“I just knew that I was in the middle of an unbelievable conversation.”
Growing up as a Manchester United fan in Northern Ireland, Jonny Evans idolised Roy Keane.
Born in 1988, Evans would have been the perfect age to watch Keane lead United to a string of trophies under Alex Ferguson throughout the 90s and at the turn of the millennium.
Of course, by the time Evans made his United debut in September 2007, Keane was history at Old Trafford, the Irishman having left in acrimonious fashion in November 2005.
Thankfully for Evans, he was afforded the opportunity to work with his hero. Not at United, though, but at Sunderland.
In August 2006, after hanging up his boots following a short spell at Celtic, Keane embarked on his first foray into management with Sunderland.
After reversing the Black Cats’ fortunes, turning them into Championship promotion contenders, Keane was able to bring Evans in on loan until the end of the 2006/07 season.
Evans had been playing in Belgium for Royal Antwerp, United’s feeder club, and jumped at the opportunity to link up with Keane at the Stadium of Light.
However, when the phone call came from Keane, asking the young defender to drive up to Sunderland to sign his contract, Evans was forced to tell the former United captain that his car was being serviced after it broke down on the motorway during Evans’ previous trip to watch a Sunderland game.
Keane then offered to pick Evans up and bring him up to the north east.
“At that time, Roy was still coming back from Sunderland to see his family in Hale a lot of the time, so it was easy enough for him to come and get me,” recalled Evans, writing for the Manchester United website.
“So, that day, Roy Keane drove round to Sale, pulled up outside my mum and dad’s house, knocked on and drove me up to Sunderland.
“You can imagine what that trip was like for me. From start to finish, I just knew that I was in the middle of an unbelievable conversation.
‘I knew I’d never get that chance again to chat with him for three hours straight’
“On one hand, I was desperate to play it cool, trying not to ask or say anything daft… but on the other hand, there were so many questions, as a United fan who idolised him, that I’d always wanted to ask him.
“I’d always thought: Right, if I ever get the chance, I’ll ask him about this and that.”
Even though he was a little starstruck, Evans plucked up the courage to ask him questions about his 12-year stint at United.
“Even if he was going to be my manager, I knew I’d never get that chance again to chat with him for three hours straight,” added Evans.
“The next time we spoke, he might be having a go at me for something I’d done on the pitch, so this would be the last time we’d ever speak on anything like a normal level.
“So I asked him a lot of questions, mainly United-related. Roy was great. He made me feel totally comfortable, answered every question and we had a great chat about football in general.
“He had such great insight and that was a really big experience for me.”
Jonny Evans thrives under Roy Keane
Evans went on to play a key role under Keane as Sunderland stormed to the Championship title.
Naturally, Keane wanted Evans to stay, but the Northern Irishman returned to Old Trafford for the start of the 2007/08 season.
After failing to break into Ferguson’s first-team, however, he rejoined Sunderland for a second loan stint in January 2008, helping the Black Cats avoid relegation.
And while Evans admits that Keane was ‘very demanding’ he says he never experienced the ‘Roy Keane wrath that everybody talks about’.
“Roy Keane pulled up outside my mum and dad’s house, knocked on and drove me up to Sunderland.
“You can imagine what that trip was like for me.”
Jonny Evans recalls a car trip in the company of his former captain, new manager and #MUFC hero…
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 6, 2020
Playing under Roy was fantastic, I loved it,” said the Leicester defender.
“He was very demanding of his players, but that’s how it should be. That’s what I wanted, what I was used to. From a young age, playing at Manchester United growing up, all our coaches were demanding.
“No time for slacking off or anything, so it was normal for me to have that.
“Roy can maybe be a bit more ruthless or cut-throat in how he approaches things and gets things across, but, for me, it was fine and I could handle it, no problem.
“Everything went so well that he didn’t really have a chance to have a go at me or anyone else. I certainly didn’t experience the Roy Keane wrath that everybody talks about.”