Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson was shocked to see Louis van Gaal sell Jonny Evans to West Bromwich Albion.
Evans progressed through the ranks at Manchester United after arriving as a 16-year-old back in 2006 and went on to make 198 appearances, claiming three Premier League titles in the process.
He begun to wilt under Louis van Gaal and incurred a six match ban following a spitting incident with Papiss Cisse during a 1-0 win over Newcastle in March 2015, which turned out to be his final game in a Man United shirt before he joined West Brom of for around £8m.
And O’Neill, reflecting on a conversation he had with the Scot, noted that he was shocked to see Van Gaal let Evans leave.
“In September after last year’s Euros, there was a conference in France for the coaches and Sir Alex was there talking about it and he openly said to me that he could not believe Van Gaal had sold Jonny from United because having seen him come through, he felt Jonny would spend his whole career at United or certainly to the latter stages of his career,” he said.
“I think there were a lot of factors why he ended up at West Brom. In the previous two years he had an injury and at Manchester United they had Ferdinand and Vidic and then Jonny and there was a succession plan that didn’t happen because of the change in manager.
“At that time he was on the radar of other big clubs. I know that for a fact but they possibly had reservations about him because of the injuries he had and because he maybe hadn’t played as much in the previous 18 months. That was just unfortunate.”
Nobody can fault the dedication and raw drive at the forefront of Evans’ approach. He was, for many years, deemed not good enough, with many pointing towards his decision making and lack of physical presence as the two main things precluding him from holding down a regular place.
But there was a true warrior lying beneath the often confused looking visage of Evans, personified most notably during Nemanja Vidic’s long spell on the sidelines throughout the 2011/12 campaign.
Ferguson’s departure just a season later, however, like it did with many players, changed something crucial. The Northern Irishman looked unsure of himself under Van Gaal, lacking that usual hard-wired guile engendered by Ferguson as he tried and, as was often the case, failed to process and implement the ideas enforced by the Dutchman.
If you watch back United’s 1-1 draw with Stoke City on New Year’s Day in 2015, you’ll understand. He had to move on – a decision vindicated by what has been a successful couple of seasons at the Hawthorns.