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Jonny Evans – The Frank de Boer of Belfast

It’s been a quietly remarkable couple of years for Jonny Evans.

Following the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, he is now the most senior and dependable central defender at Manchester United; quite the turnaround for a player who was all but written off by those too impatient or pessimistic to give youth a chance two seasons ago.

At the tail end of 2011, he was derided as a defensive liability by those needing a lone scapegoat to explain away the pain of the 6-1 home defeat suffered against Manchester City.  The Northern Irishman, who received a red card after 46 minutes, soaked up much of the ire in the aftermath of the match. Following on from other rash actions in the recent past—most notably a two-footed challenge against Bolton Wanderers that earned him a dismissal after Stuart Holden came off worse in the full-blooded contest for the ball—the faultfinders seemed ready to reject him as a loose cannon unworthy of the shirt.

Yet his detractors didn’t cow him, and much like Darren Fletcher and many of the other recent academy graduates at Old Trafford, prematurely written off by the most peevish sections of the support, he emerged from the gauntlet of criticism not only intact, but stronger.

He now stands, alongside the Scottish midfielder, as a living rebuke to those so quick to savage the likes of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley for not already being the flawless, finished articles, still relatively early in their careers.

Just a year and half on from receiving his marching orders against City, Evans was being hailed as one of the best performers in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final campaign in charge of United. While Ferdinand may have collected many of the plaudits for his various vintage displays en route to title number 20, it was Evans’ own maturing abilities as an all-rounder at the back that enabled the veteran to showcase his class rather than being exposed by his slowing, aged legs.

His aerial power had been obvious since he famously swotted Didier Drogba out of the sky in 2009, and with Vidic out injured for much of the season, he provided the air support to protect David de Gea’s area from on high. On the floor, his positional intelligence along with Ferdinand’s own prescient reading of the game created a radar net of cover to track and intercept potential threats before they escalated. Evans had arrived as a first team regular: wiser, fully-formed and more refined. Unfortunately, injury put paid to his follow-up season under David Moyes, although it was never clear whether he ever truly appreciated the centre-back and his abilities.

After all, Evans had never been an average, basic stopper. His comfort on the ball, capability with both feet and eye for a searching, inch-perfect ball from the back and out to the flanks or forward line marked him out early on as a potentially special player. With Phil Jones and Vidic often preferred to him even when fit, his ambitious passing and technical skill may have been mistaken as signs of him lacking the stern cynicism associated with more no-nonsense defender by his new, prosaic manager. Having claimed that Wayne Rooney had “gone soft” due to United’s focus on technique rather than power in training, maybe it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Evans’ gifts were less utilised during Moyes’ tenure?

Evans is unlikely to face any such struggles for recognition under Louis van Gaal. In fact, under the Dutchman he could find his natural talent at playing the ball forward harnessed and developed into a major feature of United’s football over the coming seasons.

During his reign in charge of Ajax in the 90’s, the long passing of Frank de Boer was embraced  by the current Dutch national coach, to intensify the fluid movement and pace of his team with a direct link from his ball-playing defender up to the attackers.

Fittingly, Evans was the only British footballer selected in a European squad of the season by de Boer—now himself a manager at Ajax—in 2013, alongside fellow Red Robin van Persie and the likes of Xavi, Philipp Lahm and Cristiano Ronaldo. In contrast to his underrated status in England, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a lack of respect for the Belfast-born centre-back over in The Netherlands. And given van Gaal’s friendship with his former player, who also followed him to Barcelona, it’s possible that admiration for the United defender may be more than just a shared topic of light conversation between the two men.

Some may assume that Evans has already reached his peak, having corrected the majority of the defects in his game to become a steady presence at the back at Old Trafford. No longer the reckless youngster who divided fans between those who feared his flaws and others who celebrated his qualities, he has become a diligent keystone at the back for United; an organiser and leader for the younger defenders and an equal to the departing Champions League winners.

In Ferguson’s last season, it often seemed as though Evans was the foundation of the defence, with his partner selected to complement his well-rounded blend of finesse and function, depending on the opposition. Facing a team intent on brutalising the back line? Start him next to Vidic. Is controlling the game and retaining the ball of paramount importance? Ferdinand would get the call. Needing some extra mobility, with a touch of tenacity or poise? Jones or Smalling, respectively.

Transfer rumours continue to swirl around such exotic and exciting names as Mats Hummels, Ezequiel Garay and Eliaquim Mangala, but regardless of how realistic or fictional the club’s interest or chances are in bringing these names to the club, they may not be as necessary as some may think. Van Gaal may yet find exactly what he’s looking for in Belfast’s answer to Frank de Boer: Jonny Evans.




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84 Comments

  1. John says:

    Pepe of Portugal makes me chuckle! :)

  2. Tommy says:

    @Gary

    A mate of mines just said this is worse than watching Peter Ebdon, haha. spot on as well

  3. warrored says:

    A bit of perspective….both Ronnie and Messi are on 2 WC goals. Messis against the mighty Bosnia and Serbia and Ronnies 2 against Iran (penalty) and one in a 7-0 v Nth Korea……..

  4. warrored says:

    I know it might seem really left field and radical, but how about Hodgson fielding Rooney as the main man up front with Sturridge behind? Sterling left Oxo right(if fit). Rooney can save his work for in the box with his young contemporaries doing all the donkey work.

  5. warrored says:

    Fair play to Phil Nev for not hiding after his co commentary haha it was awful but he’s fine and relaxed as an analyst and can take the piss out of himself.

  6. John says:

    USA to beat Ghana 2-1. Heat might be the factor favouring Ghana. That’s the only reason I can see them winning. :D :D

  7. Tommy says:

    @John

    Both nations are evenly matched in fairness it could go either way mate, although I must say Altidore is one of the worst forwards ive ever seen but I can see either a draw or a one goal win either way, Good luck mate

  8. Tommy says:

    @John

    As long as its not as bad as the match thats just been on I will be happy

  9. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Tommy, Peter Ebdon…..eurgh…..I shudder thinking about watching him play. I wouldn’t have mind so much, but there was so much gamesman ship on his part literally to upset the other player and completely ruin it as a spectacle. It was effective for him mind, not that it won him many fans.

    I was gutted Ronnie let that early lead slip against Selby. I know Ronnie can’t be on his A game all the time, but was still slightly gutted. Credit to Selby though, I was happy for him.

  10. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Tough one to call this between USA and Ghana. Pretty much a coin flip for me. I’ll sit on the fence and go for a score draw.

  11. Tommy says:

    @Gary

    Yea it wasnt a great final to be honest, Ronnie didnt turn up last 2 sessions and Selby needed 3 visits to win a frame, wasnt impressed by the standard but credit to selby, hes a grinded who wins scrappy frames

  12. Tommy says:

    @Gary

    Yea too tough to call this one, cant be worse than the game just gone. Testerday it was Ronnie Savage with Seedort and Henry and now it is Danny Murphy with those 2. Did BBC run out of money?

  13. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Yes I know mate. On itv we have Vieira, Canavaro and Dixon. On bbc we have Henry, Seedorf and Robbie Savage. Real British legends of the game.

  14. Tommy says:

    @Gary

    Did you spot Klinsman singing the american anthem, their was never a chance of getting Capello singing ours lol

  15. Tommy says:

    @Gary

    Having savage as a pundit is bad enough but 90 mins of the fucker is just too much, great start USA

  16. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Tommy, didn’t notice mate. What a start for Clint! Rolling back the years, albeit aided by some woeful defending.

    I’m not a fan of the American nations anthem, our ours for that matter. England should use Jerusalem instead of god save the queen. My favourite anthems have got to be the Russian and the French. They would make you proud to be French or Russian!

  17. Gary Mitrovic says:

    National anthem* or*

    Fucking phone!

  18. Tommy says:

    @Gary

    I quite like the american anthem, the french has a nice tune to it as well, ours is awful though, yea Klinsmans lips were moving during the anthem so assume he was singing the anthem

  19. Gary Mitrovic says:

    I wasn’t happy when the PA system broke down before the France game yesterday! Denied hearing one of the best national anthems in the world. Lloris wasn’t happy either. I saw a bit of finger waving going on and a shake of the head.

    Looking forward to hearing the Russian national anthem tomorrow. The French come in a narrow second place to them for me. Flower of Scotland is good as well. That’s a proper anthem to get the blood stirring.

  20. Tommy says:

    Im told Klinsmans married to an american shes clearly been teaching him the anthem

  21. Gary Mitrovic says:

    That would be explain things. I heard that it didn’t go down well in America when Klinsman said USA can’t win the World Cup. I can imagine it “What?! You can’t say that man! This is America!” In an American accent.

    It’s clear the more educated Americans are not all like this and have common sense. It must be the casual American “soccer fans” who don’t have a clue about football who thought Klinsman was out of order for stating the obvious.

  22. Tommy says:

    Gary, their chances have improved significantly now Altidore looks like hes out of the tournament

  23. Tommy says:

    I must admit id like the USA to win this, I dislike Gyan after what he did to Bruce and Sunderlaqnd, they spent a fortune on him, then a few months later he refused to train and flew out to the UAE for a loan move when Sunderland new nothing about it, hes whats bad about the game, playing for the ££££ss

  24. Tommy says:

    Thats Ghana out, no way will they beat both Germany and Portugal, Fair play USA, I bet @John is very happy this evening/morning here in the UK

  25. Tommy says:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2659524/Arsenal-ramp-Mario-Balotelli-line-shock-Tom-Cleverley-Thomas-Vermaelen-deal.html

    @Gary

    1 benefit from getting Vermaelen is if we can persuade Arsene to take Cleverley, I am sure its possible, I remember him take Silvestre off us when his back was knackered and knees were gone so im sure he can take Clevs off us, match made in heaven, he can promote his TC23 brand in the bright lights of London

  26. John says:

    @Tommy

    Mate see my BANG ON prediction at 22:21. :)

    Good fun game esp last 10 minutes.

    Gunning to kick out Crynaldo’s Portugal out of World Cup. Reaching quarters will be good achievement for US/us.

    Good result against Portugal and we are through, job done. Bye Bye Gaynaldo of Real Madrid. :(

  27. The One says:

    @Tommy, em no, definitely not taking the piss but I agree he’s definitely not worth 50 million, that’s way too much.

  28. John says:

    One thing US has is every player give maximum always eventhough there are no so called “top top ” players in the team like England has. Atleast all English players are called “top top” :) :)

    It was sweet Revenge of 2010 against Ghana. :)

    Grab points against “Portugal” and ” Germany” and we are through esp Portugal in all honesty. Pepe dog is unavailable to foul as well. :)

    Now we have a real chance to make quarters as as Belgium shall be the likely opponent in next round.

    Portugal game is very crucial now.

  29. John says:

    US players always give fearless performance with all heart that makes it for lack of talent. Team is organized esp defence as we have to play to our strength. Play with heart, Never give up, use German mind/Einstein/Klinsmann in our favour. American style :) :)

  30. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    On the Vermaelen rumours, I actually would like it if we signed him. He’s a pretty solid defender. Yeah he’s had some injury issues in the past but for most of last year he was fit and Wenger refused to play him because he was used to Koscielny and Per. He’s a solid defender, excellent going forward and very versatile as he can play across the back line. He’s also 28 years old. For under 10 million pounds? Yes please.

  31. denislawking says:

    Don’t see much wrong with our anthem. By the time anyone decides they don’t like it, it’s over. Short and sweet. 14 bars of history

  32. m09538061 says:

    If joe hart lets in a sloppy goal it will be rooneys fault 4 not tracking back if gerrard plays his 50th crap england game in a row it will be rooneys fault if rooney scores an hat trick he wos greedy shud ave passed 2 stevie g the whole england pro liverpool anti united crap is tiresome n pathetic bnth nevilles took the crap they wanted 2 hang becks cleverley was treated shockingly now rooney a lad who is played out of position all the time but gives 100 per cent sod off abus

  33. Tommy says:

    @John

    Fair play mate, I felt the their had to be a winner for either nation to stand any chance of progressing, I dont think a draw would of done either nation much good too be honest, and Ghana looked the most likely to score again after making it 1 1 but fair play it was a good headed winner. Well done mate.

    @The one

    I dont know whether I just happen to watch him when he plays shit and I admit i dont watch the French league every week, but hes seriously terrible every time I watch him, his finishing is so poor for any player lket alone a player who cost £50million, maybe he just saves his bad performances for when i watch him

  34. The One says:

    @Tommy, to be honest, I haven’t watched him since he moved to France, so it’s very possible he’s really been playing badly since. It’s possible that the move hasn’t suited him and/or his form has faded as well. I was quite impressed by him at Napoli.

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