Fabio departure leaves Evra unchallenged

April 18, 2012 Tags: , Reads 17 comments

Fábio da Silva’s impending departure on loan to an as yet unnamed destination is likely to remove the last challenge, if there ever genuinely was, to Patrice Evra’s supremacy in the Manchester United left-back slot. This will necessitate that Sir Alex Ferguson dips into the transfer market this summer, both for the good of his squad and, indeed, the French defender.

In confirming that Fábio will leave the club on loan next season Ferguson has once again placed faith in one of his most enduring lieutenants. After all, Evra has averaged almost 48 games a season over the past five years, and is now coming towards the end of his seventh season with the club, with 288 appearances in all competitions.

Yet, the Frenchman could benefit greatly from increased competition at Old Trafford. Certainly, only Evra’s most staunch supporters will deny a decline in the left-back’s form post 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Indeed, data on Evra’s performances supports the proposition that the left-back suffered a slump in form during the 2010/11 campaign. The Frenchman made fewer passes, touched the ball less often, completed fewer crosses, shots of goal diminished, and he created a quarter of the goals of the previous campaign. Evra also covered less ground in 2010/11, dribbled less frequently and spent less time in attacking areas than in the previous season.

Away from the data, many United fans believe Evra is, or was in 2010/11, far from the buccaneering left-back who was widely accredited with being the finest in his position in the world for two years previously.

Yet, there have also been encouraging signs in recent months of an improvement in the Frenchman’s form – most prominently since the drama of the ‘Luis Suarez’ affair died down in the early new year. Many of those data points have returned to pre-World Cup levels, suggesting that the mental and physical fatigue brought about by five years of incessant football had taken their toll on the defender, and a long rest last summer helped.

But not all of Evra’s performance data is where it once was – the Frenchman is spending less time in the final third, making fewer attacking passes, the number of shots have diminished, and he is putting in less crosses than two years ago.

It is also common sense that the Senegalese-born defender is unlikely to improve in the coming seasons. After all, with Evra so heavily used in the past, and turning 31 in May, Ferguson will soon begin the process of winding down his reliance on the Frenchman. Burn out, with Evra likely to travel to Euro 2012 with the French squad this summer, is quite possible if Ferguson uses Evra for more than 40 games once again next season.

Many supporters, and most likely Sir Alex too, had hoped that Fábio would provide both the challenge to Evra’s hegemony – and the boost in performance that competition often brings – together with a well-earned respite for the senior man. It hasn’t come to pass, partly because of Evra’s ongoing endurance, and also thanks to the younger man’s frequent injuries.

The young Brazilian has played just 53 games – 36 starts – for United since making his début over three years ago. And while the Fábio claimed United’s right-back berth in time to start last season’s Champions League final, he has made no progress this season, starting just twice in the Premier League.

This regression has prompted a club rethink, with the youngster no longer seen as Evra’s heir-apparent, but instead requiring the match hardening only regular football will bring.

“I hope that Fabio will develop the same way as his twin [Rafael] and, to help him, he will go out on loan next season to give him concentrated first-team experience,” Sir Alex wrote in Sunday’s programme notes.

“I have already talked to him and he understands the value of playing regularly at a higher level than we can give him at the moment.”

By contrast twin brother Rafael – once considered the lesser of the siblings – has now appeared in 88 matches for the club, having claimed the right-back slot for his own during the run-in. While United is seemingly likely to bring in Nathaniel Clyne from Crystal Palace to provide Rafael with competition, the Brazilian will surely start next season as Sir Alex’ first choice at right-back.

Meanwhile, United is likely to welcome suitors for Fábio with open-arms, although the player has already spoken of a move to Benfica this summer. Ferguson though is more likely to prompt the young Brazilian to join a Premier League club, where United’s coaches can more easily monitor the 21-year-old’s progress. Moreover, stories of Fábio becoming a make-weight in a potential deal for Benfica’s Argentinian midfielder Nicolas Gaitan are almost certainly wide of the mark.

“I am excited about the opportunity to play for Benfica, being a famous and great team,” Fábio reportedly told Portuguese paper O Jogo.

“I feel very honored by the interest of Benfica, but my transfer now depends on Manchester United completing negotiations.”

Fabio’s departure leaves Evra as United’s only left-back, with youngster Ezikiel Fryers likely to leave in the summer when he is out of contract. But Ferguson is also unlikely to be handed millions for a new left-back, with spending on a new midfielder and, possibly, a striker a priority. This will leave Evra to play almost every fixture next season – save for injury – unchallenged.

Speculation is already rife that United will bring in a new man though, with club scouts having been seen watching the excellent Spanish youngster Jordi Alba of Valencia, Costa Rican defender Bryan Oviedo, Granada’s Brazilian Guilherme Siqueira, Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre, and Lyon left-back Aly Cissokho among others in recent months.

There will undoubtedly be another dozen names thrown into the hat before the summer ends. Indeed, some coveting Evra’s place have taken to openly courting the club.

“Aly wants to play in the Premier League because he feels it suits his game,” Cissokho’s agent Ali Barat said earlier this month. “He has already turned down interest from AC Milan and Juventus because he wants to move to the Premier League and his preferred destination would be Manchester United.”

Honduran Izaguirre went so far as to claim “it’s 100% true that Manchester United were following me and were interested in me. It was Alex Ferguson directly who made contact with the Celtic directors. If I have the chance I welcome the move with open arms.”

Fábio’s departure does not mean the end of the youngster’s United career, even if a new man comes in. It is more than likely that United will go shopping a the bottom-end of the market this summer. Whether that provides Evra with any genuine competition is open to question.

Evra’s decline and renaissance?

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helicon - April 18, 2012 Reply

Mathieu Debuchy is a right-back, just to clarify. So if the deal for N. Clyne is apparently all but confirmed, why the apparent interest in Debuchy (with Jones and Smalling able to cover)? Or was Ferguson watching only Hazard in that Lille game he attended?

Ed - April 19, 2012 Reply

helicon – you’re right, and I was just listing a bunch of players United has watched or potentially watched recently. Not really the focus of my piece.

Robert S - April 19, 2012 Reply

Evra really needs to sort out his crossing. A crossing accuracy of around 17% over the last three season just isn’t good enough. Patrice, practice!

I see a problem arising for the beginning of next season. Rafael will be out because of the Olympics, Fabio will be loaned out, and possibley Clyne will also be at the Olympics -> with a couple of injurys we’d really look weak at the back (because de Gea will also be missing).

Calvino - April 19, 2012 Reply

Fabio was never a left back. Seriously speaking he needs to leave United if he wants to play. He is right-footed and we suffer when Evra does not play on that side. That is why I keep wondering what is going on with that Fryers lad. Now, that is a proper left footer.

baggio365 - April 19, 2012 Reply

agree with cal. worth keeping fryers rather than throwing money as someone who isnt good enough to be in our first team. and i like fabio, but he needs games to develop, and he wont get that at united

DeadRevel - April 19, 2012 Reply

Those stats seem misleading. After watching Evras performances Id say his defensive errors are far greater than ‘1’. Not sure how you came to that figure. He’s made at least 5 I can think of this season.

Evra’s form has risen recently but still think Fabio is less error prone and a better attacker. What’s the point of ‘experience’ when you have little awareness of positioning and frequently cause chaos in your own penalty box like Evra does?

uncleknobheadforfucksake - April 20, 2012 Reply

I think he gets less stick than he should because of the suarez stuff

triggs - April 20, 2012 Reply

What is Fryers’ problem?

I can see United bringing someone in over the summer and easying them in over next season. Then, Evra leaving in the summer of 2013 and bringing Fabio back to fight it out with the new signing in 2013/14.

I’d like Fabio to stay in the PL, play regularly and toughen up. Surely Wigan would love to take him and play him as a wingback.

RedDevilInAz - April 20, 2012 Reply

Even without the statistics there there can be little questions that Evra’s game is not what it was prior to the 2010 WC. There have been times this year where our left hand side was just a freeway for the opposition because Evra was still somewhere around the halfway line. If the fans have been astute enough to see the decline in Evra’s game then you know that Sir Alex has also seen the same thin but he continues to play Evra every week and every minute, once again Evra is close to or top of the minutes played. By no stretch of the imagination will Sir Alex ever be considered sentimental; so there have to be some reason why Sir Alex keeps playing Evra and keeps Fabio on the bench or not even on the bench.
Fabio needs games, no question about that and for whatever reason he is not going to get minutes at Old Trafford. So the logical answer is a loan spell at a team where Fabio will get playing time and hopefully can develop a little muscle so he is not so injury prone. Picking up a young LB who is ready to give Evra a break now and then goes hand-n-hand with Fabio going on loan. The replacements LB development will have as much to say about Fabio’s return as the success of the loan.

Twisted Blood - April 21, 2012 Reply

So no Gaitan deal? The Telegraph made it sound like it was done with Benfica wanting loans in lieu of fees in order to reduce Gaitan’s 20% sell-on fee. Player exchange stories are always fishy but this Gaitan story will not go away. Mendes is involved, he owes us one for Bebe and there’s United’s Portugal pipeline. What about it Ed? 100% wide of the mark or like 50% wide of the mark? Don’t think I can handle Pogba or worse, Dempsey, being our only CM addition next season….

Ed - April 21, 2012 Reply

Twisted Blood – club have been telling media that it is not going to happen, Benfica don’t think it’s going to happen, Mendes is using Untied as the stalking horse IMHO. But strange things happen in football, could be a very good game of smoke and mirrors. I don’t think he’s the right player for United anyway. But that’s only my opinion.

DeadRevel - April 21, 2012 Reply

Isn’t he a winger? Would be a very strange signing, especially if we fork out a lot of money for him.

New quotes from Ferguson regarding Fabio look promising for Fabio’s United future. Seems to think he will be a future first teamer, likely at left back. Also says that interest from Benfica is true and that Portugal is a likely destination.

I agree about Wigan though, that would be a good club for him I think.

bman - April 21, 2012 Reply

There’s nowt wrong with Evra besides being overworked. Not only does he play in nearly every match, he has to do the job of left winger as well as left back, because for the past couple of seasons we’ve had no left-footed winger. When Nani and Young cut inside, it’s Evra who has to get up and deliver the cross, with nobody covering the rearguard if we lose possession. Fergie recognises this, that’s why he makes no criticisms of him. His errors nearly always come towards the end of games, when his legs must be burning and every step is exhausting.

Calvino - April 21, 2012 Reply

take a bow sir. That is why I have been screaming for a natural left footer in our side for years now. Evra goes through far too much work. And it is really unfair. To make matters worse, we play with a two man central midfield meaning there is no designated defensive cover to help out the full backs.

When you think about it a lot, our set up taxes some players far too much. Also, watch us play and watch teams in other leagues or even Arsenal and you notice that our game is way too spread out. It makes us so vulnerable to pressing and counter when we lose possession.

bman - April 22, 2012 Reply

Cal, I agree totally. People were justifiably saying that Evra might be the best in his position in the world until he started getting burned out. That’s why I think the Gaitan rumours could make some sense, he’s a proper left-footed player. I don’t think Fergie sees him as the “midfield playmaker” like the papers always say, he looks to me more like a left-sided Valencia.

DeadRevel - April 23, 2012 Reply

What so you think we are going to have FOUR wingers at the club? If Ferguson signs Gaitan for siginificant money and doesn’t sign a top midifielder he will have lost the plot entirely.

CanTheyScore - April 22, 2012 Reply

Regardless of how good/ bad we think Evra has/ has not been this season, I think Fabio’s departure on loan has to signal the impending arrival of another LB. Personally I’d be more than happy picking Baines up for less than £10 but I can’t help but thinking he isn’t a world class LB- however, there aren’t too many available at the moment.

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