Sheffield United: Lee Evans identifies the person responsible for shaping his career
Lee Evans is perched on a crate inside Sheffield United's dressing room when, midway through our conversation, he makes a personal admission.
“My dad would love it if he gets a shout in the paper. Honestly, he will.”
It duly emerges he is actually well-deserving of a mention because, rather than being motivated by sentiment, the midfielder simply wants to namecheck the biggest influence on his career.
“My old man has been massive for me,” Evans continues as he fidgets to get comfortable. “Ever since I was a young boy and he’s delighted that I’m here. He keeps telling me he’s got a good background in the game when really he hasn’t. But that doesn’t matter because he’s always there for me.”
Evans is indebted to many people for helping him become a professional footballer, including family, friends and former coaches at his hometown club Newport County. But none, the 23-year-old acknowledges, have provided the same unwavering support as his proud father Dean who, despite lacking any technical expertise, was responsible for equipping him with one of the game’s most precious skills.
“There’s actually a really good story about how I came to feel comfortable using either foot,” Evans laughs. “When I was younger, he used to take my right trainer off me whenever we had a knockabout so I had to kick with my left. Seriously, that’s why I feel I can play equally, or nearly equally, with either of them now. He’s always there to give me advice because, just like mum, he wants his son to do as well as he can.”
Evans looks perfectly at ease with his new surroundings as, after arriving from Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this month, he traces his journey to Bramall Lane. Describing how, after being released by Bristol Rovers as a youngster he resurrected himself at Rodney Parade, it becomes apparent why Chris Wilder was so keen to bring him to South Yorkshire. Talented, hungry and driven, he is the United manager’s type of player.
“Me and my old man talk about it a lot. He told me ‘you’ve got to be at a club that’s expected to do something, that’s expected to go up.’ You don’t get that in mid-table or elsewhere. And that’s not my ambition. My aim is to try and win things, I’ve got one medal already and hopefully I can do something here. Because I know how massive it would be.”
Crucially, given that United enter tomorrow’s match at Norwich City sixth in the Championship, Evans embraces pressure too. Molineux, where he lifted the League One title four seasons ago, is not a ground where failure is tolerated while Wigan Athletic, who signed him on loan at the beginning of the campaign, are also expected to achieve promotion.
“I don’t shy away from expectation, definitely,” Evans says. “I’ve played at teams where there’s a lot of weight on your shoulders and you have to play well. Wigan were promotion favourites and there’s a pressure that comes with that. Wolves, we were expected to get out of League One. You had to play well or you knew about it and were out.”
“People might not think so but Newport was the same,” he adds. “It was my hometown club because I only had to drive 10 minutes from my house. There were friends and family all over and lots of people knew me there. So, although it was coming from a different angle, there was pressure again all the same. Just from a different source, that’s all.”
Evans, who could make his debut for United at Carrow Road, believes the presence of so many familiar faces will accelerate the acclimatisation process. Leon Clarke and Richard Stearman both worked alongside him in the Black Country while David Brooks, who will miss the game with glandular fever, was in the Wales starting eleven when Evans made his international debut against Panama earlier this term.
“He’s a good player isn’t he,” Evans says. “He’s out at the moment with a bit of an illness but, fair play to him, he’s a top, top talent. I think the sky’s the limit for him as long as he keeps working hard.
“But there’s a number of boys here I already know. Stears and Leon were both at Wolves with me and I played with Kieron Freeman for Wales under-21’s. There’s plenty of familiar faces here for me.
“It definitely helps but, to be fair, all the boys have been great with me since I came in. Everyone’s been really welcoming.”
Evans, one of four new players to join United during the transfer window, brings competition, bite and a good repertoire of passes to Wilder’s first team squad. Not to mention a desire to make up for lost time.
“It’s an important move. I was in and out at Wolves and had some successful loan spells. So I just wanted to find the right club and I feel this is the right club. I need to be playing games, I want to be playing games, and if I work hard and impress then hopefully I can do that here.”