Jonny Evans returns to West Brom this week “more determined than ever”, having seen Manchester City scuppered in their quest to sign him.
This time last week, there was uncertainty over whether the Baggies would be able to hang on to their 29-year-old captain despite rejecting offers from both City and Leicester, with Arsenal also thought to be interested.
On Thursday’s Deadline Day, Northern Ireland’s Evans left the country on international duty unsure if he would wake up the following day as a player of a different club, but a late move failed to materialise and he will now remain with Albion.
After playing a key role in two Northern Ireland wins since, Evans’ international colleagues have spoken about his relaxed manner in the face of such transfer talk, and Evans himself stressed the saga has fuelled him to improve further still upon his Hawthorns return.
Asked if he was playing the best football of his career, Evans, who spent nine years at Manchester United, said: “Probably. I still think I can push that on.
“That’s my aim, that’s my drive. The most important thing is I’m pleased none of this speculation has affected me. It’s made me more determined than ever to try to be a better player. I’m happy.”
Evans seemed an obvious fit for City but their dash to sign him ultimately came too late. Pep Guardiola only has four centre-backs, one of whom, Eliaquim Mangala, had been surplus to requirements, leaving him with the injury-prone
Vincent Kompany and the inconsistent pair of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.
The homegrown Evans would have given them Premier League experience and another reliable option for the back three Guardiola has preferred this term, so it was a shock that a club with such wealth did not pursue him harder much earlier in the summer.
“I don’t make the decisions, I’m just sort of someone in the middle with two clubs after me,” Evans admitted.
“Man City first have to decide do they want you, or any club have to decide, and your own club have to decide do they sell you. It doesn’t matter what time it gets done in the window, if it gets done at the start or the end.
“You’ve just got to let those decisions be made by two different parties. You’ve got to then make your own decision and it never got to that stage.”
Evans produced an impressive display against Czech Republic as Northern Ireland secured second place in their group, and a probable play-off place, with a 2-0 victory in which he scored his first international goal in eight years.
Despite having fans in Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Guardiola, Evans has not always garnered admiration from the wider public, though the perception may be beginning to alter after recent performances.
“I’m not at all interested in that, or what people think of me to be honest,” he claimed.
“The most important thing for me is I push myself hard every day. I’ve got a long drive into training so I think a lot about what I’m going to do that day, set it out and try to carry that out to the letter. Maybe it does raise your profile a bit but it’s not something that interests me.”