Jonny Evans has been in dazzling form for Leicester City since joining for £3.5 million from West Bromwich Albion in 2018.
The Northern Ireland international has been a leading figure in helping guide them into contention for UEFA Champions League qualification, with Brendan Rodgers describing his signing as “the steal of the century.”
Only league leaders Liverpool (21) and Sheffield United (25) have leaked fewer goals than Leicester (28) this term and Evans has registered 12 assists in all competitions.
Many feared the departure of Harry Maguire to Manchester United would spell trouble for their defence. But Evans has combined beautifully with Caglar Soyuncu to transform The Foxes into a force to be reckoned with.
Adversity at United has helped him evolve as a professional
Evans was earmarked as one of the main successor’s to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at Old Trafford.
He was practically first-choice at centre-back under Ferguson during his final two seasons at the helm. Across his nine seasons at the club, Evans won three Premier League titles but fell victim to the changing climate during the post-Ferguson era.
Louis Van Gaal preferred a three-man defence and changed his defensive combinations like the wind. This made it difficult for Evans to maintain a consistent run of form and the change in system, combined with a controversial spitting incident on Papiss Cisse and a series of niggling injuries ultimately led to his demise at United.
The 32-year-old revived his career at West Brom and showcased his quality by helping them maintain a strong defensive record during his first two seasons at The Hawthorns.
Rather than arriving in the Midlands with an inflated ego due to his success at Man United, Evans decided to knuckle down and resuscitate his career after a fatal blow to his confidence.
Gareth McAuley, who played alongside Evans for club and country, believed it was a “mistake” for Van Gaal to let him go.
“Jonny Evans should still be playing for Manchester United,” he wrote in the Belfast Telegraph.
“When West Brom snapped him up from United in 2015, I said at the time it was an absolute ‘steal’ and I know Leicester fans think the same way now.
“Having played with him at club and international level, I know he possesses all the attributes you need to be a top-class defender and is so assured in the process, reading the game so well.
The secret behind his success at Leicester
Evans has ironed out his mistakes, maturing into a cultured defender under Rodgers. He was also a key component in The Baggies’ defence during Tony Pulis’ two full seasons at the helm and was named captain ahead of the 2017/18 season.
His spell at the Hawthorns came to an end when Leicester activated his £3.5 million release clause following their relegation from the Premier League. However, an injury in the embryonic stages of his Leicester career prevented him from hitting the ground running.
He has become more physically commanding over the past two seasons courtesy of a new strength and conditioning regime. Evans also changed his diet which enabled him to gain muscle and reduce his body fat ratio.
As well as timing his challenges to perfection, his proficiency on the ball also makes him a major asset going forward, which fits perfectly with the system implemented by Rodgers.
With Leicester currently sporting a youthful look in defence, Evans has become a cornerstone of the side. His professionalism sets a good example to his younger teammates and his performances have transformed him into a fan favourite.
The formidable duo: Evans & Soyuncu
Evans has been indispensable in the heart of The Foxes’ defence and has played an influential role in facilitating the progress of Soyuncu.
Soyuncu arrived at Leicester from Bundesliga outfit SC Freiburg in 2018 but was originally signed on the basis of playing as back-up to Harry Maguire. The England international joined Manchester United for a world-record fee of £80 million last summer and Soyuncu has seamlessly stepped into his shoes.
The Turkish defender said: “Jonny is a great character and he is a very experienced defender.
“I am very happy to play alongside him. He is so experienced; he played for teams like Manchester United and I am settling in fine with his help.”
How his experience can help others
His ability to convey his knowledge and understanding of the game to his teammates is a valuable asset at Leicester.
Rodgers even went as far as including him in the same bracket as Steven Gerrard and Scott Brown during his spells at Liverpool and Celtic respectively.
“Steven was 32 when I went in and changed his position. He had a couple of great seasons for me,” Rodgers revealed.
He added: “Scott Brown at Celtic, everyone said his legs had gone at 32 and that was him [finished]. But he went on and was amazing for me in my time there, showing his big qualities and he’s still at it to this day.
“I look at Jamie Vardy here. He’s developed and is an older player and it’s the same with Jonny. It’s about him being consistently available because he’s a player that can play at the very top level of football.”