As options dwindle Jonny Evans seems like a shrewd target for Pep Guardiola
After a summer buying or being linked with some of the hottest young prospects across Europe, it was something of a surprise when Manchester City's interest in West Brom defender Jonny Evans materialised.
Pep Guardiola already had exciting young forwards Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling at the club and spent the summer adding more emerging talent -- plundering Ligue 1 champions Monaco for Bernardo Silva, 23, last week, and Benjamin Mendy, 23, last month, as well as goalkeeper Ederson Moraes, 24 on Thursday, from Benfica.
Meanwhile, Evans, who turns 30 in January and has spent the past two seasons at the mid-table Baggies, doesn't fit the general profile of a Guardiola signing.
It was assumed that the only way for Evans' career was downhill when he was jettisoned by boyhood club Manchester United two years ago. The Northern Ireland international was set to be another of those players whose qualities were appreciated only when they shined in an average squad rather than having to battle superstar names and expensive signings for a starting place.
Former teammate Darren Fletcher is a similar United youth product who has seen his reputation rise once he left Old Trafford, but it was considered that their days of Champions League football were behind them. While Fletcher has made the move to Stoke, Evans now faces a decision on whether to gamble on returning to a big club and trying to force his way into a team challenging for silverware.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had considered making a move for him 12 months ago but opted out of making a potential £15 million move. A year on, Evans' value has risen, but in the current crazy transfer market, it is understandable why Guardiola could see him as a viable option.
The City boss has started the season playing with three centre-backs and, realistically, his squad has only three to choose from. Eliaquim Mangala spent last season on loan at Valencia and didn't doing anything at the Mestalla or in preseason to convince Guardiola he should be part of his plans, and the Frenchman is expected to leave before the transfer window shuts. That leaves youngster Tosin Adarabioyo as an alternative and while the academy product is highly rated, he is still relatively raw and needs to be eased into first-team experience.
City have been intent on signing a centre-back all summer. It was a lower priority with the need for new full-backs crucial after they allowed their four alternatives to leave the club. But the potential of playing a back-three has expedited the need for cover -- although Guardiola says that system won't be used throughout the season.
They considered moves for Southampton's Virgil van Dijk and Leonardo Bonucci, before his move to Milan, but with both set to be expensive deals, City chose to make their big-money moves on other areas of the squad and could yet make one splurge on a new forward before the window closes.
The resurgence of captain Vincent Kompany and Guardiola's belief in the quality of John Stones has made the City boss confident that his central defence doesn't need a major overhaul while Nicolas Otamendi has steadily improved under the Catalan's guidance. But Guardiola needs cover and potentially someone to challenge for a starting place.
After looking at Middlesbrough's Ben Gibson, Evans would now appear to fit the bill. His form since he moved to the Hawthorns has been outstanding and he won the Player of the Season award in his debut season.
He is comfortable with the ball at his feet -- a major asset in any Guardiola team -- and plays on the left side defence where City don't currently have a natural fit. He can even play at left-back -- another plus with City only having three full-backs and Danilo, Mendy's understudy on the left side, not so far looking as comfortable on that side as it was hoped.
Evans, who still lives close to Manchester, won't be intimated to be thrust back on to the big stage and has plenty of European and top-level experience with United, where he won three Premier League titles and two League Cups.
His long association with the Old Trafford club will make it harder for him to win over the City fans and it could be a dilemma for him to join the bitter rivals of a club he has supported as a boy -- Evans' wife even works for United's in-house television station MUTV. But it would surely be too good an opportunity for him to turn down and a chance to show former United boss Louis van Gaal that he was wrong to let him go.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.