When the history of Manchester United in the 21st century is perused by our great-great-grandchildren there will be certain names who receive far more pages than others. Sir Alex Ferguson will of course, have several chapters written about him and also his son Darren who guided United to their first ever inter-planetary league cup final win, where they beat the Martian Champions. There will also be pages filled with the names of Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Federico Macheda –possibly.
One name is that is certain to be remembered many years from now by those who saw him play is that of Patrice Evra. One of the biggest debates by United fans from the nineties and noughties is not whether Wayne Rooney could have taken Roy Keane in a fight- my money’s on Keano but only just, but who was the better left back Denis Irwin or Patrice Evra?
Irwin was a true legend, the sort of player the word consistency seemed to have been invented for. Naturally right-footed, the Irishman played the vast majority of his games for United at left-back, winning every honour possible. There’s no doubt he was an integral part of United’s dominance in the nineties and even though a comparison with Evra would be tempting, I’m going to leave it for now and just acknowledge he was a great player.
No, the reason I feel compelled to write this article is purely out of a sense of gratitude for what’s turning out to be another accomplished season by United’s Senegalese-born French full back. This season you can’t speak about United- or Lionel Messi lately for some strange reason- without Rooney being mentioned immediately. There is no doubt that without Wazza –as his wife calls him- United would be battling it out with Villa and Everton for that Europa League place, he’s been absolutely phenomenal- even more so than Ronaldo was two seasons ago. There’s been enough pages written about Colleen’s fella’s greatness to fill several thousand fairly big boxes, so I won’t bother repeating the praise we all know he’s rightly received.
Not far behind Rooney in the canonization stakes has been ‘Super’ Darren Fletcher who’s been treated to some lauding praise all season as he’s finally shown what everyone –except me to be quite honest- at Old Trafford knew; that he is capable of being one of Europe’s top midfielders.
Yet despite Rooney’s goals and general amazing-ness, Fletcher’s energy and ability to keep such men such as Cesc Fabregas and Andrea Pirlo quiet, for me Patrice Evra has quite simply done it again. Since his transfer from Monaco four years ago, Evra- after a shocking debut against Manchester City- has become United’s most consistent player. He’s so good that he’s become the benchmark for the right back position to aspire to. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I’ve heard ‘if we [United] had an Evra on the right hand side we’d be unbeatable.’
Evra’s ability to get forward is well documented as his surging runs often leave opposition full backs in disarray and he seems to have given Ryan Giggs a new lease of life. Let’s not forget that before Evra came to Old Trafford, many thought Giggs was ready for retirement whereas now he’s an integral part of the team again. Coincidence? I think not.
It’s this season though that Evra has really impressed, the reason is simple, many of United’s defenders have had problems at times and he’s been the one constant who seems to go about his business without any form of drama. With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic having injuries to deal with, as well as the all the problems with form that can be associated with such lay-offs, not to mention the merry-go-round that’s been going on in United’s right back position, it’s been Evra who’s been the only real constant presence in defence. While avoiding injury and being great going forward does not make you a great full back, Evra seems to have actually improved defensively this season as well. One of the criticisms I’ve heard levelled at the Frenchman is that defensively he can at times get found out. For me this is something of a misconception, because he’s that good going forward, whenever Evra makes any sort of mistake at the back or is beaten-which is seldom- it can often be exaggerated. Aaron Lennon is often mentioned as a player the left-back struggles against but at White Hart Lane at the beginning of the season Evra was immense- even after United went down to ten men. Lennon barely got a look in.
Rooney, took a while to get going this season, although that view may be very unpopular, I’m sorry but it’s true, yes he’s been brilliant for most of the season but in the first few months he was a little inconsistent.
Fletcher has been his commanding best for the majority of games, but there were a few times, again earlier on in the season, when against some of the so-called lesser teams he was a little quiet and could be a tad shoddy with his passing.
Evra though, has been nothing short of outstanding for practically the whole of the season. His ability to get forward, natural pace and skill, not to mention the fact that he always seems to just ‘get on with it’ – remember how he didn’t react to Michael Ballack’s elbow in the Charity, sorry Community Shield, make him special. Then there’s the solidity he brings to the defence, this may sound crackers but he’s my player of the year.
I know there’s the argument that it’s putting the ball in the net which is the hardest job in football- and Rooney’s done that at a near ridiculous level. Not to mention the fact that United could arguably lose Evra and still win a trophy but the same can not be said of Rooney. But in a year of Roooneymania –which will hopefully continue at the World Cup, I’m going to put my hand on my heart and say without any sense of embarrassment -Patrice Evra I love you.
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’