Jonny Evans could be a leader for Manchester City, says Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has tipped Jonny Evans to be a huge hit at Manchester City should the defender's big money move from West Bromwich Albion go ahead.
The Baggies rejected City's initial bid of £18 million but Pep Guardiola is still keen on the ex-Manchester United star and hopes to recruit the 29-year-old before the window closes on August 31.
By that time Evans will be with the Northern Ireland squad preparing for the vital World Cup qualifying double header away to San Marino on September 1 and at home to the Czech Republic three days later. Victory in the first of those fixtures and a draw in Belfast should see O'Neill's team secure second place in Group C and a play-off spot.
Evans has not played for WBA this season due to injury, but O'Neill is confident the centre-back will be available for international duty and insisted he could bring 'leadership, game intelligence and flexibility' to Guardiola's team if the deal happens.
O’Neill also had strong words for those doubting whether Evans could cut it at a club like City, adding that Northern Ireland players are ‘undervalued’ in British football.
“Jonny Evans is good enough to play at the top end of the Premier League. We have seen in this campaign and the Euros in the previous campaign what he brings. He has all the things you look for in a defender: mobility, leadership, good use of the ball, good game intelligence,” said O’Neill.
“What Jonny offers is a lot of flexibility in the sense he can play in a flat back four, in a back three and we have played him at left back on occasions, so that ability to play in a number of positions is great from a defensive point of view.”
Some City fans have suggested they don’t want Evans because of his United connections. Others say he simply isn’t good enough.
O’Neill added: “That’s not something Jonny should pay much attention to. I have seen numerous centre backs from all around the world come into the Premier League and struggle with big price tags.
“Jonny is proven in the Premier League, has been proven at that level for his whole career and has played for the biggest club arguably in the Premier League for nine years, so no-one should have any concerns about Jonny Evans and his ability to play at the top end of the Premier League.
“He could handle anything thrown at him."
Is Jonny under-valued?
“I think some of our players are undervalued. Steven Davis is one of those, Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart as well," said O'Neill
“Centre-halves are hard to find at the minute. It seems a lot of clubs are struggling to find one, and when you’ve got someone as versatile as Jonny who can play right side or left side and is comfortable playing in different systems, whoever he is playing for is going to benefit from having him.”
Guardiola and O’Neill spoke at the Irish Open Pro-Am in Portstewart earlier this summer, but the latter revealed Evans wasn’t discussed.
“No... we weren’t in the same bunker,” he joked, before adding, “They have obviously identified Jonny as a player they want to sign and it’s between the two clubs now”.
In terms of the timing of a potential move, O’Neill would rather it was settled one way or another before the squad meet up in Manchester next week, but admitted he was content to accommodate the player in whatever way he could.
The Northern Ireland boss says it is a ‘massive blow’ to be without the injured Gareth McAuley, Liam Boyce, Jamie Ward and Paddy McNair for the forthcoming double header but, on the upside, Conor Washington, Craig Cathcart and Corry Evans return after being absent for June’s important 1-0 win in Azerbaijan.
Northern Ireland squad: Michael McGovern (Norwich City), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone), Roy Carroll (Linfield); Aaron Hughes (Hearts), Jonny Evans (West Brom), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Lee Hodson (Rangers), Ryan McLaughlin (Oldham), Adam Thompson (Bury), Daniel Lafferty (Sheffield United), Tom Flanagan (Burton Albion); Steven Davis (Southampton), Niall McGinn (Gwangju), Oliver Norwood (Brighton - on loan at Fulham), Corry Evans (Blackburn), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Stuart Dallas (Leeds), Matthew Lund (Burton Albion), Paul Paton (St Johnstone); Kyle Lafferty (Hearts), Josh Magennis (Charlton), Conor Washington (QPR), Shay McCartan (Bradford City)