Belfast Telegraph

Jonny Evans could be victim of Manchester United cull

By Ian Herbert

Sir Alex Ferguson was last night dismantling his Manchester United squad as a radical summer rebuild swung into action, with Darron Gibson and Wes Brown destined for Sunderland and a more reluctant John O'Shea likely to be heading in the same direction.

On the day when Ferguson devastated Arsene Wenger's pursuit of a central defender for the second time in 18 months, by pouncing to secure the £17m services of Blackburn Rovers' Phil Jones, United accepted a £12m bid — which Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has been anticipating for weeks — to part company with the three, who include two of his longest-serving players.

Jones’ arrival, meanwhile, throws into doubt the future of Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans, whose form last season was fairly wretched.

There are parallels between the two players, who both impressed hugely on league debuts against Chelsea — Evans with a stellar display at Stamford Bridge in September 2008; Jones at Ewood Park in March 2010. Both games ended 1-1.

Ferguson's £17m move for Aston Villa's Ashley Young was also understood to be getting close to fruition late last night.

Though Brown and Gibson were ready for the move from Old Trafford — Brown started only four league games last season and Gibson's torrid relationship with fans forced him to remove a Twitter account he established in April — O'Shea is understood to be dragging his heels.

O'Shea started 18 Premier League games last season and may hanker for a better move. But Ferguson, who has already furnished Bruce's side with Frazier Campbell, Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley, may ensure that all three of these United one-club players depart for Wearside.

The departures capped a dramatic day which began with the conclusion of the deal for the England under-21 defender Jones, whom Liverpool had been interested in adding to Sunderland's £20m midfielder Jordan Henderson in their own ranks.

Wenger, who was aware of the £16m escape clause in the five-year deal the defender signed 13 months ago, had made an eleventh hour attempt to wrest the player, who told manager Steve Kean on Monday that he wanted Champions League football. Wenger made contact on Monday evening, in a repeat of the overtures he made to secure the services of boyhood Arsenal fan Chris Smalling last January. It was to no avail.

Jones was overwhelmed by Ferguson's assurance that he can be the next Rio Ferdinand at Old Trafford. Money did not come into the equation — he is likely to earn about £50,000-a-week on a five-year deal — only a sense that his ambition can be far better fulfilled at United than either Liverpool, Arsenal or Tottenham, who were also interested.

Manchester City also looked seriously at Jones but decided £16m did not represent good value for a player they felt made too many defensive mistakes.

Wenger is left hoping instead that he can add Blackburn's Chris Samba or Bolton's Gary Cahill to his ranks.

But neither has been as consistent as Jones, whom Ferguson first became aware of during his fine performance for Rovers in the 0-0 draw against United at Ewood Park in April 2010, which effectively destroyed United's title hopes for the 2009/10 season.

Ferguson immediately told the then Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce that he thought Jones was the full article and Allardyce's chairman John Williams privately predicted at the time that the Chorley-born player would soon become a United player.

Liverpool were being linked to the defender until yesterday morning and some bookmakers had even suspended bets on him signing for Kenny Dalglish.

But the Anfield club are understood not to have been confident of securing his services and Ferguson has been adamant for some time that the £10m signing of Chris Smalling, concluded last summer, was not enough.

The fitness of 32-year-old Ferdinand, who has started only 31 league games in the last two seasons, has been a growing concern, culminating in Ferguson's suggestion last March that a calf injury — following on from chronic back problems — had rendered his season over. Ferdinand's demotion as England captain reflects Fabio Capello's concerns.

Jones played in midfield for much of his time at Blackburn but he arrives as Old Trafford as a centre back, his preferred position. When he signed the new five-year deal with Rovers in May 2010 it was on the understanding that he would assume a role in the centre of defence.

Jones underwent a medical at Carrington yesterday in time to be with the England under-21 squad when they begin their Euro under-21s campaign in Denmark today.

His move to Old Trafford leaves Liverpool still seeking a central defender. One possible target is Birmingham City's Scott Dann.

PSG's Mamadou Sakho is understood to want to stay in Paris for another year, with Arsenal his preference after that. Lyons' Dejan Lovren is another possibility and although not as effective as Sakho he is only 21. Liverpool are also understood to have an interest in Lyons' 23-year-old left back Aly Cissokho, though Newcastle's Jose Enrique is a far more likely recruit for that position.

The deal to bring Young to United may possibly be concluded this week and though Wesley Sneijder's representatives are understood to have been in contact with Barcelona, the Dutchman is believed to be intrigued by the idea of a move to Manchester. He wants to leave Inter Milan.

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