Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United's decision to sell Evans left Ferguson stunned, reveals O'Neill

 

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has revealed that the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson was shocked by Louis van Gaal's decision to sell Jonny Evans from Manchester United to West Bromwich Albion.

O'Neill believes that the £6million fee that took Evans from Old Trafford to the Hawthorns was one of the bargains of the century and insists that the 29-year-old is now worth in excess of £20million, claiming that he is the best British defender in the Premier League.

Few Northern Ireland supporters would disagree having watched Evans develop under O'Neill, delivering world-class performances on the international stage.

Those displays, combined with his consistency at West Brom since moving there in 2015, led to Leicester City making a £10million bid for the defender recently. That was immediately turned down by the Baggies, who would demand double that figure to consider parting with one of their prized assets.

Indeed, West Brom are so keen to keep Evans that they are set to offer him a new £100,000 per week deal and make him club captain.

Had Ferguson still been boss at Old Trafford, Evans may have been skippering United today. The iconic Scot rated the Northern Ireland ace highly and after bringing him through the ranks at the club saw Evans as the natural successor to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the heart of the defence.

O'Neill revealed: "In September after last year's Euros, there was a conference in France for the coaches and Sir Alex was there talking about it and he openly said to me that he could not believe Van Gaal had sold Jonny from United because having seen him come through, he felt Jonny would spend his whole career at United or certainly to the latter stages of his career.

"I think there were a lot of factors why he ended up at West Brom. In the previous two years he had an injury and at Manchester United they had Ferdinand and Vidic and then Jonny and there was a succession plan that didn't happen because of the change in manager.

"At that time he was on the radar of other big clubs. I know that for a fact but they possibly had reservations about him because of the injuries he had and because he maybe hadn't played as much in the previous 18 months. That was just unfortunate."

On the value of Evans, O'Neill paid the West Brom man a huge compliment.

"When I look around the Premier League and see British centre-backs, I don't see anyone better," stated the Northern Ireland boss.

"I look at Gary Cahill at Chelsea and Chris Smalling at Manchester United and Jonny Evans is every bit as good as them.

"His move away from Manchester United to West Brom was maybe the right thing for him at that stage in his career but he is a player who I believe can play right at the top of the Premier League.

"He was an absolute bargain at £6million which I believe West Brom paid for him and if you are asking me is he worth £20million, I think he is a bargain at that price.

"Given that people are talking about Southampton's Virgil Van Dijk as a £50million player, that makes Jonny Evans sound cheap at £20million. If he goes to Leicester I think it is a good move for him."

Meanwhile, O'Neill is refusing to take anything for granted in terms of World Cup qualification despite Northern Ireland being clear in second spot in Group C and primed for a play-off place.

"We are not as close as some people think to qualifying for the World Cup. We are second in our group and have to stay there to get a play-off and potentially we may have to beat Italy or Spain in a play-off to get to the finals. The challenge to get there is massive," he said.

"The main thing we had coming off the back of France and the Euro 2016 finals was to maintain momentum and be competitive and we have done that."

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