this campaign and kept seven clean sheets. Jonny Evans has played in all eight games and I don’t think that is a coincidence.
“We didn’t have him for that length of time for the qualification for the Euros and I think whoever plays beside Jonny becomes a better player for playing alongside him. I thought he was immense again tonight.”
O’Neill’s comments completely hit the nail on the head when it comes to giving an accurate summary of what Jonny Evans brings to a team. The best centre-backs continue to improve well into their 30s if they can develop their ability to read the game, and Evans has demonstrated a high level of football intelligence over the last few years.
Should Man City, Arsenal, or Man United agree a £30m + deal for Evans, eyebrows will be raised; however, there are plenty of reasons to suggest that the Baggies defender is worth such a considerable fee. The best years of Jonny Evans’ career may still be ahead of him.