With summer arrival Phil Jones – the touted future England captain – the latest youngster to join United’s defensive ranks, Evans was confronted with the most testing stage of his fledgling career.
When Ferguson decided to throw Jones into the fray from the start of the season, Evans suddenly found himself joining Dimitar Berbatov in the bench-warming duties.
Another tyro, Chris Smalling, had been acquitting himself with poise and determination across United’s back four – just as Evans did in the 2008-2009 season with Rio Ferdinand out of the frame.
Evans formed a formidable partnership with Vidic, with clean sheets and 1-0 wins the cornerstone of a successful league-defending campaign.
“I said to him, ‘Think about three or four years ahead – where would you want to be? The Manchester United first team or the Sunderland first team?’” Ferguson admitted asking Evans three years ago.
“I told him he would eventually take over from Rio. Rio might play until he is 36, but there will be a place for Evans – he, Vidic and Rio would give you three centre-backs as good as you will ever get.”
But in December 2010 United suffered an embarrassing 4-0 Carling Cup defeat by West Ham, Evans bore the brunt of Ferguson’s fury in the aftermath, and was hooked off before the end after being torn to shreds by Carlton Cole no less.
With his confidence shattered and his long-term plans in shreds, few gave the young man much hope of making the grade, particularly at United.
Maybe he would join Gerard Pique on the way out of Old Trafford? Or perhaps his constant injuries would convince Ferguson he was too fragile for the top flight’s fast and furious nature.
But the talent was there. The United youth product had illustrated earlier in his career he was capable of producing a series of assured performances.
Back to this season.
Vidic twisted his knee in European action, and the aging Ferdinand suffered with a persistent back injury, while Smalling and Jones started to miss games because of various ailments, with the latter also operating in United’s depleted midfield at times.
As a result, Evans has started 21 of United’s 29 league games – a feat only bettered by Nani, Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney.
He is arguably United’s most in-form defender – and perhaps player, although Antonio Valencia has returned from injury with aplomb.
They both scored in United’s 5-0 demolition job of Wolves at the weekend – but for Evans it was his first strike after 177 appearances.
“When I think back to the time when so many critics were ready for me to move Jonny on, I hope that they’re questioning their judgement,” Ferguson said on the eve of the Wolves clash.
Perhaps now, after seizing his chance and beginning to fulfil his potential, he can pick up from where he left off.
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