It’s easy for football fans to get carried away when their team or individual players are doing well. It’s just as easy for fans to lose all faith as soon as a rough patch comes along, forgetting all the superfluous praise being heaped on a week or two before after a fancy bit of football or a great result.
Jonny Evans is one of several United players who this description fits very well. For the two seasons before last, after a £10m offer from Sunderland was rejected, Evans was very impressive when filling in for the injured Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand. As a 20/21-year-old then, who comes from a family of reds, he was being hailed by some (including me) as a future captain, whose solid performances, particularly against top opposition, left many of us ranting and raving about what a player he was going to be.
“Sometimes playing against bigger teams is a bit easier,” said Evans. “You are playing against better players and it raises your concentration levels. But I also know there are plenty of things I need to add to my game before I even think about becoming a top-class centre back at United.”
At the end of that season, Evans was given a well deserved new contract which would keep him at the club until he was 25.
“I am delighted to have signed a new contract,” he said. “I’ve supported Manchester United all my life and it’s a great honour to be able to continue to wear the badge of this great club.”
However, last season, Evans struggled when he was given an opportunity in the team, so much so, the inexperienced Smalling was often preferred to him. Too often he didn’t deal with balls in to the box and too often the finger was pointed at him when goals were conceded.
At the end of the season, when it was rumoured that Sunderland were interested in some of our players, plenty of reds claimed they would be happy to see Evans go. We should have kept Pique anyway…
On the opening day of this season, both Vidic and Rio picked up injuries and were subbed off. Smalling and Evans were their replacements, with Phil Jones joining them in the starting line-up for our next game against Spurs. All three of them put in impressive performances and again we get to sing the praises of our players.
Jones and Smalling, England U-21 team mates over the summer, have done nothing but impress during the pre-season and start of the season. Smalling scored against City in the Community Shield whilst Gary Neville has repeatedly claimed Jones looks like a future United captain. For such young lads, they play with composure and confidence beyond their years and are already both very popular amongst our fans.
However, when Vidic and Rio return from their injury, would our fans want these youngsters to keep their places in the team? The manager has today suggested this is a possibility.
“Rio and Nemanja are aware of the abilities of the young players, there is no question about that,” said Ferguson. “When they are both fit, or one of them is, I will have a decision to make.”
Essentially, United need to strike the right balance. Rio’s reoccurring injuries haven’t had a noticeable negative effect on his form and there is no way you could ever leave Vidic, our captain, out of the starting team if he was available. He is the first name on the team sheet. These two are like a brick wall. It’s hard to name many better defensive pairings, not just at United, or in England, or in Europe, but of all time.
Whilst I would to see the likes of Evans, Smalling and Jones in the team as much as possible, I think we need to be wary of getting carried away. By building them up, you’re only increasing the potential to set them up for a fall, and that would be a terrible shame. It’s probably totally impossible but it would be nice to keep them cocooned for as long as possible. Give them the opportunities in the team against easier opposition or in the cups, without throwing them in at the deep end. They’ve got years ahead of them yet, why rush it? Rio doesn’t have long left, in reality, this is probably his last season as a guaranteed starter, so why not make the most of that?
But, as always, Fergie knows best, and either way, this is a nice dilemma to be presented with.