Jonny Evans - the way he plays . . .
Albion News|WBA v ARSENAL on 18.03.2017 in the Premier League

The transfer market. It’s a difficult beast to handle, one fraught with danger, however good your research, however smartly you approach it. There’s always another club looking to steal a player from under your nose, or the player who looks a sure fire winner only to fail once a move is made. You can bring ten new faces in and watch them queue up to flop, or place your eggs in a solitary basket and still be crossing your fingers as the contract is inked.

Or, alternatively, you can do what we did 18 months ago and buy yourselves Jonny Evans.

No, nothing in football is ever certain, but investing in the Northern Irish international, a veteran of a string of huge nights and big trophies at Manchester United and yet a man only just coming into his footballing prime was about as close as you’re going to get to backing an absolute cert.

And so it has proved with Evans now an admirably consistent 55 games into what could go on to be a hugely significant Albion career. In spite of this, it’s the first opportunity Albion News has really had to grill him on his life and times, so come with us, all the way back to his childhood as a Belfast boy.

“As a boy back home, I was just playing in local football and when I was nine, a scout from Manchester United, Eddie Coulter, approached my parents. I first went across to England when I was ten and had a trial at United and that was it really, it all sounds very simple!

“From there, it was back and forward every school holiday, every chance that I got, training at United as often as I could and getting to know the place, the people and coming through the various age groups.

“United have a big following back home, they always have had, and I grew up as a United fan so to have them come and ask me to go over and play for them, it was a no brainer, there was no decision to make. I had a little bit of interest from other clubs about going on trial but I always had it in my mind that I wanted to go to Manchester United, so I never went anywhere else.

“While I was coming through there, there was a big change in the regulations about what youngsters a club could sign. They brought in a rule where you couldn’t live more than hour and a half away from the club and that was ok to start with because it was only an hour’s flight! But they added in the time you had to spend at the airport as well as the travelling time, so that messed that up!

“For a while, that did make it difficult for lads living in Northern Ireland to come across to English clubs. I had to wait a little bit from the age of 12 to 15 and then at that age, we moved over to Manchester to live.

“My dad lost his job back home so at that point, it kind of made sense for us to come over here and all of us start a new life, him with work and me with football, because I had the chance to really get involved with United and my brother Corry too, because he joined the Academy at that point. It was a big sacrifice by my parents and my little sister to help me and my brother follow the hope of a career in football and I’ll always be so grateful for that”.

It was, perhaps, an easier step to take given that no football club in England has a better record and reputation for giving young footballers a clear pathway through to the first team and the chance to play top level football than Manchester United, always providing the kids are good enough – and Jonny was.

“United has always had a very strong reputation for giving young players a chance to go and play for the first team but to do that, they have to produce good players in the first place. It was a great place to grow up and learn the game, we had everything there, they have a great support network in place for the young lads, great coaches and they look after you really well but they push you too.

“Then the great strength was they had Sir Alex Ferguson as the manager who always put such a strong emphasis on youth and who always took a real personal interest in the kids coming through. That set the tone really and from him, everybody else at the club was interested in the youngsters and wanted them to come through and play.

“It was a good environment to be in because you knew what the rewards were at the end of it if you were good enough, you knew you would get your chance.

“Looking back, I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to grow up there. Maybe I took it for granted that being there, you would get that opportunity to play at the end of it all, just because that was how the club operated, how Sir Alex had always worked, giving young players a chance. He was always aware of us and as youngsters, you were always aware of him, wanting to impress him because you knew that if you could do that, he wouldn’t forget.

“You also felt that he was going to be there forever, it wasn’t like other clubs who change manager more regularly and you are always having to convince somebody new about how good you are. You knew that he would be there.

“Saying that, there are lots of boys I played with who didn’t get to play in the first team at Manchester United. It isn’t given to you, it isn’t a right, you have to earn it, just like anywhere else, and being realistic, it’s even harder there because of the quality of players they had and the quality they could bring in.

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