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.

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm  Comments (16)  
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World Cup Final Set, Holland meets Spain- South Africa 2010

So the improbable dream is over for both Uruguay and Germany.  Both missing important players, and both go out.  To be honest neither of the semis were great matches.  Not even very good really.  Holland were weary, Uruguay worked hard.  Spain, again, underwhelming, Germany too defensive.

So we will have a new nation win the WC to join the past 7 winners.  For the first time also a European nation will win the WC outside their continent.  History is being made in South Africa.  FIFA got at least half of their dream match up.  Spain will play, though FIFA would have loved to see them play against Brazil.  Spain again got big breaks in refereeing decisions.  Certain yellow card fouls not punished, offsides called or not called, depending who needed them.

Spain were better than Germany, and looking objectively, they deserved it.  But this is not the team that won the European Championship just 2 years ago.  They have most of the same players.  But their play and tactics have been very poor by their standard.  Holland too has changed.  No more happy attacking total football.  Instead we get total tactics.  A composed, careful team.  No silliness on and off the pitch like in the years past.

It should be a fairly even match.  Though for Spain to win they will certainly need to play much better than they did in this WC.  They got the results but have failed to impress.  A lot of their wins were good luck, good bounces and great finishing by Villa.  Of course many people will say that the mark of a great team is winning without playing great.  But really now.  There comes a time when you need to play because the luck will run out.

Holland have also not been on top of their form.  But, like Spain, keep winning.  Will that be enough?  Certainly van Bommel and de Jong will have to do great work to protect the not so great back four and a fairly poor keeper.  They have enough attacking prowess to go after Spain and hurt them.  Kuyt should stay on the left to cover Ramos.  And Robben can take the poor Capdevilla apart.  Sneijder can be dominant over Busquets and Alonso.  Villa has the edge over the poor van Persie.

There should be no questions about the Dutch line up.  The back five if healthy should be as usual.  Stekelenberg, van der Viel, Heitinga, Mathijssen, Gio.  The two CMs, de Jong and van Bommel.  Sneijder in front of them with Robben and Kuyt on the flanks.  van Persie up top in a classic 4-2-3-1.

Spain a more of a question mark.  Does del Bosque go with the team that won the semi or does he go back to the poor Torres.  The only questions really.  Cassilas in goal, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevilla in defence.  Busquets, Alonso, Xavi as the middle 3.  They are certain.  As are Iniestsa wide and Villa, either up top on his own or on the left with Torres.  Pedro did ok today, but he had that stupid, shocking, and selfish 2 on 1 which could have cost Spain.  However I am thinking that Pedro might start.  Just.  del Bosque has been stubborn and gave the shockingly poor Torres chance after chance.  Torres will likely come on as a sub.

So it will play out more or less like this.  Spain will keep the ball from the start.  They will, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass.  They will create chances.  Holland will defend and try to hit them on the counter.  Spain are a great team off the ball.  They defend high, have great movement defensively and put a lot of pressure on the opposition.  Holland are good and experienced enough to keep the ball and to pass out of trouble.  And they hopefully wont give Spain the respect that they got from all the other teams.  They certainly did not earn that respect this WC.  Both teams know each other very well.  Many Dutch players play or have played in Spain.  Some have been team-mates of the Spaniards on their club sides.  I believe that Bert van Marwijk is a better tactician than his counterpart.

Both teams have the hopes of their nations to finally achieve the dream of becoming World Champions (true World Champions, not like what American sports teams from local leagues call themselves).  Holland sacrificed they great attacking play for results.  Spain were one of the big favourites, after finally winning the Euros.

So hopefully it will be a good game, though I suspect, not as good and the third place match on Saturday.  Players just want to get over the disappointment of losing the semis and go all out to win.  No pressure.  The final will have all the pressure.  It might start off quite slowly with both teams just probing each other.  But things can happen very quickly and a goal will change the game to an open contest.  Lets hope for a quality match, and lets hope that Holland win this thing.

Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 4:31 pm  Comments (1)  
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US Out of the World Cup- South Africa 2010

Here endeth the story.  The United States National Team is out of the World Cup after losing in extra time by a score of 2-1.  This defeat was reflective of the whole US World Cup experience, except this time there was no magical comeback.  Well, there was one, but today, we needed two.

The team that captured the imagination of America like never before is now out.  And that is a shame for the Team, the supporters and for soccer in general in America.  The USMNT leaves with heads held high.  But its obvious we’re not there yet, not with the best teams.  What the US lacked in talent and skill, they made up in heart and tenacity and that never say die spirit.  However, today it was clear from the start that the last great 91st minute comeback took more out of the team than they would care to admit.

They came out flat, without energy and once again gave up an early goal.  And there was no response in the first half.  Ghana outplayed the US.  What was worse Ghana controlled the play, that meant not only finding the extra energy to comeback, but also working harder than usual.  The team without the ball, constantly defending, expends more energy.  Once again I thought Bob Bradley, the US coach, made a mistake with his formation and starting line up.  US came out in a 4-4-2 formation and started the ineffective Findley up front and the very poor Clark in the midfield.  Ghana went with a formation that clogged up the middle.  The US midfielders had no time on the ball.  And in the 5th minute Clark lost the ball in the middle of the pitch.  Poor defending followed the Ghana counter attack.  Howard’s positioning was bad and the US found themselves behind early once again.

Such traditions are to be discouraged.  For, once again it was up to the Americans to find the extra energy and inspiration to comeback.  Clark quickly got a yellow card and was soon substituted by Edu, who should have started in the first place as part of a three men midfield.  That energy was not coming.  Not until the second half.  Failhaber once again came on for the ineffective Findley.  The formation changed and the US started to impose themselves on Ghana.  Within 20 minutes of the second half the game was tied.  US won a penalty in the box.  A good call.  Donovan stepped up and scored off the post.

But even the celebrations were somewhat muted.  It was the US’s game to lose now.  Ghana looked shaken, they looked like they lost belief.  But US pressure whimpered out.  Ghana came back in the game and started to threaten themselves.  For the rest of regular time no one could find that extra inspiration that would put their team through.    The now lone striker, Altidore, who looked as if he was playing with bricks tied to his feet, was replaced by Gomez.  A pair of fresh legs was needed.  More than a pair.  But this was the last US sub, due to bad line up and mistakes the US were forced to make changes early.  They were good substitutions once again, but using two early on is never ideal.  And it happened once again.  Very early in extra time the US failed to deal with a long ball, lost possession, and gave up a goal to Ghana.  Shocking mistake.

The US mounted a yet another comeback attempt.  But this one was toothless.  Players looked exhausted, both physically and mentally.  Passes were not sharp nor accurate.  Runs were not made.  Decisions were laboured.  Several times we saw hesitancy, no one touch pass and move, no give and go.  The US pretty much contented themselves to the long ball approach.  Meanwhile Ghana were content to sit back, absorb the pressure and come out in control of the ball, wasting time at every opportunity.  Soon time was up.  And the inevitable came.

And looking back, it was inevitable.  A team can not go behind so many times and hope to comeback each and every time.  Whether it was preparation, silly mental mistakes from players who slowly get into games, whatever, its just impossible to keep doing this.

And so the valiant effort is over.  The whole nation and and should be proud of its team.  They are a good team.  Not there yet, among the best, but not very far behind.  Just how the US team will do in the future we do not know.  But we should be proud of them and support them as much as we can.  Whether one is a long time football fanatic, or new to this soccer World Cup thingy, this team deserves to be remembered and supported by all of us.  They gave their all.  In the end only one country can win this.  This is the final, because the whole tournament started 2 or even 3 years ago.  Over 200 teams tried to qualify.  Just to make it is an honour.  To be one of the 32 out of over 200 contenders is already special.  To make it to the last 16 even more so.

Perhaps this team lost a great opportunity for the development of soccer in the US.  A run to the semi final would have had the whole country in grips.  So this is a lost opportunity on more than one level.  But I am sure that soccer has gained many more followers.  Each US success, each major tournament, turns more and more Americans onto the beautiful game.  In the space of few days we lived through the great high that only the World Cup can provide.  And though low of ultimate disappointment, knowing that another chance wont come for another 4 years.

The World Cup is the most special of sporting events.  Yes, more special than the Olympics.  Its focused on nothing but one sport.  Its contested by everyone.  And unlike the Olympics, we don’t get to choose which sport to follow.  Its all or nothing.  One team, one destiny.  No second chances with some other stars the next day.  There is nothing like it on earth.  And I hope the those who saw it for the first time are as hooked as those of us who have followed this game since we were kids.

So, while I am disappointed, heart broken really.  I take heart that the team I support did everything possible to stay alive.  And I am proud of the boys, and I want to say:  Thanks for the memories.  USA!  USA!!

Published in: on June 26, 2010 at 5:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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Itialian and French World Cup Fiasco a Good Thing?

Just 4 Years Ago

Yes, its a strange question to pose.  And I doubt anyone in Italy or France would agree right now.  But I think long term this could be a positive.  Yes, even the French dramatics.  Both countries went into this World Cup with as many questions as hopes for glory.  And to be honest it could have gone either way.  Ribery could have turned into the next Zidane and could have led his team to glory.  They sure had the talent to go far, but shot themselves in the foot.  Italy was a bit more of an enigma.  There were questions about the selection.  After an uninspired European Championship in 2008 the old professor Marcello Lippi came back to regain glory for Italy.  And this was Italy after all, count them out at your peril.

But as with France the result was a total disaster.  Last place in their group, and a ticket back home in tears.  I am sure there are many rotten tomatoes awaiting the Azzurri.  We all saw what happened.  I documented the problems in the French camp here, even though there was a bit more handbags and one more terrible game to play before they went home.  But lets look at what they can learn from this and how quickly they can move on.

France

It Was In the Stars

The main problem was the French Football Federation’s (FFF) insistence in not firing Raymond Domenech two years ago.  Yes, it was that simple.  Yes they got to the WC final in 2006 but it was not through great tactics and system.  Zinedine Zidane took the team and the whole nation on his back and carried them to the final.  He inspired the whole team.  Only to leave the game in infamy after headbutting an Italian player late in the game.  It would have been difficult to fire Domenech then.  So they stuck with him.  But after the Euros in 2008 he should have been gone.  It was very obvious to everyone but the FFF.  Perhaps the stars said they will do well in 2010, but stars lie sometimes.  And its not as if France lacked great young managers.  Anyone managing Lyon was a candidate, so were the very bright Deshamps and Blanc (who was named as the successor to Domenech before this WC).  But leaving him and then announcing before the WC that he will be replaced was a stupid move.

And French football stars did not help.  The locker room became split.  No one able to step up, no leaders among great players and veterans.  France lost this WC campaign before they even landed in South Africa.  Plus I don’t think the way they got there helped.  Despite having one of the most talented teams in the competition they gave themselves no chance.

So Laurent Blanc has an easy job now.  Yes.  Despite the crushing way they went out, and despite the problems Blanc’s job was made so much easier because of those things.  Now even if he wants to keep some great players who are still young enough, like Ribery, out of the squad he has the perfect excuse.  He can make his own team.  One that will be indebted to him and one that will listen to him.  Pundits too will give him time, as will the fans.  The team must be rebuilt.  France has a lot of young, very talented players.  And once they become a proper team they can be a force in football for a long time.

It wont take long for France to become a strong team once again.  I think they could even be a force in the next European Championships.  And those ageing and whining stars just made it easier for Blanc to rebuild the team and do his job properly without much resistance from fans and media.

Forza Geriatrics?

Despite not being the oldest squad in the WC there were may questions about their age.  Especially about some of their important players.  Fabio Canavarro, the over hyped leader and captain of Italy in 2006 and 2010 is 36.  Well El Capitano has not played nay decent football since that World Cup glory in Germany.  Unfortunately Marcello Lippi paid no attention to that and stuck with El Capitano.

There were other question about the current World Champions and four time winners.  No leader in the midfield other than Andrea Pirlo who was injured.  Lippi’s insistence on not taking the enigmatic, but brilliant, Cassano.  Taking and not playing Gattuso.  Why was he there if he was not going to play?  Why not take a younger player who might learn from this?

Marcello Lippi left the job in glory in 2006.  Roberto Donadoni was chosen as his successor.  It was an impossible job.  So he was done after 2008.  But Lippi made the mistake of coming back and now leaves in infamy.  People will quickly forget his brilliant leadership if 2oo6.  And this time there was no Roberto Baggio who could lead the team like in 1994.  No one stepped up.  No veteran, no youngster.  Italy were uninspired.  Playing without urgency.  It was almost a mirror image of France, but without the visible drama off the pitch.  Last World Cup the scandal in Serie A helped the Italian Squad.  It brought them closer, it was them against the world.  Now there was no scandal.

Well the scandal was their play on the pitch.  Italy were traditionally slow starters.  So a draw against a strong Paraguay was not a bad result really.  But not winning against New Zealand was shocking.  And their performance against what till today was a very poor Slovakia side was disgraceful.  They tried for 20 of the 90+ minutes played.  A pathetic showing.  Poor and still unfit Andrea Pirlo, always a class act, came on in desperation to try to lead them to victory, but even he was not enough.  Silly give aways, terrible play in the midfield and defence, and inept attack did Italy in.

There will be no great drama like with the French.  But a lot of questions will be asked.  Cesare Prandelli will take over for the retired Lippi.  Like with Blanc, his job will be made easier.  No more silly expectations, no more old stars who can no longer play at this level.  A new Italy will emerge.  With younger players, with new leaders, new set up.  Italy also has many young talented players.  I am not sure if it will take about 2 or 4 years for them to be back near the top of footballing world, but it will be no longer than that.  Italians are winners.  New players will step up.  New Baggios, Rossis, and Pirlos will be found.  Prandelli will rebuild the team in his image.  He will utilize the players talents and mould the formation that will fit them best.  No more relying on past their prime old horses who can not play any more.

Yes its no consolation today for either Italy of France.  But the misery and shame will not last long.  Both will be back and soon.  So those despairing should take note, sometimes a revolution is needed.  And this pathetic showing helped make that transition easier.

Chaos In the French National Camp- World Cup 2010, South Africa

Wow, it gets more bizarre daily.

Today according to news reports the French squad refused to train, two days before their (last?) crucial group match against the hosts, South Africa, in this World Cup.

Apparently Patrice Evra, the great Manchester United leftback and, French Captain, had a row with a member of the staff.  The director of the team said he is ashamed of the team and resigned is protest and embarrassment.  Yesterday the very talented and enigmatic French striker, Nicholas Anelka, was dismissed from the team and sent home for insulting the French coach Raymond Domenech, and refusing to apologize.  That argument took place at half time of their game against Mexico, which they duly lost 0-2.  Anelka was substituted right away, mainly because he was piss poor and quite possibly due to that argument.

And that’s not all.  From the beginning there were questions about the team.  They qualified, after a very poor campaign, in the playoffs against Ireland in a controversial manner.  The infamous Henry handball is known all over the world.  Even before the World Cup started the French Football Federation (FFF) named Laurent Blanc as Domenech’s replacement after the World Cup.  A change was needed to be sure, but the timing of the announcement could not be worst.  They should have waited till after the World Cup.  Actually they should have fired Domenech two years ago, or at the very least right after qualification.

Then came the issue of captaincy.  Patrice Evra was named.  A great player, and a good leader IMO.  But some on the team, especially William Gallas (who had his captaincy at Arsenal stripped away for being a major pussy), were not happy with the choice.  So discontent started on the team.  Then there was the question of the role of Thierry Henry.  Domenech announced that Henry will be used mainly as a sub and Govou will start.  Many on the team were not happy with that.  More discontent.

French Team In Slightly Happier Times

Their first game against Uruguay resulted in a 0-0 draw.  Aside from the first 10 minutes (the last 10 they played against ten men) , they were very lacklustre and uninspired.  Most were poor, not one was trying, and after plan A failed miserably, they had no plan B.  There seemed to be no adjustments.  The substitutions hardly changed a thing as mostly they were like for like.  It was a dire performance.  Uruguay were content to sit back and absorb the pressure and France failed to create enough quality chances.  Then came the even worse performance against Mexico, thanks to which they duly lost 0-2.  They are now at risk of not qualifying out of what seemed like a very manageable group.

Patrice Evra complained about the noise of the vuvuzelas after the game.  Apparently the French had trouble communicating.  It may be so, but that did not stop Uruguay nor many other teams from playing well.  Then there is the controversy of the spy.  After yesterday’s events which shook the team and the whole footballing world, the now tiresome Evra complained again, this time about a spy who was leaking stories to the media.  He called the “spy” a traitor.  He has a point as most such issues should be kept within the team.  But to keep moaning and to claim its so disruptive to the team is bollocks.

This of course is not the first time that there is trouble in the French camp of with the team.  The enigmatic genius Eric Cantona had a famous row with the team.  Anelka himself was in, and out, and back in, then out again for several different reasons.  So considering the history, the events of the past year, this is not a shock.  There was also their shocking group play in 2002 when they were defending their title.  There is history there.  What is surprising is their play on the pitch.

No matter the problems they have with the manager or spies, or each other, this is still one of the most talented sides in the world.  Its full of veterans who won many things for their clubs.  Its full of supposed leaders.  But no one steps up, no one inspires the team.  They are pretty much all crap.  The captain, one of the best fullback in the world, Franc Ribery, the great attacking midfielder, Anelka, Henry, on paper they should be competing for the World Cup.  But no, no Zidane and there is no one to save their sorry French asses.  Its a disaster.  How they can’t put everything on the back burner for just a few weeks to try to win the WC is beyond me.  But they deserve nothing.  The problems are of their own making.  They started with the FFF and continued right on down to the players.  I hope they crush out in disgrace.

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