Tag Patrice Evra

Tag Patrice Evra

Refs and racism in focus amid muddle of tactics

October 17, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 40 comments

It was never going to be a quiet affair. Manchester United at Anfield rarely is and Liverpool’s rejuvenation in recent times ensured a feisty contest from the outset on Saturday lunchtime. Controversial refereeing and post-match accusations of racism simply add to the drama of the occasion, which remains Britain’s biggest and most intensely fought match.

Yet, whatever wrongs United will feel at Charlie Adams’ tumble or Patrice Evra at Luis Suarez’ alleged racist language, Ferguson’s bewildering tactics and team selection also deserve attention. In truth it was not one of the Scot’s finest days, an observation he will only briefly reflect on as fixtures come thick and fast in the coming weeks.

United’s team and formation felt wrong from the start, with far too much negativity, and too many players out of position. That Ferguson’s side went to Anfield in search of a point says much for the Scousers’ progress in recent months, however inconsistent, but for also for United’s attitude after three defeats in-a-row at Anfield. Ferguson sought and was happy with a point from the trip 30 miles west.

The safety-first formation, without Wayne Rooney and Nani until 20 minutes from the end, also included Phil Jones and Darren Fletcher as central midfield holding midfielders. The formation left Ferguson shorn of this campaign’s two best players, while Danny Welbeck was isolated in attack. Meanwhile, Park Ji-Sung, the coward’s winger, focused on retaining United’s shape and not providing attacking impetus. No wonder United appeared so disjointed against a Liverpool outfit that has improved only marginally under Kenny Dalglish from a very low base.

Rooney, said Ferguson, was left out of the fixture after learning of UEFA’s three-match Euro 2012 ban. It was, and remains, a limp excuse, smacking of a manager’s distrust of the player’s recent performances at Anfield. Or his maturity. Or, perhaps, both. “He’s devastated by the suspension,” said Ferguson disingenuously. “I felt with these circumstances that he’s better off starting from the bench.”

Nani’s omission was simply tactical, with Park’s defensive discipline preferred over the Premier League’s leading dribbler and, according the statistics, second best crosser this season. Security over creativity and end-product. It was the same story in central midfield, with Anderson – so often lauded as a potential fantisista (albeit rarely delivering) – dropped in favour of Jones, for the youngster’s first game in midfield for his new club. At Anfield of all places. The experiment failed.

And the muddle so nearly ended in defeat, with Liverpool bossing possession and creating more chances than United, until the final quarter-hour, when Ferguson’s side finally found its attacking feet.

“It only became a good game after Liverpool scored,” Ferguson added. In truth the match only came to life when the Scot introduced Rooney and Nani, and then, with 15 minutes remaining, the match-saver Hernández. Each should have been on from the start demonstrating the bold, creative, attacking play for which United grabbed so many plaudits early in the season. All that now feels a long time gone.

“We looked upon it as a two-team situation as we wanted to make sure there were no silly mistakes,” Sir Alex explained.

“They had no real chances apart from Suarez when there was a lucky break but, other than that, they were never a threat to us. That job had been done, that’s why we were bringing Wayne and Nani on when they scored the goal.

“It was probably a typical United-Liverpool game. It was very intense, of course, and I don’t think the game really got started until Liverpool scored. It was a good game after that. When you’re one-nothing down with 15 minutes to go you can’t be confident, but we’ve got the players who can do that.”

But this tactical muddle has been vastly overshadowed by subsequent events.

First, there is the controversy surrounding Adams’ 67th minute dive to earn Liverpool the goalscoring free-kick. Adam’s was a tumble so blatant that MUTV was today forced to censor United defender Jones’ angry interview on the matter. Midfielder Adams tacitly admitted the dive – albeit under the guise of a denial – claiming that “it’s just the way it goes” when there is minimal contact. Of course it is Charlie, when you live in Steven Gerrard-land!

Then Evra accused Suarez on French TV station Canal Plus of calling the 30-year-old Frenchman a “n****r” at “least 10 times.” It is an accusation that United will take to the Football Association after Evra reiterated his grievance in a meeting with Ferguson on Monday. Uruguayan Suarez “vigorously” denies the allegation, although player and club are hardly likely to do anything else.

“We spoke to Patrice today and he’s adamant that he wants to follow it on,” added the United manager.

“It’s not an easy one because everyone knows that Manchester United and Liverpool have great responsibilities in terms of what happens on the field. I thought Saturday’s game was a terrific game and both sets of fans were good; there was none of the silly chanting we’ve heard in previous years and both sets of supporters deserve praise for that.

“It’s not something that we want to level at Liverpool, and it’s not against Liverpool. Obviously Patrice feels very aggrieved at what was said to him and it rests in the hands of the FA now.”

More concerning though is Liverpool’s reported demand that Evra face sanction should the accusation against Suarez not be proven. In a case that is likely to come down to one man’s word against another, with no conclusive evidence yet forthcoming, the Anfield club’s call is tantamount to denying Evra his moral right to freedom of speech.

Few expect the FA to act on Adam’s dive nor Suarez’ alleged racism, even if the latter is proven.

Highly important though issues of racism and diving are, neither should obscure analysis of United’s sixth average performance in the past seven matches. The other was the reserves’ victory over Leeds United at Elland Road in the Carling Cup. And each has come without Tom Cleverley, in whose absence the heart has grown significantly fonder.

Yet all this adds to a ‘Lancashire’ derby that although no spectacle on the pitch has become one of the more dramatic in recent times. Indeed, the fall out is set to roll on while the FA conducts an investigation of Evra’s allegations. United, meanwhile, may have cause to warn Jones of the negative headlines inflammatory remarks always bring, no matter how in-the-right United’s 19-year-old defender may be.

Meanwhile, Ferguson may well reintroduce the aforementioned Nani, Rooney and Hernández at Romanian no-hopers Otelul Galati in the Champions League on Tuesday night. Figure that one out.

Galati, aside from being the weakest side in this season’s Champions League, is a club also under scrutiny for racism, with the Romanian FA having fined the Romanian champions for racist supporter chanting against Rapid Bucharest earlier this year.

All we need now is an outrageous dive and a controversial goal to complete the full circle this week.

Signs point to Evra departure

January 25, 2011 Tags: Opinion 31 comments

Fan favourite Patrice Evra may have less than six months left at Old Trafford after the left-back’s agent failed to guarantee the player’s long-term future at Manchester United. Federico Pastorelo confirmed Internazionale’s interest in the United defender, whose contract runs to June 2012, but said there is no plan for departure during the winter transfer window.

Yet it is Pastorelo’s assertion that his client will decide whether to “stay or go” this summer that will concern United fans most. After all rumours of Evra’s departure have circulated for more than a year now and a new contract is yet to be signed.

“We will sit down in the summer with Manchester United and decide whether he will extend his contract or move on,” Pastorelo told Sport.co.uk on Monday.

“But for the moment there is nothing special to say on the situation. There has been interest, and I have read about Real Madrid but really the only official interest was from Inter Milan last summer.

“We had a long chat with Sir Alex Ferguson and it was decided he would stay in Manchester. His contract runs out in the summer of 2012 and there he is concentrating and focused on this season.”

Indeed, current signs point to a summer departure unless Evra receives a substantial pay rise in keeping with the defender’s status as the world’s leading left-back. That Evra is yet to publicly commit to the club, nor any talks on a deal yet confirmed, only adds credibility to the rumour of a summer move to the continent.

Moreover, the agent’s carefully chosen words, much like those of Nemanja Vidic’s representative last year, leave the player’s options open, while avoiding painting his client into a corner. After all, Madrid is still reportedly interested despite the improved form of Marcelo this season.

Nor should there be any surprise at Old Trafford that the player is prepared to play the market, despite Evra’s status as a fan favourite. After all, Wayne Rooney’s excessive new deal has set in motion substantial pay increases for United’s stars as wage inflation continues unabated. That John O’Shea’s proposed new deal is reportedly worth more than £80,000 per week puts into perspective Evra’s probable and realistic demands.

The player is in a strong negotiating position too. Evra’s departure – should it happen – will not only cause further disruption to United’s defence for the 2011/12 season but necessitate a potentially large transfer fee for an appropriately top class replacement. After all, Edwin van der Sar is now certain to retire in June and while Fabio da Silva has much promise, Rafael’s brother has little to no experience. With Gary Neville also likely to retire this summer and Wes Brown on his way to pastures new it promises to be a close-season of defensive change at the club.
This change comes just as Ferguson’s back four offers more solidity than ever with Rio Ferdinand’s return to long-term fitness and captain Vidic now settled at the club.

Any transfer will also rob United fans of a favourite son. Not only has Evra developed into one of the world’s finest during a five-year stint at Old Trafford but he is a character to boot. Ever quotable, the 29-year-old defender seemingly has the fans at heart.

But there is a counter argument to the populist view of Evra – one that few fans will accept. Ruthless perhaps, but Ferguson could lose Evra knowing that the player’s best years are behind him. Turning 30 in May, Evra will command a gradually lower transfer fee while earning superstar wages should he sign a contract extension in the coming months. It’s an economic imperative that will  force the player out in June and rather than on a Bosman free in 2012 should a new deal not be agreed.

More to the point, Evra’s performances have noticeably dropped this season. A World Cup hangover perhaps but the Senegalese-born defender is yet to hit previous heights. While that is of course understandable – Evra’s part in the French World Cup rebellion has seemingly been punished with permanent exclusion from the national team – long-term decline will inevitably set in at some point.

That said, the player’s departure is not inevitable. After all, captain Vidic remained non-committal for months while speculation raged about a move to Milan, Madrid or Barcelona. The Serbian’s reward: a 30 per cent pay rise that will make the 29-year-old millions.

In the modern football market the choice is now Evra’s. Old Trafford or abroad, the Frenchman will be very well rewarded.

The defence has it

January 17, 2011 Tags: , , , , Opinion 23 comments

Should Manchester United complete a 19th domestic title come May it will have little to do with star player Wayne Rooney. Nor, though influential, will Nani take the plaudits. Ditto Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Anderson. Much as United’s attacking players can take overdue credit for becoming the division’s the second highest goalscorers, it is the defence that will win it.

Indeed, so imperious have captain Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand been this season that there is surely no better central defensive partnership in world football. Coupled with Patrice Evra’s status as the finest left-back on the planet, Rafael da Silva’s rapid progress and Edwin van der Sar’s assured composure and United may well land the title despite a paucity of creative options.

United’s strengths and weaknesses were exposed against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, with the Reds watertight in defence despite playing the final quarter with 10 men. At the same time, United created too few chances to win at White Hart Lane as the visitors drew an eighth Premier League match on the road this season.

No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson was fulsome in his praise of his back five, whose control over Rafael van der Vaart, Peter Crouch, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon was almost total. That Spurs managed just two strikes on target is symptomatic of just how well marshalled Vidic’s colleagues are this season.

“The kind of pressure we were under were just long balls into the box really,” claimed Ferguson today.

“With Ferdinand and Vidic as your centre-backs you know you can cope with that. They were fantastic. The whole back four did really, really well.

“In the context of Tottenham’s home record this season and the performances they have given, we have got to take it as a good point for us.”

Even Rafael, harshly sent off for a second bookable offence with twenty minutes to go, drew praise from colleagues for another mature performance that largely kept Bale at check.

Should United win the title by that single point gained in London then Ferguson will be have much to celebrate. Yet, it is not a single season transformation in United’s play that has seen the Reds become so secure at the back. Critics can – and do – point to the fundamental change in United’s style over the past decade, from the side that scored three against Barcelona, twice, in the swashbuckling 1999 season, to the often overly cautious outfit we see today.

While United did not exactly morphed Jose Mourinho’s Inter at Camp Nou circa Spring 2010, there have been times when the Reds have performed a passable impression. It is not the ‘United way’ perhaps but one that fans have become accustomed too over the past decade.

Part of United’s metamorphosis over the years is down to Ferguson’s obsession with performing in Europe. Largely it has worked. Yet, much of the Reds’ style this season is surely down to the dearth of attacking creative talent in the squad, with Rooney too often anonymous, Nani still inconsistent, Antonio Valencia injured and Paul Scholes’ legs finding no friend in father time.

It showed against Spurs, with the Reds managing just seven shots – on target or not – in the match. No enough for the pretenders to Chelsea’s thrown. Similar sterile performances have been evident in many of United’s away fixtures at home and abroad this season.

“We didn’t bother them too much,” admitted Ferguson

“We had one or two good opportunities at times when we got to the last third of the field but we just didn’t quite have the cutting edge. In the second half Anderson attacked the back four four times and maybe his selection of pass or a shot on goal would have been better.”

It is, always has been and one wonders whether it always will be the Brazilian’s principal failing. For a player so widely touted – including by Ferguson himself – as the natural successor to Scholes, Anderson does not score, nor create goals or even retain possession more than three-quarters of the time.

In defence United’s resources will be stretched in coming games, with Rafael set to miss at least one match, possibly more, after the Football Association charged the 20-year-old defender with improper conduct today. Little wonder after the youngster both disputed referee Mike Dean’s erroneous decision and then refused to promptly leave the field.

“It was Mary Decker and Zola Budd,” said Spurs’ manager Harry Redknapp in the Brazilian’s defence.

“He was just running and he has clipped Benoît’s heels. He has not broken his stride and stuck a leg out, saying ‘I’ll trip him’. He was trying to get out of the way.”

But with Rafael out, John O’Shea injured and Wes Brown all but forgotten at Old Trafford, Ferguson may turn to the Brazilian’s brother Fabio, who featured in United reserves’ 8-0 win over Bury this week. Often touted as the more talented sibling, Fabio’s progress has been hampered by Evra’s outstanding form and persistent injuries.

With Rafael set to miss fixtures against Birmingham City and potentially Blackpool in the coming week, Fabio’s ability to integrate into United’s outstanding back-five will be severely tested. As will United’s title credentials.

Evra begins war of words but who will end it?

December 10, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 19 comments

The needle been missing from the Manchester United – Arsenal fixture in recent years. Certainly Arsenal’s comparative lack of success over the past five years and then Jose Mourinho’s introduction to English football has taken the edge off the bickering between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger.  Patrice Evra just pulled out the whetstone.

Indeed, Evra’s words, bordering on the line between fact and disrespect, are sure to wind up the London side on the eve of Monday night’s fixture between the two sides. Claiming that Arsenal will not winning the title this season, Evra goes on to describe the Londoners as a club in crisis.

“Arsenal is a training centre. I watch them play and enjoy it but will they win the title? That’s what people remember,” Evra said.

“Arsenal are a great club but it has been five years since they won anything and that for me is a crisis. We could lose to them on the 13th but then what? There is nothing, there will be no trophy, nothing.”

Of course, there is little in Evra’s words that is untrue. Arsenal’s much-lauded style has brought no conspicuous success in recent seasons, while the side’s soft-underbelly is repeatedly exposed against top sides home and abroad. That Arsenal’s weaknesses come to the fore against middle ranked sides too has consistently undermined everything Wenger has worked towards with his “young” side.

Like his team, Wenger’s excuses never seem to grow old.

Yet, this season a steeliness appears to have enveloped the Emirates club, with former Red Phil Neville identifying Arsenal’s new propensity to fend off the Premier League’s bullies. But in gaining steel, Arsenal appears to have lost consistency. Losses to Braga, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion, present a case in point.

Wenger, no less myopic than the day he walked into Highbury a little more than 14 years ago, reacted to Evra’s jibe with more restraint than is sometimes the case.

“He gave you some good stuff to make it all hot before the game,” the Arsenal manager told the media today.

“We are guided by the way we want to play football and not by the statements of anybody who plays against us.

“Personally, I believe if you are a big player you always respect your opponent and that is what we try to do.

“We do not want to go into any unneeded talking before a game like that. We want to focus on the way we want to play and ignore any provocation before a game.

“We are motivated by the desire to win the game and by the quality of the football we want to play.”

But in recent meetings United’s ability to break quickly has brought emphatic victories at the Emirates in both domestic and European football. That Ferguson’s side also ground out a 2-1 victory much against the run of play at Old Trafford last August simply proved the old adage that United can win when playing badly.

Arsenal rarely does.

It is, in effect, Evra’s point. That is no value criticising Arsenal’s playing style; Wenger’s defensive response about his team’s football quality misses the point. Teams can and do win with style as Barcelona emphatically demonstrated against the Gunners in last season’s Champions League.

Sometimes even the best need an edge.

Indeed, while United has rarely sparked into life this season as Ferguson’s squad deteriorates in quality, between 2007 and 2009 the Reds won with both style and – importantly – no little grit.

On Monday night United is likely to need plenty of the latter. Fans seek some of the former too; they are not and have never been mutually exclusive.

Should Wenger ever discover this secret Arsenal might actually prove Evra wrong. From this distance, it seems some way off.

Not that Wenger’s side is even that young. The starting 11 that faced Partizan Belgrade during the week averaged around 25. Youthful but not without experience either.

Still, the challenge coming from Arsenal this season, with Wenger’s side currently top of the Premier League, might at least spark a revival in the edge between the sides. At its height the war between Wenger and Ferguson was hugely entertaining, although perhaps not always for Sir Alex who famously ended on encounter victorious but covered in pizza.

Evra has fired the first shot across the bows. How United fans will enjoy any forthcoming Ferguson volley.

Persecution of the precious

August 24, 2010 Tags: Opinion 20 comments

The French Football Federation (FFF) last week announced its response to Les Bleus’ disastrous World Cup campaign, with Nicolas Anelka, Franck Ribéry, Jeremy Toulalan and Manchester United star Patrice Evra all receiving serious punishment. However, the sanctions handed down by the FFF raise a more intriguing question…

Are the players to blame for making a stand against a coach whom they had lost faith in?

After guiding France to an unexpected spot in the 2006 World Cup final, former French international Raymond Domenech failed dismally at the 2008 Euros, finishing last behind Romania in their group. Despite calls for 58-year-old Frenchman to step down or be sacked throughout the two years between the Euros and the 2010 World Cup, Domenech was handed the task of leading a talented French squad in South Africa.

While rumours had brewed that Domenech was unpopular with the players, the abysmal nature of the French World Cup campaign and the subsequent scandals left a nation shocked at the FFF’s failings. Letting Domenech, a man hated by his team, guide them through a World Cup seems nonsensical, and this was only reaffirmed by the antics of the squad in South Africa.

After Chelsea striker Anelka was sent home following a row with Domenech, the team revolted and refused to train, retreating to the sanctuary of the team bus. This eventually led to France exiting the World Cup after the group stage, suffering a humiliating defeat to hosts South Africa in the final game.

In response to the failure of the French squad at the 2010 World Cup, the FFF handed down match bans to four of the players involved in the so-called ‘mutiny’. Anelka has been banned from international football for an astonishing 18 matches, while United star Evra will miss five pending an appeal launched yesterday. Bayern Munich winger Ribéry, absent from the hearing, was given a three match ban, and Olympique Lyonnaise star Toulalan will miss a single game.

Unsurprisingly the decision has been greeted with disgust and derision from the players involved, and others involved in the world game have followed suit.

Before the sanctions were handed down, Evra started his pre-emptive defence, questioning the FFF’s hearing

“Why punish us more than others? It’s over now,” said the French captain.

“The penalty of not selecting the 23 players from the World Cup for the Norway friendly is consistent. That showed there were not five or six ‘ringleaders’ as had been written.”

But the FFF had to act, had to turn attention away from the failure of a federation that allowed a manager, who clearly no longer had support of the players, to lead the side to the World Cup.

“I am surprised, as I thought everyone wanted to turn the page after the World Cup. We must think about the future,” Evra adds.

However, the FFF clearly thought differently, and wanted to punish those who had apparently led a strike in protest against the decision to send Anelka home. While the comments attributed to the French striker that led to his exclusion were less than kind – “Go &@$% yourself, you son of a whore” – the real issue is that the FFF is trying to hide its woeful inadequacy.

Another to receive a ban, Ribéry, has tried to play down the decision to keep his international spot once the ban is over. The 27-year-old winger questioned the wisdom of not punishing the squad as a collective.

“I do not understand why some players were sentenced to a five-match ban while others have not been punished. All these players participated in what happened at the World Cup,” said Ribéry last week.

Ribéry has a valid point, the judgment to sentence only some players, predominantly those in leadership positions among the team, is intriguing. Ultimately, didn’t those players, as the leaders of the team, have the right to question manager’s authority they no longer believed in? After Domenech made a decision, which they felt left the team in an untenable position.

Such an occurrence is common-place in Premier League sides when managers get the boot. Often the old heads of the team will have questioned his position at the club. The FFF’s decision, therefore, can be seen as trying to lay the blame for a poor World Cup on those who do not deserve it – ultimately using Anelka, Evra and co as scapegoats.

Not everyone agrees with such a view though, and French legend Lillian Thuram wasn’t supportive of United’s beloved defender Evra. One of the most successful figures in French football, Thuram belittled Evra.

“I demanded that the players be harshly punished and that Evra never returns to the France squad. When you are captain of the France team, you must have a responsibility to the jersey and the people,” said the 142-cap legend.

“When the players shut themselves in the bus…that showed that the coach was no longer respected.”

However, if the coach was no longer respected, is it not the captain’s job to make this known? While a safer option was to grin and bear it until the end of the tournament, Evra made a stance and demonstrated to the world how flawed the FFF’s decision making is.

Unsurprisingly there are many who are ready to back Evra and his role at the World Cup. Newly signed Tottenham Hotspur defender William Gallas was quick to redirect the finger of blame.

“If it was a fiasco, then there are reasons for it,” the former Arsenal captain told the Daily Telegraph.

“And for me there is no need to draw a veil over why: they emanated from the coach. The real problem is the coach. Ok I wasn’t good, we weren’t good. But the coach wasn’t up to scratch either.”

“Anelka’s incident was a case of him being fed up for a few weeks prior to that. Domenech hammered into us time and again: ‘Put your egos to one side’. But I believe that he forgot to do that himself.”

While Gallas was already disenfranchised with Domenech after a disputing the side’s captaincy he makes a valid point.

Even new French manager Laurent Blanc isn’t positive about the punishments.

“I thought the collective punishment [the Norway friendly] was both necessary and sufficient…Our only concern is to establish the best possible squad for those fixtures in early September against the Belarus and Bosnia-Herzegovina,” said the former United defender.

Given the man charged with turning around the fortunes of French football disagrees with the punishment, one must wonder why the FFF felt compelled to act and not move on.

Finally, the man at the centre of the controversy, Anelka, sums up the farce.

“For me, this whole thing with the commission is an aberration, a masquerade to make sure they don’t lose face,” said the Chelsea striker.

“They have punished a void, as Nicolas Anelka never existed in this pitiful and colourful affair. They are real clowns, these people … I am doubled up with laughter.” While the laughter claim may sound arrogant, his argument is striking and direct, much like the Frenchman’s playing style.

While the decision to exclude the players from France’s recent friendly is widely seen as justifiable, the bans handed down by the FFF recently are not. Instead, it is a crude attempt to hide the organisational failures at the top level of French football.

There is however one benefit the punishment brings United fans; Patrice Evra won’t have to attend any pesky international games in the next few months!

Captain Evra central to French implosion

June 21, 2010 Tags: , , International 1 comment

Prior to the World Cup’s start French coach Raymond Domenech awarded Patrice Evra the national team captaincy. The honour came with Thierry Henry’s fading star; Manchester United’s left-back replacing Les Bleus’ legend at the national side’s helm. With the team and coach at war, Evra may prefer the relative quiet of defensive duties.

How quickly the dream turns to dust.

French in-fighting, hardly new, began before the tournament’s start with William Gallas objecting to Evra’s premature promotion. The Arsenal defender, now the team’s senior player, instilled a tournament-long media boycott in protest at the apparent insult by Domenech.

More followed disquiet followed, with Chelsea winger Florent Malouda exchanging heated – reportedly bordering on violent – words with Domenech before being consigned to the bench for Les Bleus’ first match again Uruguay match.

Malouda’s anger just another expression of long-held antipathy for Domenech’s regime both inside the squad and among the wider public. Aside from alienating a series of senior players, the erratic coach is widely considered too studious, too closely wedded to the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) after years with both the Under-21s and national team.

Worse followed with Domenech’s team performing more akin to strangers than former world champions against Uruguay a week last Saturday.

Then, with France held scoreless at half-time against Mexico on Thursday night Nicolas Anelka, dubbed Le Sulk for good reason, let the frustration boil-over and reportedly called Domenech “the son of a whore” as egos within the camp reached breaking point.

The French lost, with new United recruit Javier Hernandéz scoring a stunning opener as Javier Aguirre’s side recorded a well-deserved 2-0 win in Group A.

Anelka’s confrontation had reached the morning papers as Friday’s news broke, the FFF sent the Chelsea striker home after Le Sulk refused to apologise when asked to by Fédération president Jean-Pierre Escalettes.

Domenech supported the FFF, much to his players’ disgust.

“Nobody can behave in such a way in the dressing room or elsewhere and high-level sportsmen and women have to lead by example through football,” said 58-year-old coach.

By Sunday little short of total war had been declared at Knysna, the French base for the tournament, as Evra confronted fitness coach Robert Duverne with both the accusation of leaking the Anelka tirade to the press and news of an impending players’ strike.

Evra’s accusation that a “traitor” – later denied as Duverne by the left-back – within the camp deliberately contravened the unwritten law of the dressing room by revealing the inner-most secrets of squad conversations.

Within hours the entire squad, now refusing to train, effectively forced Domenech to issue a demand on the players’ behalf for Anelka’s immediate return.

“The players are unanimously against the FFF’s decision to expel Nicolas Anelka,” said the statement.

The row, which has ended Anelka’s international career, will also bring the curtain down on Domenech’s era in shame, possibly as early as Tuesday when France play hosts South Africa in Bloemfontain. The coach is being replaced by former United defender Laurent Blanc after the World Cup ends.

“The players don’t want to train, it’s a scandal,” the FFF’s team director and FFF managing director Jean-Louis Valentin said, resigning in disgust at Sunday’s strike.

“It’s a scandal for French people, for the youngsters who came here to watch them train. I’m resigning, I’m leaving the Federation. I have nothing more to do here. I’m going back to Paris.”

When the French blow-up it goes nuclear.

But Evra’s part runs further than his role as the not wholly popular new captain, even aside from the training ground confrontation with Duverne. Although not the ring-leader in total mutiny, Evra supported leading players – thought to be stars “past their prime,” including deposed captain Thierry Henry, the aforementioned Gallas and Malouda.

“A rebellion? No, a caprice. A strike? No, cowardliness. Don’t deceive yourself. The republican solidarity that our players showed the world yesterday is an illusion,” ran the lead editorial in French sports newspaper L’Equipe.

“Evra has once and for all shown that he has muddled up the role of captain with that of a gang leader.”

Domenech today held a press conference without his captain Evra, with suggestions now circulating that the United left-back will be stripped of both the captaincy and his place in Les Bleus’ side.

It is perhaps then with some irony that Evra’s leadership has now brought new unity to a camp riven with divisions over personnel, tactics and the coach’s role – even if that solidarity is based on a mutual hatred of the coach and federation.

Training today behind closed-doors, the French squad now faces a make-or-break fixture against the hosts tomorrow, with Uruguay and Mexico requiring only a draw to end France’s run in the tournament.

Most French fans it seems will be supporting the Africans.

United lads look to World Cup games with hope

June 17, 2010 Tags: , , , International No comments

Patrice Evra, Ji-Sung Park and Wayne Rooney face crucial World Cup fixtures over the next two days. While Korea beat Greece, both Rooney and Evra suffered disappointing opening draws. Amid stories of fighting in the French camp and English press criticism, only Park’s Korea, who face Argentina today, play without pressure.

South Korea captain Park faces his good friend and former Manchester United team-mate Carlos Tevez today, as new tournament favourites Argentina look to build on a opening win over Nigeria. The lunchtime kick-off at Soccer City Johannesburg could go a long way to deciding which team wins Group B.

But friendship, which has remained despite the players now on opposite sides of the city, is set aside for the fixture, says the Korean.

“We have played together and I think it is great that we will play against each other, but this is not just a friendly, this is the greatest place to play football,” Park told Sky Sports.

“We are both adversaries for now and we will both be doing our best to win the game.

“We had two years together at Old Trafford and we know each other very well.

“If you know your opponent, you are going to tell your defenders what it will be like, so we are both in the same boat.”

Although fatigue may have played a part in the low-key opening fixtures, Park’s multiple injuries during the season mean he is fresher than most. It’s an advantage, says the 29-year-old winger.

“I think a lot of the European players are a little tired and may not be on top form, but I have rested well and had a good training schedule.

“I am at the top of my condition and physically I think I am very well-prepared.”

Meanwhile, French captain leads his side out against Mexico tonight in Polokwane, with United’s new striking recruit Javier Hernandéz on the opposite side. Despite stories of in-fighting and clashes with the team’s coach Raymond Domenech dominating the media, Evra insists that French spirit is high for the crucial Group A fixture.

Mexico drew its opening fixture against South Africa, while France failed to beat 10-man Uruguay. However, the South Americans’ 3-0 win over the hosts last night means that victory in today’s fixture is essential for both France and Mexico.

“I like to play within a very good team spirit,” said Evra, who was appointed to succeed Thierry Henry as France’s captain.

“I am always making sure that the group remains together and in good spirits and we remain friends, play closely together and are frank with one another so we don’t take our problems out onto the pitch.

“Since the first day you could feel this team was closely-knit and after each training session there are little gestures that cannot lie.”

Rooney, meanwhile, is under pressure to score having failed to hit the net since an early-April ankle injury hampered the end to the striker’s season. With a disappointing draw against the United States behind the team, pressure is mounting on both Rooney and Fabio Capello to deliver a result against Algeria in tomorrow evening’s Group D match.

“I’d like to score, but if I’m not scoring I’ll keep working until I do,” said Rooney, who has scored 25 times in 61 internationals.

“I don’t worry that much about it. We’ve got players in the team who can score goals. For us to do well, I need to play better than I did and to score goals, but I don’t feel under extra pressure.”

“It was difficult for me to play as well as I wanted after I got the injury against Bayern Munich. I played when I probably shouldn’t and lost my match fitness and sharpness.

“Even in Austria (during high altitude training) I had a few niggles and I held myself back but since we’ve come over here I’ve felt sharp and been flat out.

“When I was playing well and scoring goals earlier in the season I was sharp and hungry in training. That is how I feel at the minute.

“Of course I want to score. I don’t mind not scoring if we win but I know for us to win, it will be more or less down to me to score the goals, whether it is now or later in the competition.”

Rooney, rated as one of the finest players on the planet over the past 12 months, says the tournament is an opportunity to consolidate that view with some stand-out performances. So far other leading players such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká have failed to inspire in a low-key start to the tournament.

“This is a great opportunity for me to prove myself at world level,” added the 34-goal striker.

“I look at what Maradona and Pelé did. They took the World Cup by the scruff of the neck and virtually won it single-handed.

“If I can manage half of what they achieved, it would be great.”

World Cup opens with Chicarito, Evra and the vuvuzela

June 11, 2010 Tags: , , , International 1 comment

Forget the crime, travel nightmares and rip-off prices; concentrate on the football. That’s the message as the World Cup opened amid the vuvuzela din in Johannesburg. There’s plenty of it, with 64 matches in total. Manchester United interest came early, with Mexico’s Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandéz featuring in a 1-1 draw with South Africa today.

This evening, at the truly magnificent Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, French captain Patrice Evra took to the field against former red Diego Forlan and reported United transfer target Luis Suarez. It’s a cliché of course but 30 days of back-to-back matches is truly a festival of football. Magnificent.

It’s a tournament with a unique character too and not just because of the incessant low rumble of an approaching swarm that is recalled by South Africans’ favourite match-day horns. The sheer local pride in hosting the first tournament on African soil is palpable.

On the pitch the hosts took the lead today with a stunning opening goal in the 94,000 capacity Soccer City Stadium before Hernandez’ Mexico struck a late, fully deserved, equaliser to finally silence the banks of vuvuzela. The striker, who officially becomes a United player during the tournament on 1 July, completely missed a header six yards out only for midfielder Rafael Marquez to shank the ball home.

Hernandéz, perhaps surprisingly, started the match on the bench despite seven goals in 13 internationals to date, with West Ham United reject Guiermo Franco starting up front in a 4-3-3 formation. But with Mexico trailing, the 22-year-old Guadalajara-born forward came on as a second-half substitute.

The 5′ 8 in” forward showed some neat touches and plenty of movement without fashioning a chance in 17 minutes on the pitch but with Franco abjectly poor the new United star could well start against France in six days time.

Meanwhile, French captain Evra vowed to win the World Cup for the motherland ahead of Les Bleus’ opening fixture against Uruguay tonight. With arguments rocking the squad this week – Florent Malouda’s anger at coach Raymond Domenech almost coming to blows yesterday – the left-back will need to demonstrate all his leadership skills to bring unity to the side.

“I am very confident and I have trust in the squad,” said Evra, who was appointed captain to succeed Thierry Henry.

“I think we can go right to the end [of the tournament]. Anything can happen in football but that is what drives us. We are in very good health both on and off the field and that is what we need.”

Evra’s promotion came at the expense of Arsenal’s William Gallas, who is now refusing to speak to the media as a result. It’s a remarkable rise for the captain, who arrived at United via footballing backwaters such as Marsala, Monza and Nice.

“It’s difficult to talk about one’s self but I have put in some hard work to this point,” Evra said yesterday.

“I have not had any gifts but I am determined. My first six months in Manchester were difficult but my psychology has helped me get this far.”

No doubt more hard work lies ahead if France is to match the performance in Germany four years ago when, led by the inspirational Zinidine Zidane, the French made the World Cup final.

Gallas throws toys out of pram over Evra captaincy

June 10, 2010 Tags: , , International 5 comments

William Gallas, the experienced Arsenal and France defender, is refusing to speak to the press during the World Cup in protest that coach Raymond Domenech has handed Patrice Evra the armband for the tournament, according to the Daily Mail. Gallas, 33, is by far the more experienced of the two men in international terms.

Gallas has earned 80 caps but Domenech favoured Evra’s on-the-pitch maturity as Thierry Henry’s successor. It is not the first time Gallas has behaved with the maturity of a stroppy teenager. The defender famously staged an on-pitch sit-in following Arsenal striker Eduardo’s broken leg at St. Andrews two years ago.

By contrast Evra’s promotion is a reflection not only of the left-back’s outstanding season at club level, but the player’s growing standing both in the international set up and at Old Trafford.

The Mail also reports the French squad is in revolt over Domenech’s plan to drop Henry from the first team for Les Bleus opening match against Diego Forlan’s Uruguay in Cape Town on Friday night. The side’s talisman, Henry’s hand-ball in the European qualification play-off against Ireland in November effectively earned France’s place in the World Cup finals.

Demanding Fergie will die on the job

May 1, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 3 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will die on the job before he retires from it, according to fans’ favourite Patrice Evra. The French left-back, who signed from Monaco in January 2006, says that despite recent rumours Ferguson will never leave his role as Manchester United manager and still demands the highest possible standards from his players.

“The manager will die on the bench. It is his destiny,” Evra told the Daily Mail, dismissing rumours that Ferguson will retire in June 2011.

“He just started talking about how people had been saying he was going to retire. And he asked us if we seriously thought he would just be sitting in his house watching the TV, listening to the radio and doing nothing.

“He said, ‘No chance. I have worked all my life and I will work until I die’. For a moment he laughed. And then he said, ‘This is my victory. I cannot walk away from this’.

“Before a game he always tells a small story. Sometimes he talks about when he was the Aberdeen manager. Another time he went round the dressing room and talked about the different players.

“The fact that here we were, from Korea, France, Serbia, Bulgaria, from different parts of England and the world, and how we had all come together to be in the same place. He talked about our stories. The different obstacles we had overcome to get here. It gave the players this huge lift.”

“Alex Ferguson is a culture. And he is a winner. Football is like a pyramid. To reach the top is easy. It is staying there that is difficult. He does not let you rest. He is always hungry for the next game.

“I remember one match when we were winning 2-0 by half-time and he still gave us the hair-dryer because we should have been four or five up. He reminded us that people had paid money to watch us. ‘Why don’t you respect them?’ he screamed.

“He demands the highest standards. If you play a good game for United, you sit on the bench. Only if you play an amazing game do you stay in the team. Those are the rules and the players accept them.”

Evra, who has played nearly 200 times for United, is a popular player in both the dressing room and the terraces since joining in a £5.5 million deal.