When Nemanja Vidic announced his intention to leave Manchester for Internazionale in the summer people have began to speculate about the future destination of the prestigious captains armband at Manchester United. With Patrice Evra looking similarly likely to head off to a footballing retirement destination in the summer, it seems increasingly likely that there will be a new general to marshall the troops in the 2014-15 season. Many people have had their say on the subject and now I’m going to have mine.
Before I begin, I feel saddened to say this article is probably a waste of my time and yours. For surely the destination of the armband will be to Mr Loyalty and future club ambassador Wayne “Wazza” Rooney. My distaste for this isn’t really for discussion here, however, I do feel that there are many, many more suitable candidates for the captaincy. Names like Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Phil Jones and David De Gea have all been thrown around in recent weeks, but I am going to extol the virtues of my preferred candidate: Jonny Evans
It’s maybe because I’m Northern Irish, or perhaps because I’m also a perennial underdog, but I really do like Jonny Evans. He is someone who has divided United fans over the years. Some rate him, some don’t, but there is no doubt he has become an important United player over the last few years. He will also become even more important in the coming months as United head for a difficult campaign in 2014-15. With no Vidic, probably no Rio Ferdinand and two very injury prone young defenders in Smalling and Jones, Evans’ role will become even more important.
And that’s one of the reasons why he should be given the armband. It would show tremendous confidence in an experienced Manchester United man. Having risen through the ranks since signing from Greenisland FC (get your maps out for that one), Evans has embodied what it means to be a United player.
Hard working, learning his trade under some of the best defenders in the world, doing what was necessary to succeed at one of the world’s biggest clubs. In a season that has seen so much change for the worse, Evans has the tradition of being at the club during it’s successful times. He is a winner. He has won numerous trophies. And he’s one of only a few winners at the club currently. With the departure of Vidic and the likelihood of Evra, Giggs and Ferdinand leaving too, the experienced winners in the squad are diminished.
Yes, you can argue that the likes of Mata and Kagawa have won trophies on various different levels, but these have not been on a consistent basis. Evans has been part of a squad that has competed at the very highest level, time and time again. In a season that has seen the never-say-die attitude all but evaporate, Evans’ experience could be just what the next United captain needs.
There are some who simply say Evans isn’t good enough to be a United player and for that reason shouldn’t have the captaincy. To this, I say nonsense. Evans has proven himself to be a strong and consistent performer for the Red Devils. People are quick to point out mistakes he’s made, such as the tackle seriously injuring Stuart Holden or getting sent off in the 6-1 defeat to City or perhaps worst of all, being tormented by Carlton Cole in a league cup match to forget against West Ham.
Yet Evans has thrived when given the opportunity to play, forming a solid and reliable partnership with Rio in 2011-12 and 2012-13 season. He has shown the maturity gained from that relationship when dealing with younger defenders, Smalling, Jones and youth team member Michael Keane, instilling confidence in them as well as in himself and his own abilities. Evans’ performances were so good that Sir Alex described him as “arguably the best defender in the country” on the United website. Remember too, that Sir Alex chose to keep Jonny Evans and sell Gerard Piqué back to Barcelona. He saw the potential. Moyes now needs to recognise it too.
Perhaps the greatest criticism of Evans is that he lacks leadership qualities. Reading further into this, it appears that this criticism is based on the fact he isn’t the most vocal of players. The thing is though, when did that become the requirement of a leader? Yes, United have a history of “shouty” captains. Robson, Keane, Neville and perhaps Ferdinand all have made their opinions known when necessary (to put it mildly), yet this kind of leadership seems to be a largely English phenomenon.
The best captains are those who lead by example. Those who are intelligent and command respect. Look at Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Pirlo and Philip Lahm to name but a few. These men would lose hands down in a shouting match against the likes of Roy Keane, yet they have shown themselves to be natural leaders. Evans could lead United in the same manner. He has already shown he can lead from the front on the big stage. His performance for Northern Ireland against Portugal in the 2012 World Cup qualifier was sensational. Organising the defence, Evans and his teammates put on a performance very few thought was possible. He contributed in the build up play for the goal scored by Niall McGinn and marshalled the defence. Although Portugal equalised ten minutes from time, the performance was as good as any in recent memory by the Green and White Army. When given responsibility, Evans thrives under it. This is something not many United players have done in recent times.
He’s maybe not the best defender Manchester United have ever had, but let’s face it, we’ve had some superstars. The fact remains though that as far as a consistent performer goes, there are few, if any, in the squad better than Evans. The only concern I would have about him becoming captain is that over the past couple of seasons, he has had several worrying injuries. He needs to overcome them and get back to playing regularly, helping to create some stability along our back line.
Sadly, though, I come back to the start of this ramble and remind you that what you’ve just read doesn’t really matter. Because Wayne Rooney will become captain. And with that the legacy of United’s captaincy is tarnished. Is Rooney’s example one we want our youth players to follow? The message being that it’s ok to throw your toys out of the pram when you don’t get what you want? I can’t help but feel that our club needs to get back on track after this disaster of a season. And the way to do it is to elevate our United-bred, solid, dependable (if not so glamorous), Jonny Evans to Captain. Perhaps with a change in management, someone who will stand up to Rooney and Stretford, this may be realised. One can only dream.