Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has deservedly scooped the FWA Footballer of the Year award following a terrific season on a personal level and as the commander of an all-conquering winning machine.
Following the announcement, attention quickly went beyond the main man to the shortlist of players who received actual votes in this year’s award, determined by members of the media across the nation.
Jack Grealish, James Maddison and Aaron Wan-Bissaka all attracted votes, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy did not.
One name causing a stir on social media, a player voted for by a real person who actually decided he was the greatest player in the Premier League during a season where Liverpool won the league with a 22-point gap at one stage, during a Premier League season where Kevin De Bruyne exists… Jonny Evans.
Of course, Jonny Evans has certainly not been the best player in the Premier League in 2019/20, nor has he ever been the star performer across the league in any season, but he could well be the most unsung, underrated, under-appreciated top flight player in a decade or more.
Before I continue, no, I wasn’t ‘that guy’, before you ask. The quest for ‘who voted Evans?’ is likely to rumble on, though you won’t find the answer here.
Simply, Evans has excelled with a level of quiet composure you need from a centre-back at every stage of his career.
Sunderland fans still hold Evans in high regard, many would put him in their XI of the century after two terrific loan spells in the North East.
His first came during Roy Keane’s stint as boss on Wearside. Evans joined in January and the club immediately engaged on a 17-game unbeaten streak in the Championship to seal the title having lost 11 of their opening 26 games prior to his arrival.
The second spell came almost a year on from his original arrival, this time to enjoy the Premier League, the fruit of his exploits. He brought calm to a defensive clown show, somehow marshalling excitable cult hero Nyron Nosworthy and Sunderland fans’ worst nightmare Paul McShane into a defence that kept the Black Cats afloat.
His return to Manchester United was greeted with disdain from both the North East and West. Evans was not Rio Ferdinand, he was not Nemanja Vidic.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement led to the dismantling of a global powerhouse, lesser-named Evans slotted into a role usually occupied by a commanding world class figure. He could do the job for United now, comfortably, with ease, under tempered expectations, but at the time, the Northern Irish star’s only real failing was not being named Rio or Nemanja.
United would go on to persist – and still pay actual money – to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling when the reality is they may not have fallen so far had Evans been entrusted to lead the defence.
West Brom saw his potential, saw his class, saw his years of being sharpened and moulded by some of the best in the business, and had to pay just £3 million for his services. Three million pounds for a player with Championship title-winning, successful relegation-battling and Champions League experience felt like a robbery.
The Baggies squeezed three Premier League seasons out of him – yep, that’s a mere million per campaign – and he rose to become a captain of the club, a testament to his attitude, his calm authority and respect garnered throughout the team.
He couldn’t save the team from a typically West Brom downward ‘boing’, but he caught plenty of attention for his displayers nevertheless and Leicester stumped up a meagre £7 million for his services this time around.
Evans has grown into his role at the King Power Stadium. Often the best defenders are the ones you hear little about. Head down, focus up, no mistakes, consistent, reliable, class.
Caglar Soyuncu has enjoyed a massive surge of popularity for his no-nonsense brutish style. He is tremendous to watch, but he undoubtedly boasts a rash streak – he’s currently serving a red card suspension, for starters.
Soyuncu is the man being touted for all manner of Team of the Season polls and XIs, when in reality, Evans has been the cool head keeping the show together.
Harry Maguire completed his move to Evans’ old home for £80 million last summer and Leicester simply didn’t need to replace him. Is there any greater compliment you could give to Evans?
United opted for the shiny new thing, a good defender in all fairness, though Evans is as good a reader of the game as any centre-back around.
What has prevented him from hitting the heights in the eyes of the neutral? An unfashionable name, perhaps? The lack of Herculean strength? A lack of Crouch-ean height? The fact that he is perceived to have ‘failed’ at United?
Evans is unremarkable, but that’s the point. He’s an understated defender who is unlikely to draw in the cameras in contrast the new breed of ball-playing defensive ‘stars’ who remain unconvincing from a, you know, defensive perspective.
The 32-year-old was tipped for Arsenal, he was even touted for Manchester City, and the rumours were met with misplaced derision. If there’s one thing the Gunners need at the back, it’s a cool, calm head. Evans would have been the perfect fit, and even at City he could’ve stitched himself into the backline in a subtle yet wholly durable, confident manner.
He isn’t particularly in vogue, so to speak. Premier League clubs are obsessed with finding the eye-candy players able to spark a social media #AnnounceEvans faux frenzy, but the truth is that he would have improved any top team had they shelved their need to drop obscene money on an unproven, ‘fashionable’ name.
Evans was not the Football of the Year, but he really is one of the best.
Check out the current Premier League top scorers, to be updated live on Sunday.