Patrice Evra- The Rise and Fall of a Fullback

He arrived without too much fanfare, and his acquisition left many Manchester United supporters confused.  He came with Nemanja Vidic, another puzzling buy that Fergie made in January of 2006.  Not many United fans knew much about the two defenders.  They cost decent money (for the time) and we didn’t really need them.  We had enough centerbacks, so the Vidic purchase seemed like spending money on luxury when we needed players elsewhere.  And we had a leftback, a fan favourite, Gabriel H****e.  Why the hell did we need another leftback for?  He was small, did not look like he could defend and had no aerial presence.  Maybe we could make him into a winger?  We all read in Wikipedia that he did play on the wing at times for his old club.  Either way, the money that was spent that January did not appear to be a great investment.  And it looked even worse once we saw them play.

But as any armchair fan has (or should have) learned by now, we can’t judge players based on Youtube videos, or just a few games.  Evra made his debut just days after his arrival, against out bitter local rivals Manchester city.  And he was shit.  We were awful all around to be honest, but Patrice did not make a good first impression.  Or second, or third.  He was quite poor all winter and spring.  In most of his 14 appearances.  So we were left wondering, just why the hell did Fergie buy him, and what did he see in him?  Well by the end of his second season at United we all knew why.  He displaced the fan favourtie (his injury helped) and became the undisputed number one leftback at United.  He had pace, despite his small frame he was pretty good in the air, his tackling was very good.  He had good positioning and awareness, he was combative, and boy could he attack.  Pretty soon Evra became a fan favourite.  Everyone loved him, well except for the opposition players and fans.

Less than two months after his arrival Patrice picked up his first medal with United, a League Cup medal, he came on as a sub.  And he continued to pick up medals in every season he has been at United so far.  3 League medals, a Champions League medal, and 3 League Cup medals along with a CWC medal and a few lesser ones.  He has won everything at United except for the FA Cup.  And he was instrumental to United’s success in all of those seasons.  Not only a fan favourite but consistently one of our best players and one of the best leftbacks in the League and the world.  He even captained the side on several occasions.  Patrice also has shown to be a proper United player by learning about United and the club’s history.  Even though he is a foreigner he speaks about United as if he was from Salford.  And he winds up the opposition.  Arsenal fans and players I think love him the most, closely followed by Chelsea and our main rivals Liverpool and city.  So the perfect United player.

Defends properly, attacks with flair, knows what it means to be a United player, the opposition hate him, we love him.  Its a wonder why there are no great songs about him.  Only knock could be that despite his great attacking abilities he does not score enough, just 3 goals in over 220 games.  But we did not get him for goals.  We loved him when he called Arsenal players babies.  We loved him when he went after the racist groundsmen.  We loved him after he displaced a former fan favourite.  He was dependable, rarely injured, and hardly ever made mistakes.  The perfect United player.

Or so it was till about a year ago.  It was then that I noticed something wrong with his game.  He still helped out in the attack, bombing down the wing and making the opposing defenders’ lives difficult.  But a lot of times he did not track back.  His tackles became mistimed more and more.  He seemed lost at times.  Did not read the game well, was out of position more and more.  He became a bit shit.  Then there was the disastrous French World Cup in South Africa.  But he got a bit of rest and we all thought that once he got back to his proper team the old Patrice would be back.  Well he was back.  The Patrice of his early days at United, or of last Spring.  That one we don’t like so much.  And as the season progressed he became worse and worse.

Now in the last months of last season, and the first months of this, many fans simply did not see his poor play.  Evra’s reputation got him off from most of the criticism.  Instead we concentrated on Evans, Rooney, Neville, Fletcher, Carrick and others who had poor games.  Evra was our dependable great fullback, the best in the League, one of the best in the business.  He still had his moments here and there.  Still attacked with flair.  He still made a few great tackles.  So more games passed and he played as badly as he did earlier.

Finally people started to notice.  The slow trot back to our area while the opposition attack.  The frequent loss of possession, the poor tackles.  The great Evra had become a liability.  What was wrong with our great Patrice?  My theory is simple.  Fergie burned him out.  Out of the 56 games we played last season, he played in 51.  The next ones were Valencia (11 less starts, but 49 games), Rooney 44 (42 starts) and Fletcher 41 (39 starts).  There is a common theme with all those players, bar Valencia who was injured for a long time.  They have been shit this season.  Fletcher is half the player he was last season.  And Rooney, well we all know what happened with him.  In the past 4 seasons Evra has not played less than 48 games (37 already this season, all starts).  Now that would be fine for a centerback, but is a bit much for an attacking fullback like Evra.  He simply works too hard to play so much.  While in the middle of last season pretty much all our defenders were hurt, it was Evra playing alongside Carrick and Fletcher in defence.  It fell on him to lead the line.  And while we had injuries there was no one to come in and relieve him from time to time.  Fergie did not yet trust Fabio, while O’Shea was either injured or playing RB, or CB, or CM.  So, by late March and April Patrice was burned out physically and mentally.  Now, instead of resting in the summer he went to the WC with France and captained that side.  And we all know what a disaster that was.  It lead to his suspension from the team.  He just had a few short weeks of rest, along with official inquiries in France, and he came back to United.

Our poor midfield play added more pressure on defenders.  Soon we fell behind in the title race and we needed our veterans more and more.  And since Patrice is hardly ever hurt it means he’s had more starts than any other player on the team.  And so his poor form continues.  That is by no means to suggest that he has been one of our worst players, or even the worst defender, we have enough of worthy candidates for that.  However has has been far from the stellar fullback we all know and love.  And certainly not one of the best in the world anymore.  But I have not given up on Evra.  Fabio’s maturing  and good performances will mean a rest from time to time in the future.  And there will be no great pressure of a major international tournament this summer.  Finally Evra will get a proper rest.  And that should mean he will be back next season as good as ever.  He will be 30 in a month or so.  This means he still has a good couple of years in him.  In the meantime Fabio will come good.  And by 2012 might be ready to take over.  So we will be fine at LB no matter what.  There is no need to panic.  No need to sell Evra, or buy replacements.  He can still give us good service.  And for what he did over the time he has been here he deserves our loyalty and support.  So far that support has been there.  The evidence is the lack of criticism for a year’s worth of poor performances.

Now it may seem harsh to some that I felt the need to write about how shit Evra has been.  But I hardly hear a peep out of anyone about his poor play.  And I am judging him by the very high standards he has set.  So no, he has not been as shit as Evans or Carrick, but he should also not get a free ride from criticism when we are ready (and in most cases correctly) to criticize almost anyone in the squad.  And unlike with Gibson or Carrick my sentence, while harsh to some, is not a life sentence.  I do not believe that Patrice is done, just burned out a bit and in need of rest.  Once that comes all should be fine.  Hopefully.

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Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm  Comments (16)  
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