GEORGE Evans was determined not to be one of those players to disappear through the cracks.
We’ve seen it so many times. The young man who breaks through at a big club but doesn’t make it, falls through the leagues and out of love with the game and is on the scrapheap before they hit 30.
Millwall are Evans’ seventh club, after a number of loan spells when he built his first-team experience.
Evans made his debut for Manchester City at the age of 20 playing alongside Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.
His late appearance in a 4-1 League Cup win at Sunderland in September 2015 was his only one in a City shirt, but rather than be disheartened he learned as much as he could from some of the best players ever in the Premier League and used it to his advantage.
Evans, 26, had already been on loan at Crewe and Scunthorpe while he was at City, before he joined Walsall where he linked up with Tom Bradshaw.
After that Saddlers spell, Evans decided it was time to leave for good after absorbing as much as he could from world-class players.
“As a young lad coming through an academy, especially at a team like Man City, you start training with the first team and it’s a bit surreal at the start. You’re a young lad training with the best players,” Evans tells NewsAtDen.
“But you want to adapt and learn as much as you can, progress your game. It’s better to learn from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne. It was a great opportunity for me and I think that was a good starting point in my career, I learned so much at such a young age being around players like that.
“Being amongst them every day, talking to them, watching the extra yards they put in even when they were reaching the top of the game is something that I’ve taken with me throughout my career.
“It was a good squad. They had a good English core, Joe Hart, James Milner. They were quite easy to talk to.
“You have to take it upon yourself. If you’ve got questions to ask then you stick your neck on the line and ask them these questions. Ask them how you can approve. They appreciated that willingness to learn as long as you put in the hard work.
“You just need to have the impetus to go and ask them. The way I found I learned most was when I asked the more senior players in the group for advice on certain positions, and then I seemed to get more feedback by showing that willingness that I wanted to learn.
“It was an approachable group, so that was ideal. [Assistant manager] Brian Kidd was there at the time as well and he played a big part for me.”
Evans wasn’t going to sit around at City hoping for another first-team chance, wasting the time he could spend instead playing senior football.
Evans says: “I went on loan to Walsall [in League One] where I played with Bradders and there was that excitement of playing first-team football. We were winning games, it felt like a proper professional football scene, going out there on a Saturday, there was nothing better.
“At City I played some under-23 games, was on the bench sometimes for the first team. But at Walsall I got that experience of playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday and being amongst a good group of lads. I really got a taste for it.
“An opportunity then came up to go to Reading and I felt my time was up at City. I was 19, 20 at the time and I thought it was a vital time in my career to go and play football. I didn’t think I was going to get that at Man City. The longer I stayed it might have halted my progress.
“It was the best decision I’ve made because I was getting league games, I’d recommend it to any young player. We had the best facilities, the best coaching. If you’re not getting football you need to look at your options.”
Evans played in the 2017 Championship play-off final when Reading lost on penalties to Huddersfield.
The following summer Frank Lampard took him to Derby along with current Lions team-mate Scott Malone from Huddersfield.
Evans played just three games after Wayne Rooney took over as Rams boss last November. When Millwall’s second bid for him was accepted last month, Evans had no doubt where his future lay, even if it did come as a surprise.
“I hadn’t been told I could leave,” Evans says. “But then Millwall showed some interest and put an offer in. When a team comes in and approaches the club for you I see it as a great honour. It’s something I didn’t want to take lightly.
“When Millwall put the bid in I went straight in to find out what was going on and see where we were at. When the bid was upped again to try to get the deal done my heart was set on it.
“I wanted the opportunity to come and play first-team football here at such a great club, with a great manager and players I knew before. It was a no-brainer for me. I wanted to go and pack my bags and get up the motorway.
“I played with Bradders at Walsall, Scottie, Mason [Bennett] and Pearcey [Alex Pearce] at Derby. Coops [Jake Cooper] and Jon Dadi [Bodvarsson] at Reading. So it was a lot easier coming into a dressing room with a good group of lads like that. It’s a really good dressing room, I can see it even in the short time I’ve been here. They’ve helped me settle in. They’ve all been very welcoming and when you see a few faces you know it’s a lot better.”
Evans was handed an immediate debut by Gary Rowett, playing as a right-sided centre-back as Millwall won for the first time at home since October when they defeated Sheffield Wednesday 4-1 last Saturday.
“I personally prefer to go straight in, get amongst it with the lads,” Evans says. “It was perfect for me and thankfully the manager did that.
“I didn’t know it was quite four months. I was delighted to get the win. The team has been very close to getting back to form so hopefully that result can inspire us to start climbing the table.”
Rowett wants Evans to start attacks, whether from the back or in midfield where he can also play.
“I think that’s one of my strengths, playing out from the back,” Evans adds. “I spoke with Gary and he said there were a lot of good players in the team so we want to build from the back. If we can get a few more passes in then we can cross the ball with a few more bodies in the box compared to when you counter-attack.
“So a bit more possession and getting into good areas with the ball can only benefit us because we’ve got some great attacking threats. We want to give people time to get into the box.
“I like the pressure of playing out from the back and hopefully I can help improve the team.”
Image: Millwall FC