It was during a clandestine meeting, called towards the end of last season and held far away from prying eyes, when Chris Wilder finally decided to sign Ched Evans.
The Sheffield United manager had long suspected a deal could prove beneficial for both parties involved. But, even though he trusted his instincts, Wilder did not choose to press ahead until he had the opportunity to meet the player and discuss football, fitness and plenty more besides.
“His attitude to me was one of the most positive I’ve had with a player coming to this club,” Wilder says. “Let’s be right, he’s moving from a club that’s gone out of this division one way to one that’s leaving through the front door. Lots of people will say he’s bound to be like that. But this was a little bit different. There was a real glint in his eye.”
Wilder also cuts an excited figure as, reclining on a sofa inside the manager’s office at Bramall Lane, he discusses a deal which has been front and back-page news. Not because Evans is commanding an eye-watering salary or transfer fee - “I’ve heard a lot of rubbish talked about both, to be honest,” says Wilder - but because United and the former Chesterfield centre-forward have plenty of history.
Evans, aged 28, joined United from Manchester City in 2009 and, after initially struggling to justify his £3 million price tag, exploded into life by scoring 35 goals in only 42 appearances during the 2011/12 League One campaign.
He was jailed for rape towards the end of that season and his career appeared over until, having served 30 months of a five -ear prison sentence, he was subsequently found not guilty at a retrial ordered by the Court of Appeal which had earlier quashed his conviction.
Wilder refuses to divulge the full details of his conversation with Evans which paved the way for his return to South Yorkshire. Suffice to say, however, that searching questions were asked and the right answers given.
“I scratched the surface a little bit because I wanted to see what his reaction would be,” Wilder admits. “It was all pretty straightforward with him.
“He knew all about us. He knew what we are like, what we’re all about and all of the players as well. He’s watched plenty of our games too. You could tell that by chatting with him.”
Although Evans struggled for fitness last term, making only 23 starts as Chesterfield were relegated from League One, his performance during United’s visit to the Proact Stadium in November also made a big impression on United’s coaching staff - particularly, Wilder reveals, the problems he caused the usually unflappable Chris Basham.
“It’s over to him now,” Wilder says. “I looked at him, talked to him for a long time and came away thinking: ‘He really wants to make this happen.’ We’ve talked about him as a staff and we’ve watched him as well.
“We watched him at the start of the season and watched the way he played against us. In fairness, I don’t think Basham had that done to him all season. (Gary) Madine, with all due respect, didn’t do that to Bash when we played Bolton in the cup. He was possibly one of the most physical players in League One, in terms of how Ched ragged him all over.”
Wilder, whose side went on to win the title by a 14-point margin, is convinced Evans’ physical issues can be attributed to his long absence from the game. After dispelling the notion the player was parachuted in at the behest of co-owner Kevin McCabe, Wilder believes United have acquired the services of a player who can prove a force to be reckoned with at Championship level.
“I spoke about his injuries last season and his situation,” Wilder says. “I knew a lot about it before.
“I think he probably needed a season, not least to adjust his body. It’s like someone who runs a marathon and then takes time off. It takes them two or three runs to blow through the system. I think he’s needed time to adjust to being back in training.”
“He’s got his own personal trainer through the summer,” Wilder adds. “He understands the importance of what’s happening pre-season. He fits in with the way we play, he runs about, competes and leaves everything out there on the football pitch. On top of that, he’s got undoubted ability.”
United first attempted to bring Evans on board following his release from prison but were forced to abandon those plans when, prior to the striker’s acquittal, sponsors and several high-profile figures connected to the club expressed their disquiet. Now, Wilder insists Evans should be judged only in a sporting sense.
“He fits with us,” he says. “We’re not a team that sits back. We like to press and get up the pitch. We like to get after the ball, wherever it is. Sometimes a big header or a chase gets a bigger cheer than a back-heel or flick.”
Of course, although Wilder’s perspicacity in the transfer market has helped transform United’s fortunes since his appointment last May, every purchase is a gamble. Some critics argue Evans has failed to cut the mustard at Championship level, ignoring a spell on loan with Norwich City at the beginning of his career where he scored 10 times in only 20 starts, while Wilder, who is big on attitude, has also canvassed opinion among his peers in an attempt to limit the risk.
“In the Championship, I spoke to (former United manager) Micky Adams and he told me he was one of the only ones who ran about,” Wilder says. “He was one of the only ones who really cared towards the end of that season. He was in a struggling team the last time we were in the Championship. I’d like to think he’s coming into one that’s on the up.”
Evans, capped 26 times by Wales at senior and under-21 level, feels he has unfinished business at Bramall Lane. After expressing his delight to be back when the deal was announced - “I still feel I have plenty to prove in football both at club and international level” - Evans further demonstrated his commitment by accepting a salary significantly lower than the £10,000 a week reported by one national newspaper.
“It’s an undisclosed fee,” Wilder continues. “There’s a lot of rubbish been talked about what it is and what it might go up to. Seriously, a lot of rubbish. Wages-wise too.
“He comes into us with incentives, like all the players do, but possibly on a mid to lower-range wage. This isn’t a financial situation for Ched. This is about him and an opportunity to play for he club he wants to do well with, has got a bit of history with. He wants to prove himself.
“If we can get him going, then great. Every signing is a gamble. I look at prices and some of the ones players are going for, it’s daft. If it doesn’t work out, it won’t be for the want of him, us or our supporters.”
United, Wilder believes, can offer Evans the right type of environment to get himself back on the goal trail.
“The group overpowers any individual here.” he says. “We are very confident that he’ll get himself going.
“We’ve got in there early because there has been interest from other clubs.
“We thought it was the right time to do it- get in there early and get someone we believe can add to what we’ve got.”