When a diminutive Frenchman was hauled off after 45 minutes of his first Manchester derby, not many amongst the United fans in the crowd would have imagined that the same player would go on to become captain – albeit in absence of Nemanja Vidic – and develop a cult following at the club.
Seven years ago today, Patrice Evra put pen to paper on a deal worth £5.5m that sealed his arrival to Manchester United from Ligue 1 side Monaco, the same outfit with which he had finished second best in the 2004 Champions League final. The last stage of Europe’s elite club competition is probably likely to remain a wonderful exception in Monaco’s history but, since his arrival at United, Evra went on to play on club’s football most important stage another three times – winning against Chelsea in Moscow, before surrendering to Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.
Considering the torrid start to his English career he had endured, and despite some shaky performances over the last two seasons, the contribution Evra has offered to the club – and not only in terms of trophies – is such that he can genuinely be considered one of Ferguson’s best purchases since the turn of the century.
As confident at launching into marauding runs forward as he is when marking a direct opponent, Evra proved to be the perfect replacement for Denis Irwin, as he saw off competition from Gabriel Heinze and countryman Mikael Silvestre, growing slowly, yet ever so steadily, into making the left-back position his own.
Over the last few years Evra has attracted unwanted limelight for some poor performances, particularly considering the high standard United fans had become accustomed to since the Frenchman had become a regular in the 2006-07 season. Despite captaining the club last season, his showings convinced Sir Alex Ferguson to bring in Alex Buttner during the summer transfer window to provide a challenge for the Frenchman. A challenge to which Evra has risen for, while not reaching the peak of a few seasons ago, Evra’s performances have definitely improved this year.
Last season was particularly difficult for the Frenchman, who was involved in the disgusting racist row sparked by Luis Suarez’s comments during the game at Anfield. Evra came through that rough patch slightly affected on the pitch perhaps, but with an even bigger status among the fans.
What has made the man who candidly admitted that “playing for Manchester United was something I was not prepared for” a very popular figure at Old Trafford, though is his attitude towards the club. In an era when homegrown players are as rare as tabloid pages without scandals and where many players have their heads turned by the prospect of bigger wages, Evra has wholly embraced the culture of the club, in a way reminiscing of another illustrious Frenchman.
With the exception of Eric Cantona, very few foreign players (foreign in the loose, footballing sense, which considers Irish and Welsh players as local) have displayed such burning passion towards the club. In fact, Evra’s endorsement of what fans simply describe as “being a Red” surpasses even some of his British teammates’.
Forget about the Craig Bellamy-type “I always wanted to play for this club” line, Evra has demonstrated his feelings for United in many interviews, as well as on the pitch. Sometimes, as it was the case when Liverpool visited Old Trafford last season, the line between player and fans became too blurred for his own sake but while that sparked Sir Alex’s ire, it only increased Patrice’s popularity with the fans.
When, in twenty or thirty years time, United fans will be talking about a left-back that loved the club and won four league titles, four Champions League, a FIFA Club World Cup and three league cups, younger generations will struggle to believe that it all began with a shaky 45 minutes against Manchester City.