Desperately seeking Patrice

February 6, 2012 Tags: Opinion 9 comments

Back in summer 2010 there was, for a brief period, no more hated man in France than Patrice Evra. Fingered as the ring-leader in the now infamous FIFA World Cup 2010 training ground ‘strike’, the Manchester United left-back quickly descended from persona non grata after France was knocked out of the tournament, to something much more invidious: the fall guy for French failure.

The episode was far from Evra’s fault, of course, with the disparate French squad always likely  to mutiny against Raymond Domenech’s inadequate regime. But, as captain, Evra’s was a senior responsibility, and with that comes accountability. First came the media judgement, then former players, and then the Fédération Française de Football (FFF). With French politicians finally wading in, the five match ban handed down by FFF to Evra  in August 2010 was unsurprising.

“I gave my all to the position of captain,” Evra told L’Equipe on receiving the ban.

“Some people have tried to make me look guiltier than I am without knowing what happened. I gave my best, but this is the result. I received complaints after every training session and I tried to pass those messages on to the coaching assistants, but nothing happened.”

It was not the passionate, sometimes angry, Evra that United fans have come to know, and love. This was something far too morose. Evra, it seemed, carried the burden of failure, not only for France’s early exit, but the inability to unite a divided squad with an aloof coaching unit.

Indeed, something was seemingly lost from Evra’s soul in the week’s and months after the World Cup. It was as if a weight was resting far too heavily on the Dakar-born defender’s shoulders. It was perhaps no surprise, then, that the left-back’s form in the early of part of the 2010-11 campaign was as poor as it has ever been in the United shirt. Not that Evra’s name was anything less than first of Sir Alex Ferguson’s team sheet. There were – still are – few competitors for the Frenchman’s shirt.

Yet, Evra’s mental anguish could not explain a slump so severe in a player with justifiable claims to be not only Ashley Cole’s superior, but the world’s finest left-back. Perhaps, then, it was the double whammy of mental and physical fatigue that so affected Evra last season. After all, the defender played 48 games in all competitions in 2010-11, adding to the 51 played in the season before, and the 48 prior to that. Together with international commitments, Evra has made more than 300 appearances in the past six years alone.

At least by the time United secured a 19th trophy in May 2011 Evra had clawed his way out of the doldrums, playing a core role in Ferguson’s back-four, which conceded less than a goal a game in the campaign. This brief renaissance wasn’t to last though, with even a summer-long rest failing to reunite Evra with the peak he attained in three outstanding campaigns for United prior to World Cup 2010.

One thing’s certain though, pressure, whether physical, or that of a more cerebral nature, is now following Evra’s every move. Following an uncertain start to the campaign, with a new goalkeeper and ever-changing back-four bedding in, came the incident with Luis Suárez at Anfield in October. The tension in Evra’s play was understandably palpable. The 30-year-old, it seems, cannot catch a break.

Even Evra’s patch of good form through January, after the damning Suárez indictment, cannot disguise what may now amount to a more permanent decline.

At Anfield last weekend Evra allowed Dirk Kuyt to run past him and smash home the winning goal. The Frenchman looked broken. Worse came against Chelsea, with the United defender at least partially culpable for each of the host’s three goals.

First, Evra was beaten all too easily inside the area by Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge. Then the defender was at least five yards short of Fernando Torres’ cross for Juan Mata to smash home Chelsea’s second. Finally, almost criminally, Evra stood still allowing David Luiz to run into the Frenchman’s zone and head home the third almost unchallenged.

True, the defender made some amends by bursting into the Chelsea area and winning United an opening penalty. But this is a pattern now far too common; Evra’s attacking instincts remain intact, but gone is the defensive concentration that once made the Frenchman the complete modern full-back.

Despite the ongoing problem, there is little question that Evra will face short-term demotion. Nor as yet is there any great clamour for it. After all, there is little competition for the defender’s spot, with only the perennially injured Fábio da Silva and inexperienced Ezekiel Fryers also at Ferguson’s disposal.

But the story may change come the summer should Ferguson dip into the transfer market. This is no easy concept for United fans to countenance. Evra is well loved at Old Trafford, both in the dressing room and the stands; the Frenchman is an engaging personality, and although it has not always been the case, committed to United’s cause.

Change is not without precedent though – one need only ask the previous incumbent of Evra’s position, Gabriel Heinze. And there were more than a few eyebrows raised when Aly Cissokho’s agent, last month, name-checked United as a potential destination for the Olympique Lyonnais left-back.

Potential transfer activity is for later this year though. The real question in the short-term is whether, like Michael Carrick, Evra can rediscover his old drive and focus. While Evra remains, marginally some might argue, an asset to United, more goals such as those conceded at Stamford Bridge may just tip the balance.


shauno - February 6, 2012 Reply

Plays far too many games and has since 2009 gone through patches whereby he looks a bit burnt out. But a lack of cover at left back that can offer the ability to get forward into dangerous positions has been lacking. Just fatigue and it doesn’t surprise me. 2 or 3 game break would do him and us all a world of good!

MB84 - February 6, 2012 Reply

Very well put together piece (firs time reading anything of yours longer than 140 characters) and I suspect like many other United fans you have a certain fondness for Partice “we can replay the game with Ireland on my Play Station” Evra but you were balanced in your assessment of his shortcomings and possible decline. It is perhaps only the sending off of Evans in the rout by City that speaks against his being held culpable for the nature of that defeat as well

Jon689908 - February 6, 2012 Reply

You should also consider that the guy has just lost his brother unexpectedly. Have always loved Evra’s attitude though, so lets hope he refinds his defensive form.

iDon - February 7, 2012 Reply

He is by far the most descent, entertaining and professional footballer. His attitude on and off the pitch is admirable. I don’t undersant the people pointing even the finger against him …

DeadRevel - February 7, 2012 Reply

Evra over the last 4 years has played an absurd amount of games and been involved in numerous mentally damaging events all of which would affect form. I didn’t even realise about his brother, that’s terrible. Everyone needs to be man-managed differently, so maybe Evra is the kind of person who wouldn’t benefit from being rested more. But if he is, then we should think about playing Fabio or Fryers.

Ed, do you really think we’d sell him though? Surely it’s best to have him around as a backup / positive influence in dressing room. The only way Evra will go is if he does get dropped and wants consistent first team football elsewhere. I’m sure Fergie is in no rush to sell a great player for a minimal fee which will go straight into the Glazers pockets.

nailyclops - February 7, 2012 Reply

It’s a bit hard to now, what with squeaky bum time fast approaching, but he could definitely do with a break. Give him that, even just for a couple of weeks, and the rest will follow, cos he’s still a great player. However, we need big players from now on in and given the inexperience in some defensive quarters for this part of the season coming up, Fergie probably needs him more than ever.

DamnedUnited - February 8, 2012 Reply

Only slightly related, but Fergie should not have gone public in supporting Capello knowing that the matter involves the brother of his own player. Since he was determined to stay quiet amidst the Dalglish ‘drip-feeding’ of the press, there was no reason not to stay quiet over this matter.

Besides, supporting Capello? A clueless guy who has ill-treated two Man Utd players during his career at Madrid and England and is now just collecting his pension until the end of the Euros.

RedScot - February 10, 2012 Reply

Great article.
I think Patrice has gone through a terrible period in his life starting with the debacle in South Africa to present day.
The trauma he personally has endured most ‘normal’people would be seriously asking is it all worth it.
Its a game of football.
As many of the other lads have highlighed Evra is playing too many games in my opinion.There is nobody of a high enough standard at present who is fit to give him a break.
The captains arm-band I think he is dreadfully proud(rightly so) of this honour and may appear an albatross to Evra.He is probably trying to hard.
I mean this in a way (as an example) some of his tackling looks tired lacking control, resulting in yellow card’s, bordering occasionally on a red card.
The other angle that Patrice needs support is the tracking back of Nani and Ashley Young in my opinion is not carried out with the same dedication as Antonio Valencia in supporting who-ever may be playing right back behind Valencia.
This clearly is further exposing Evra when he attacking in the opposition’s box.
Also it’s worth noting along with clearly Patrice the whole defensive line-up has been anything but settled, due to the burden of injuries the team has carried, particularly in defence for major parts of the last two seasons.
Lets hope he has a great game tommorow against Liverpool, answers his critics, and gets the full support of ‘all’ concerned.

realist - February 10, 2012 Reply

in conclusion then patrice is a modern day soldier when it comes to football and has had an awful lot to cope with over the last two years and is still soldiering on and leading our great club with his whole heart.
respect patrice, keep going son, all proper reds are behind you!
p.s. red scott- you should get your own blog going, you speak more sense than most, that is clear!

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