Rooney Will Relish Proving Critics Wrong, Says His Old Friend Evans

Published: 06th November 2015 09:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th November 2015 09:05 AM   |  A+A-

Two weeks ago Jonny Evans was at Wayne Rooney's 30th birthday party, reminiscing with his old Manchester United team-mates about days gone by.

Tomorrow he will return to Old Trafford for the first time as an opponent, charged with the task of preventing Rooney from adding to his two Premier League goals this season. Evans produces a wry smile when he asked for his opinions on Rooney's apparent struggles in front of goal and the burning issue of whether Louis van Gaal should drop him.

The Irishman spent 11 years at United with Rooney, winning three league titles, and strongly rejects any suggestions that the England captain's powers may be on the wane. "It's funny how people try to write him off but he's a fighter and I'm sure he'll relish this opportunity to prove them wrong," he said at West Bromwich Albion's training ground yesterday (Thursday).

"He's used to this because he's spent his whole career under the microscope and it's not always an easy place to be. I'm sure he'll take a few things on board and he'll try to put it right but he's got such a strong personality that he will just brush it all off.

"He's doing such a good job for the team, just look at United's defensive record. They defend really well as a team and Wayne needs the supply from his team-mates going in the other direction. I've no doubt about it that he'd score the goals if that happened.

"If you look at those great United players from recent years, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and Wayne are definitely at the top along with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. On his day Wayne's probably one of the best in the world."

Evans ended his 17-year association with United in August, signing for West Brom for an initial pounds 4?million fee, but cannot escape the Old Trafford connections, even in the Black Country.

He is driven to the club's training ground most days by former team-mate Darren Fletcher while, over the summer, Tony Pulis also signed goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard from Old Trafford and former United defender James Chester.

The lure of working for Pulis, a master in the art of setting up a defence, was a huge attraction but Fletcher's powers of persuasion were also pivotal.

"Yeah, he was pestering me over the summer," he says. "There was the odd phone call and I think it was an inside job from the manager. We only live around the corner from each other [in Cheshire] and I think he was under instructions from the manager.

"He was a big influence because he's obviously enjoying it here and is still living at home. I've offered to drive him a few times but he won't let me. He's my chauffeur."

Evans has already made a huge impact at the Hawthorns. Despite last weekend's 3-2 home defeat by resurgent Leicester, West Brom have secured the most clean sheets in the Premier League this year.

It is easy to forget that Evans is still only 27. Sir Alex Ferguson gave Pulis a glowing recommendation before he pursued the defender over the summer despite a difficult final campaign at Old Trafford, in which Evans played only 17 games under Van Gaal and was banned for six games for spitting. Evans denied the charge and Van Gaal was supportive during that suspension, ensuring they parted amicably in the summer.

"I think with time he [Van Gaal] will get it right," Evans said. "I certainly learnt a lot in the year that I spent with him as coach, things that I will take with me on in my career.

"I didn't have an issue with him. I was reading the situation how things were going, and I had to make a decision for myself.

"I didn't have to leave United but I felt I was ready for the challenge. I feel I've got such a big part to play for West Brom.

"I'm sure there will be a bit of banter in the tunnel, seeing all the old lads again, but as you get on the pitch they'll know that we'll be doing everything we can to win for West Brom. We've won there the last two times and, after last weekend, we're desperate to put things right."

Euro 2016 is also on the horizon. Evans helped Northern Ireland to secure their first qualification to a major tournament in 30 years by winning their group.

"I don't see why we should go there and fear anyone," he said. "It wasn't like we just scraped through or won a play-off, we won the group against some good sides.

"It's a fantastic achievement and [the manager] Michael O'Neill deserves a lot of credit for that. He's come in and raised the bar in every aspect. When the players are playing for a manager, they'll run through brick walls for him and that's been the case with Michael."


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