Jonny Evans: Football Genius

Author: Nik

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Time is running out for Evans’ declared one reputable newspaper columnist in the aftermath of United’s 6-1 defeat recently; many other media outlets decreed that Evans’ selection was akin to nihilistic exuberance by the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and the main cause of defeat (a more thorough reflection can be found here on this last point). Yet the evidence seems to depict a rather different story altogether, with Evans the most natural and talented centre half to rise from the youth academy since Wes Brown – and without the injury record at that. In fact, at the tender age of 23 years old, time is seemingly in vast abundance for Jonny Evans.

Before we continue, let’s get a popular myth out of the way shall we, and this is: That to support a player who, in the eye of the vast majority of fans is an average player at best, is some kind of fashion statement, or attempted snobbery. Arf.

Certainly, there is no dogmatic or myopic backing of Evans from these quarters; quite the contrary, I cant help but be alarmed by some of the journalistic naivety shown by leading football commentators, and more than that, dismayed at some of United’s core support who have revelled in glee at times during the past 12 months in barracking the young defender – highlighting his every ‘error’ and often voicing their displeasure at his inclusion in the starting line-up (God help him if he recorded three consecutive red cards against his fiercest rivals, hey?).

And we have been here before haven’t we? In recent years we have had the majority tell us that a certain Michael Carrick has no discerning quality (four titles and three Champions League finals in five years later, he is still quite clearly our most polished central midfield performer); that Berbatov is useless and couldn’t score in a brothel (the league’s joint top scorer last term and cool creator connoisseur); and that Nani is a greedy diving ratbag who should be sold (currently one of Europe’s most exciting attacking prospects, United’s player of the year, and dazzlingly efficient).

But perhaps the more relevant comparison should be made with one, Darren Fletcher, the ‘love child’ kid of Fergie’s? That’s the one. A product of the youth system who broke into first team contention at 19 years of age in 2003 (where have those eight years gone?!), Fletcher was immediately set upon by the United support. ‘Too thin’, ‘no technique’, ‘prone to errors’, ‘clumsy’ were just some of the favourable declarations made by many, preferring to judge the player for what he was not rather than what he was – a player who had just broke through the ranks, was played out of position on the right wing (I say out of position because he quite clearly couldn’t cross the ball), and was vying for a place in the team with the likes of Beckham, Giggs, Scholes and Keane.

As the years passed, his detractors used that ever so convenient tactic of ‘moving the goal-posts’; ‘he’s getting better but I could look good alongside Roy Keane’ they would smirk – all the while becoming a more deeper shade of crimson as Fletcher went on to become a fine central midfielder, and one of the league’s most consistent and combative performers – so much so that the same United fans would later decry his absence in the 2009 Champions League final as the key reason for our lackluster performance and defeat to Guardiola’s Barcelona. Hell, they even created a song for the Scotsman, a song that at first glance seems to be infused with mocking self-parody, but with further inspections turns out to be tinged with further conceit: ‘Darren Fletcher, Football Genius’.

So where was I? Ah yes, the ‘Evans phenomenon’. The idea that a player can quite literally nudge the home-sick Pique (a year and a month older than young Jonny) back to Spain and be lauded by Sir Alex as ’…Manchester United’s future, no question about that.’ and still be an ‘average defender at best’ or ‘an accident waiting to happen’ is frankly ridiculous. ‘But but but …. Fergie has got it wrong before’ they complain; ah well yes he has; but he has soon dispatched with the slackers (ask Djemba Djemba, ask Ben Foster). True too, that he was way out with his disastrous prediction that Welbeck would be the star of 2010! A disastrous prediction I’m sure you will agree.

That Evans was once bullied by Carlton Cole is true however – he had a torrid game. But did he have a torrid game behind a dysfunctional midfield partnership of Fletcher and Anderson? The very same sparingly used combination that was given the reigns in the aforementioned Blue Moon travesty? Okay, I am being conceited, but the basic point still stands; a centre half is only the last part of a defensive dereliction, and often he takes the fall for a woeful team performance: he relies on his teammates more than any other.

The delectable Andi Thomas recently opined: ‘Let’s sort it out now, for once and for all. It’s not quite that Evans is good but not good enough; rather, he’s better than he seems, but he’s worse than he should be.’

If ‘worse than he should be’ means he ain’t quite at the level of talented twosome Nemanja and Rio, then I guess I’d wholeheartedly support Andi in his observation. However, there is discernment in the article, which seems to place Evans as a kind of un-cool outcast in the United camp – an unfortunate but common consensus amongst the United majority I think. And whilst Smalling and Jones are huge talents, Evans has been there and worn the red t-shirt already, having had a sterling couple of seasons before last – and a fine spell under Keane at Sunderland. Called up to Northern Ireland squad before making his first team debut, he holds the second longest clean-sheet record (alongside Vidic) record at the club, and has the potential to become a fantastic defender if he continues to progress steadily.

He had a below-par season last time around, and Evans himself admits that he let the abuse get to him at times last season. And you would too – it only took one look at my twitter timeline in order to see the frivolous, and often unkind, invective that was slung his way. The present vocal dissatisfaction was inevitable then wasn’t it? The boy is clearly doing well – astutely attacking everything in the air or on the ground – and has been Fergie’s most consistent defender thus far this season; it is only a matter of due process that those fans who gave him an earful last season should stick to their guns; a stubborn bunch aren’t we? Brash imprudence, the rule rather than the exception, as Marina Hyde alludes to here:

‘Alas, this [football fans’ rights] is a subject which makes the right to bear arms look like the least contentious idea in history. Once you bring football into the equation, an amazing number of truths cease to be self-evident. There are evidently some who judge that the mere purchase of a match ticket means they are perfectly entitled to bellow the hope that a player’s kid gets cancer…’

Where to now? After signing him up to a long-term deal in 2010, Sir Alex commented: “Jonny has proved himself. He has signed a new contract and helps to provide a good foundation for the club for a long time.”

This of course doesn’t give Evans the exclusive hold on the number 6 shirt for the foreseeable – he will have to work incredibly hard as he will know only too well. But he doesn’t have to become the next Vidic or Stam either, as many believe he must to ‘succeed’; rather, he could become the next Johnsen, the next Brown, or even the next Bruce – and forge a very decent career at the world’s biggest football club. And he certainly has it within his grasp to do so. True, Smalling has the pace and guile, Jones the passing ability and ambition, but it is Evans who has the greater anticipation and positional sense at this stage; and the one aspect of his game which was worthy of attention, his passing, has dramatically improved in the last 12 months, so much so that he is now able to illustrate a passing range with either foot and is the envy of many.

Football fans have always lauded a new signing who has shown even the tiniest hint of raw talent, and for last season’s Smalling read this season’s Jones. This is fine, but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of another player. To have three exciting young centre half talents together in one squad should be reason enough to be beyond satisfied – the envy of the league with five central defenders vying for two positions. It seems rather an ‘un-United’ thing to do – pleading for unity – but it is a must in this season more than most. Get behind the players (yes, even Anderson) trust the manager, trust his instinct for getting it right time and again, and ignore the media myopia. Altogether now: ‘Jonny Evans, Football Genius!’

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24 Comments on Jonny Evans: Football Genius

  1. LOVE Carrick!! Don’t hate evans at all. Think he’s a decent player. He uses both his feet well but I just don’t think its right to talk about him being a football genius. Let’s get real here!

  2. This is always the case though, in order for a player to succeed it has to be at the expense of someone else. Previously it was said that Rio Ferdinand had to go in order for Jones to flourish.

    Evans is a good defender, I doubt he was pulling the wool over our eyes with his performances a few seasons ago. You don’t just suddenly become a bad player but it becomes OK to see it like that because we have Smalling and Jones.

    As people and fans it is inevitable we will have favourite players but as a club should get behind every player and support them equally.

  3. @namoneparty – yes he’s great player, world class we need players more like him, fuck sneijder fuck silva fuck goetze we dont need them we have cleverley and pogba, adding our fabulous owners glazers it’s clearly only bright future for us, and fergie is pure genius for leaving vidic out on city game just to prove a point to vidic ho’s the boss. this is how you sound to us united fans, you criticising us for criticising evans, but you get shame on united fans name by writing such a corrupt nonsense. how much you get paid for this from glzers?

  4. Evans is vastly hated by some fans, I don’t see why. He’s young, shows a lot of potential, calm on the ball and does a great job when asked to.

    Yes, he has had his bad games, heck, what player hasn’t? ‘Fans’ (I’ll use that term loosely) moan too much about certain players who are actually good squad players.

    Interesting stat – Evans has 91.5% pass success rate, 2nd highest in the whole team. Just behind Carrick at 93.6%. And these two players always get stick, why? They are great passers of the ball and keep possession for the rest of the team.

  5. Shame you feel that way @minimal – are fans not allowed to rally behind their players?! This is an opinion blog, it is neither corrupt nor funded. If you share a different opinion you are of course welcome to leave a comment. Abusing the blog though seems a tad harsh!

  6. its a bit harsh i agree, but patience of me and some other fans is leaking out with this unacceptable regime glazers and that is going on with the club. i think you wrong to rally behind evans (although he’s is obviously not hopeless but still not united calibre) in such a hard times – city running away with their investment in the squad, on the other hand hundreds of millions of pounds was siphoned or just stolen from united and went to florida, we dying for two signings in central midfield (one creative one proper modern and fast holding player)for 3 years now, the problem dont adressed, i know you and glazers and fergie says but we won prem lge and was in two finals of champs lge. but reality is we got hammerred in those both finals, andwe are nowhere nearer to them this year again, in fact we are behind barcelona real city bayern. it’s not good enough for united i’am afraid and the blame lies you know were. its nice and intelligent blog but were is lack of reality mirroring of real concerns of most of the fans of united, and sorry for misspeling your name in before comment.

  7. @minimal – Firstly, Untied were in negotiations for both Nasri and Sneijder, it was not because of the Glazers that neither went through. The club have just had their 3rd best start in the PL so a bit of perspective is needed. The fact that City are leading is down to the fact that they just made a record £197m loss for the last year – no one can compete with that.

    I find this staggering, “i think you wrong to rally behind evans”.

    The midfield is nothing to do with Evans. Your rant about the midfield whilst warranted is nothing to do with the content of this blog entry!

  8. I dont see why some section of fans hate Evans, his Anticipation,Passing,Heading abilities are quite good. He’s only 23 has lot of potential and a defender will reach the peak of his career at 27-30 which evans can do at united. Just look at the Bolton game this season where he perfectly handled Kevin Davies. He will be the heart of defense, one day for Utd. Just wait and trust him.

  9. Darren Fletcher!
    Football Genius!
    Darren Fletcher!
    Football Genius!
    Darren Fletcher!
    Football Genius!

    repeat until bored

  10. @Sleepy_Nik

    I couldn’t agree more. Here’s my long-winded take on it:

    There is a growing culture in football of supporters insisting that the club buy its way to the top by paying over the odds for the flavour of the week. While there’s nothing wrong with bringing in established, quality players (eg. our purchase of Rio a few years back) this thought-process is counterintuitive due to the imminent changes soon to hit football clubs in Europe, and the impact of undervaluing players like Johnny Evans. With UEFA’s FFP rules coming into play, as well as the FA’s new Youth Academy policy, we are seeing an increasing emphasis on sustainability; exactly the opposite of what some supporters are crying for. As we’ve seen with C*ty’s proposed Etihad campus, this will imply a shift towards youth development rather than a quick-fix swift dosage of a few hundred million pounds’ worth of players.

    United fans pride rightly ourselves on our youth academy, which has churned out both world-class talent and – perhaps as important – fantastic squad players that give the team depth and increase the competition for places. The problem is that in the same breath as they gloat about the academy, some supporters mock it’s products like Johnny Evans.

    I honestly reckon alot of it’s down our desire for instant gratification these days, which is amplified by the ease of access to information that we have online. In football this manifests itself in the overhyping up of decent players looking good in shit leagues and supposed prodigal youngsters (“he’s the next Messi”) on youtube. Add to that the fact that when the ‘silly season’ comes around and the transfer window opens there are a host of sites and blogs that make outlandish claims just to get page hits. All this noise makes it hard to see the forest for the trees.

    The ‘voice’ that every so-called expert’s been given by the internet also means that fans who normally would only be fairweather supporters and part-time followers of the club are able to lend their voice to the crowd; unfoundedly mocking the Carricks, Gibsons and Evans’ of the world and amplifying the negativity without sound any reason.

    Perhaps some of this is also because, as supporters of a club that has worked hard to build the solid foundations for success, we all feel a bit concerned that the noisy neighbours being allowed to buy or prefabricate their success. It feels so unjust, and probably goes without saying then that some fans decide to project this angst onto people who have made mistakes in important matches (like Evans’ red card against C*ty), labelling them something far worse than they are (although nobody seems to remember Vidic’s three reds in a row versus Liverpool, as you alluded to above).

    Evaluating players these days is becoming so crucial to the success of a club, and so it’s fair to say that United were looking far deeper than we were when extending Johny Evans contract last year. For interesting reading, see this article for clues on how clubs value players:

  11. I’m not gonna hate on Evans, but the lad is a liability. I cannot help but think that every time he plays there’s at least one big mistake in him per game. It doesn’t fill me with confidence to see his name on the team sheet, that’s for sure. We have an abundance of average players in the squad right now, but again, I don’t want to hate on them for the sake of jumping on whatever bandwagon is doing the rounds right now. We definitely need to get that solid core back through the spine of the team and I, for one, don’t think that Evans can ever provide that backbone for us sadly.

  12. A very accurate piece in my opinion.

    Evans is a top, quality defender and has arguably been our most consistent performer this season.

    Unarguably he had a tough time last year but it seems like he has addressed many issues and got himself back on track.

    If he can continue to improve then our defence is looking impeccable shape for next 5-10 years, when the likes of Vidic and Ferdinand leave.

  13. anybody remember Ferguson saying he’s building for tommorrows tommorrow?

    De-gaea, Lindegaard, Da Silva’s, Smalling, L cole, Evans, De Laet, Jones, Pogba, Anderson, Cleverly, Valencia, Tunnicliffe, Keane, Morrison! They’re kids. At the same time you learn fastest at the age their at, with the experiences their accruing, albeit with some big mistakes, they have more mature players there to help them pick out the important lessons!
    I sincerely believe in two/three years, we, people will be eating our words! We have a crop of 20-26 year olds ready to dominate for another 5 -7 years. All with a minimum 4/5 years experience in the league under their belts. Rooney and Nani will be the kings and captains of this generation.

    I think we forget how young some of these players are ads they’ve been playing for so long at the top level.

  14. I agree with this piece entirely!

    Anybody remember Ferguson saying he’s building for tommorrows tommorrow?

    De-gaea, Lindegaard, Da Silva’s, Smalling, L cole, Evans, De Laet, Jones, Pogba, Anderson, Cleverly, Valencia, Tunnicliffe, Keane, Morrison! They’re kids. At the same time you learn fastest at the age their at. With the experiences their accruing, albeit with some big mistakes, they have more mature players there to help them pick out the important lessons!
    I sincerely believe in two/three years, we, people will be eating our words! We have a crop of 20-26 year olds ready to dominate for another 5 -7 years or more. All with a minimum 4/5 years experience in the league under their belts. Rooney and Nani will be the kings and captains of this generation.

    I think we forget how young some of these players are as they’ve been playing for so long at the top level.

  15. Not sure how some of you are disagreeing with this piece. It screams out something we all need but always tend to forget sometimes. That’s right. Perspective. It goes a long way.

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