Why Jonny Evans Is the Most Underrated Central Defender in Europe
There remain many misconceptions about Jonny Evans, misconceptions held by those who have undoubtedly watched very little of the Red Devils in action.
He has been written off as a weak, error-prone, aerially exploitable and a passive figure in the Manchester United back line, carried by the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in the big games.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the course of the past year and a bit he has become one of the most reliable and improved players at Old Trafford.
He has scored an impressive four goals in all competitions this term, three more than he had struck in his previous five seasons at the club combined.
If there is anyone in the current squad capable of breaking the Vidic/Ferdinand monopoly, it is Evans.
In a recent interview with The Sun, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson opined that: "He's a fantastic footballer. [His] development in the last couple of years has been in his authority within games" (h/t Goal.com).
It has not all been smooth sailing for the Northern Irishman, though.
The United faithful have painfully clear memories of Fergie berating Evans from the sidelines during Champions League games, of his being torn apart by Carlton Cole in a 4-0 FA Cup defeat to West Ham and his red card in a 6-1 home defeat to Manchester City.
There was a period of time around that crushing derby day loss in late 2011 when he bore the brunt of the criticism for any of the team's losses; his every mistake, however minor, was magnified.
Many called for his head, the emergence of the younger Chris Smalling and Phil Jones giving fans an excuse to call him expendable.
A lot of the negative comments were deserved, mind you.
Evans was regularly pounded into submission in games where he had to face off against the more burly center forwards.
He'd be caught out of position far too often, left flat-footed by the pacy strikers who found it a little too easy to run past him.
His confidence appeared to be shot, whether as a result of a lack of faith from those at the club, negative press or stick from the fans.
Then, as a nasty knee injury deprived the Red Devils of Vidic for the second half of the 2011/12 season, everything started to turn around for Evans.
Regular football and a lack of pressure for a place in the first team seemed to take a heavy load from his shoulders.
He and Ferdinand formed a partnership that helped put United's title bid back on track, even if it did ultimately come up agonizingly short.
Playing week in, week out gave him the confidence that was previously missing, while other deficiencies in his game were quickly ironed out.
His teammates slowly began to trust him more as both his maturity and physicality swelled.
With Rio and Evans in central defence last term, the Red Devils won 13 of 17 total games, only losing two. This season that record stands at 11 wins from 12.
When fans previously saw his name included on the team sheet for an upcoming game they would shift uncomfortably in their seats, apprehensive about what was to come.
Now those same fans think nothing of it—he has become one of the most reliable players at Sir Alex's disposal.
In a recent interview with Inside United, Evans spoke in-depth about his new-found self-belief (via The Express).
"In a short period of time, you gain that respect from your teammates and the confidence to say something that needs to be said," he said.
"I’m older, more experienced and more confident. I just relax a bit more."
When Sir Alex described him as "arguably the best defender in the country" in April last year, despite his excellent form at that point of the season, many scoffed (via ManUtd.com).
Though the statement remains a debatable one, no one is laughing anymore.
So why is he the most underrated central defender in Europe?
Purely because outside of the sphere of those who follow the Premier League, Evans is given very little credit by the footballing world.
His baby face and wiry frame are taken at face value, his past mistakes referenced as if they happened yesterday.
When those same fans eventually realize how much he's improved, Evans will no longer be considered underrated but a truly excellent central defender worthy of his name being mentioned alongside any of his peers.
What have you made of Jonny Evans' development over the course of the past couple of years?
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