Louis Van Gaal could see no place for Jonny Evans at Old Trafford. The Dutchman found a place for the likes of Matteo Darmian, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Paddy McNair and Marcos Rojo in his Manchester United squad, but Evans was deemed surplus to requirements and was sold to West Brom for just over £7 million. Man Utd’s transfer strategy in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson age has been questionable and this now looks to be one of their biggest blunders.
Four-and-a-half years later and Evans is now one of the best centre backs in the Premier League. Leicester City are unlikely to catch runaway leaders and champions-elect Liverpool, but Brendan Rodgers’ side are on course for an historic league finish, with the Foxes currently sitting in second place. Evans has been a big part of their success.
Now 31 years old, the Northern Irishman is a better player for all his past experiences, not all positive, and is the defensive bedrock upon which Rodgers has built his Leicester City team. The sale of Harry Maguire in the summer has barely affected the Foxes, with Evans forming an extremely strong partnership with Çaglar Soyuncu.
“I think the club did exceptionally well to bring him in,” Rodgers said in a recent interview referencing Leicester’s £3.5 million signing of Evans from West Brom two summers ago. “When he was at West Brom, he was linked with Manchester City and these teams, and I knew why: because of his quality. When I came in I knew he was top-class. I’ve seen him grow as a young player and you don’t play for a club like Manchester United unless you’re a top player.”
Evans’ success shows the value of trusting a player. The Northern Irishman’s natural talent was always apparent in his time at Old Trafford, but concentration was often a problem. That is no longer the case. Now there is nothing to cloud Evans’ capacity for organisation and ability in bringing the ball out from the back. Only Soyuncu and Ben Chilwell have averaged more passes per game for Leicester this season than Evans. There are few better than him at what he does.
He is the perfect central defensive leader for Rodgers’ Leicester City team, linking up the lines of transition, but also holding his position when out of possession. It’s taken a long time for Evans to reach fulfilment, but he’s done so at the King Power Stadium. His Man Utd days are now a thing of the past, although the Old Trafford outfit surely regret that.