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O'Neill wants Evans deal done in three-club race against clock


By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is hopeful that the transfer saga surrounding key defender Jonny Evans is resolved one way or another before his squad jets out to San Marino tomorrow for a vital World Cup qualifier.

West Bromwich Albion star Evans is a target for Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester City, with the Etihad outfit favourites to land the ex-Manchester United ace (right) in a £30m deal.

Ironically, Evans and his Northern Ireland team-mates have been preparing this week for Friday's clash with San Marino at Manchester City's training ground.

Arsenal entered the race for Evans yesterday on the back of both City and Leicester having second bids for the player of around £23m turned down by WBA.

While all three are keen to land a high quality centre-back, Evans would prefer to join up with Pep Guardiola's side for football and family reasons, with City ready to shell out the £30m the Baggies want for the 29-year-old.

O'Neill appreciates the position Evans is in and is willing to accommodate his vice-captain as much as possible, though ideally would like to see the situation concluded prior to Northern Ireland boarding a morning flight to San Marino tomorrow, which is also transfer deadline day.

"From my point of view, if anything is going to happen within the squad I would like it resolved as soon as possible, but those things are out of my control," said O'Neill.

"Equally, I can't expect a player to turn down a transfer because he is with the international squad.

"You have to accommodate that, but fingers crossed one way or another it will be resolved."

O’Neill continued: “Deadline day is unfortunate because it falls on the day we travel to San Marino. It’s something you can’t pre-empt how you handle it. We had to deal with it last year. Kyle (Lafferty) had to leave and then come back and in the end it (the transfer) didn’t come to fruition.

“You just have to make sure Jonny is ready to play, and with Jonny he is mature enough to deal with all that.”

The possibility turned probability of Evans leaving the Hawthorns started in June when Leicester made an opening bid of £10m which was turned down, as was an £18m offer from the blue half of Manchester.

Both have since returned with transfer tags close to £23m only to be told that didn’t meet West Brom’s valuation.

Arsenal are in the mix now, but Evans wants to play Champions League football under Guardiola at City, who he believes can offer a better chance of winning silverware.

Evans has yet to play for West Brom this season due to injury, but is expected to be fit enough for Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers against San Marino on Friday and the Czech Republic on Monday at Windsor.

O’Neill may opt to save the defender for the Czech match knowing that they are likely to present more of a forward threat than San Marino.

Writing in the West Brom programme at the weekend, Evans said: “There’s been a bit of speculation around my future, but from my point of view, it’s very simple.

“All I’ve been concentrating on is getting fit and getting back out on the pitch.”

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