Jonny Evans: Northern Ireland defender says playing for Manchester United again is 'amazing'

Euro 2024 qualifier: Slovenia v Northern Ireland

Date: Thursday, 7 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST Venue: Stozice Stadium, Ljubljana

Coverage: Listen live on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio Ulster; live text and report on BBC Sport website; highlights on BBC One Northern Ireland & BBC iPlayer on Thursday at 22:40 BST

Jonny Evans says playing for Manchester United again after returning to the club was an "amazing experience".

After signing for United for a second time on transfer deadline day, the defender came on as a late substitute in their Premier League defeat by Arsenal on Sunday.

It capped an unexpected return for the 35-year-old, who had come through the youth ranks at Old Trafford.

"It's hard to put into words," he said when asked how his second debut felt.

He added: "It was obviously an amazing experience and feeling to put the shirt on again and get back out on to the pitch.

"I wasn't expecting to come on, to be honest, but obviously we have a few injuries in defence at the moment so my second debut came about a bit quicker than I expected."

Having become a free agent after getting relegated from the top flight with Leicester City last season, Evans, who is set to captain Northern Ireland against Slovenia on Thursday, initially joined United on a short-term basis during pre-season.

He played in a number of friendly matches and impressed manager Erik ten Hag to secure a one-year-deal contract at the club where he won three Premier League titles and the Champions League during his first spell.

"No I didn't, actually," he said when asked if he could ever have imagined becoming a United player again.

"It is something that has come up quite unexpectedly and I just had to roll with it over the last month or so. It is a proud moment to re-sign for the club and come on again in the last match.

"I have been very fortunate to play a long time in the Premier League and manage those expectations throughout the years, dealing with a lot of different things. I'm very fortunate to have had the experience that I have had.

"Hopefully I can get more of them [matches] and get up to speed as much as I can. We have got these two international games, competitive matches, which is what you want to be involved in and test yourself in."

'The sense of belonging never leaves you'

Jonny Evans
Evans replaced the injured Victor Lindelof at the Emirates

The former Greenisland FC player came through United's academy and enjoyed an eight-year career in the first team before joining West Brom in 2015 and then moving on to Leicester in 2018, where he won the FA Cup.

He said that affiliation he has with United, as well as being a boyhood fan and the fact his wife Helen words for their in-house TV station, has made his return even more special.

"I have always been a United fan and obviously coming through there, that sense of belonging at the club never leaves you.

"I've big connections with the club over the years and was there as a young lad. I've family members working at the club, I've worked at the club so I have got big connections there.

"I support the club and any chance I've had to go back and watch I would do that. I went to the cup finals last year, both cup finals, and Manchester United will always be with me."

'I love playing for my country'

Evans is preparing to lead his country into the first of an away double-header of Euro 2024 qualifiers, against Slovenia at the Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana on Thursday night followed by a trip to play Kazakhstan on Sunday.

Northern Ireland lie fifth in their group having won just three points from their opening four qualifiers, but Evans says he and his team-mates are determined to ensure they have something to play for in the group for as long as possible.

"Playing for my country again is a huge honour," he said.

"I love playing games, the competitive nature of it. We do feel a bit aggrieved with the last two fixtures back in June.

"These are two big tests for us, two away games on the bounce which is not something that is easy to do but it is a big challenge and we want to go into the group with something to play for."

Evans had to sit in the stand due to injury when NI last beat Slovenia away, 13 years ago, but has happy memories of the night as brother Corry scored the winning goal.

"I think I picked up an injury the day before the match in training and ended up not starting.

"Corry managed to nick the goal and it was probably one of the only times I've sat in the crowd watching a Northern Ireland away match so it was a great experience.

"I was buzzing for Corry on the day and all the family. We were sharing rooms and I can remember him coming in quite late after celebrating what was a memorable night."