Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Evans happy to compete for place at Manchester United

Johnny Evans has been tipped as a future captain of Manchester United after approaching 150 appearances for the club

Since making his Premier League debut for Manchester United almost four and a half years ago Jonny Evans has had one of the toughest jobs in football.

The Nemanja Vidic-Rio Ferdinand partnership is considered not only one of the best in England, but also Europe.

Breaking it up would be a tough enough task for the most experienced centre-half, but Evans was barely out of his teens when he returned from a second loan spell at Sunderland in 2008 with the dream of becoming a regular at Old Trafford.

Now aged 25 and with almost 150 United appearances behind him — and two Premier League medals in his collection — Evans finds himself back in a familiar position.

After missing most of last season with a knee injury Vidic has returned leaving Evans, who was outstanding in the absence of the club captain — even manager Sir Alex Ferguson rated him as the best defender in the country at that time — waiting his turn again.

It may take another injury or a dip in form for his chance to come again, but the Northern Ireland defender would prefer his team-mates to be fully fit and playing well — even if it means his spell on the sidelines is longer than he would like.

“I would never wish for any of my team-mates to have a bad game,” said Evans.

“That’s the challenge for you. You want them to be playing at the top of their game to push you on as well.

“You’re at Manchester United and if you want to play for the best team in the land and one of the biggest clubs in the world you’ve got to be able to step up to the mark.

“I can’t really rely on players having bad games, if I want to get into the team I have to make sure that I am at the top of my game myself.”

Evans has had his share of bad games along the way himself.

When he was hauled off 18 minutes before the end of an embarrassing 4-0 defeat to West Ham in the Carling Cup back in November 2010 many thought the death knell of his Old Trafford career had sounded.

It hadn’t and neither did the red card he received in the shambolic 6-1 defeat to Manchester City last season have an adverse impact on Ferguson’s opinion of Evans.

If anything he’s been the embodiment of the adage, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and a new contract was signed last month, keeping him at the club until the summer of 2016.

“I maybe let my standards drop a bit,” said Evans.

“I suffered a bit of a lack of confidence, but I wasn’t going to let that affect me too much

“I thought to myself I’m at Manchester United, I want to stay here and I want to prove that I am a good player so I’ve just got to do everything I can to get myself back to the level I was at before.”

Such is Ferguson’s opinion of Evans that he recently talked up the Newtownabbey-born man as a future United captain.

Given that the Manchester United manager isn’t prone to unnecessarily building up his players, that’s as big an endorsement of his talent as Evans — who was made vice-captain of Northern Ireland by manager Michael O’Neill when he took over a year ago — can expect.

“Obviously coming through the club from the academy level I know the club. Maybe that’s where he is getting the captaincy material from,” said Evans.

“The boss is clever and at times he says things to motivate people. I am out injured at the minute, but he’ll be wanting me to get back and push into the squad and challenge for places.”

Few United supporters, or even football fans in general, would be surprised by Evans rating Paul Scholes as the best player at Old Trafford.

He also considers Wayne Rooney as his toughest opponent, after many training ground tussles.

It’s another man, however, who has fired United to their best ever start to a season.

There is no questioning the fact that the £22.5m that Ferguson paid Arsenal for Robin van Persie in the summer was money well spent, with the Dutchman delivering 22 goals in 28 appearances.

“Obviously he’s made a massive difference, he’s scored goals and he’s scored important goals,” said Evans, in an interview with BBC1’s Football Focus.

“He’s brought a real sort of composure to us. He has been unbelievable.”

That record breaking start to the season — the current team has accumulated more points at this stage than any of their predecessors — has United leading the Premier League by five points, with rivals Manchester City second.

Evans though knows that at this stage that lead counts for very little, considering that City turned around an eight point deficit in the last six games last season to win the league.

The title race will be fought out between the two Manchester clubs again this time around, but United are also chasing Champions League glory, while City crashed out of Europe before Christmas, leaving them a clear run in trying to retain their crown.

“We know that we have a bit of a lead at the minute, but that could change and we know from our experiences before that it can change really quickly,” he said.

“The question has been whether because they (City) have such a big squad will there be enough games for them? We probably won’t know until the end of the season and it’s hard for me to say if that’s going to be a factor or not.”