How can you not love a man who invites the opposition to suck upon his imaginary lady parts before the biggest game of his career? If you look hard enough you’ll find decade-old footage of a shirtless Evra demanding Frank Lampard do just that. It was prior to the Champions’ League semi-final against Chelsea in 2004, and to the best of my knowledge no pussies were harmed in Monaco’s safe passage to the final. But a strange sort of precedent was set. This was no ordinary footballer.
More of the same followed his transfer to United 18 months later. So impressed was he by the setup at Old Trafford that he quite harshly suggested he’d be the “king of all c*nts” were he to fail at the club. Notwithstanding a nightmare debut versus City (singled out as a weak link due to his height; mercifully hauled off at half time) it’s safe to say he has since escaped the title of royal tw*t. Unless you’re a Scouser. Or a Chelsea fan. Or a Gooner. Or Malcolm X wannabe Lilian Thuram.
United supporters love getting behind a national pariah – Cantona ’95, Beckham ’98, Ronaldo ’06 – and Evra certainly has his fair share of loathers across the country. Whether it’s mocking the title pretentions of Arsenal’s ‘kids’, falling out with thuggish grounds staff during post-match warm downs, or daring to be black around Luis Suarez, the feisty Frenchman makes a habit of inducing vitriol from all the right people. Of course it results in reds everywhere rallying behind him and arguing his case, but their love is more than a mere defence mechanism.
Patrice doesn’t do things for effect. He may relish getting in the heads and paining the arses of foes but it’s far from hollow mischief. Nor is he a causeless faux rebel with a Morrissey complex. He genuinely believes in everything he says and does. Fans sense that and it resonates with them. In a game of unbelievably tedious bores with all the individuality and charisma of stale Ryvita, Evra is a hurricane of personality. There’s nothing inhibited or scripted about him. The impish smile masks strong convictions he is willing to agitate and fight for. As we all hope would we.
Maybe it’s a fullback thing. Rafael da Silva has the same courage and zest to his play; Gary Neville a similar fan-on-the-pitch attitude. Perhaps it’s something to do with patrolling the length of the touchline each game and being within earshot of the stands. Whatever the reason there’s a special affinity Evra shares with the United support that’s rare and true. It may sound trite but he absolutely gets what it means to wear the shirt, and the fans respond with pure affection. A good thing too as he has needed that well of kindness at times.
Consistently brilliant in his first few seasons at United, his performances waned badly in what should have been his peak years as a footballer. Lack of competition and overwork have been blamed for his strange loss of mojo, but thankfully the last twelve months have seen a resurgence. He’s been buckling swashes all over the shop and added a goal threat to his leftfield marauds. Sadly, there’s a sense of final curtain about it all. A final hurrah to his famous Old Trafford adventure.
At the turn of the year the ever quotable Frenchman was asked about rumours linking him with a move to newly rich Paris-Saint Germain. His response seemed as irreverent then as it is poignant now: “You’d have to kill Ferguson before I could go!” Thankfully the great man is very much alive but as far as the game is concerned the king is dead. David Moyes has taken the throne and with him come loud whispers of a move for Leighton Baines. We face the prospect of shoegazer replacing showman before the Summer festival season is out.
It will be a desperately sad day when Evra says goodbye to his adopted home. If there’s one player since Cantona who has come along, with no previous allegiance to the club or city, and married them so completely to his soul, it is he – the little man from Dakar with a heart as big as Senegal. We all know that football fandom floats far above mere statistics and reason, and that’s evidenced by the fact most United fans would mourn Evra’s loss far more than Rooney’s possible departure. The reason is simple: the latter’s loyalty was always bought, whereas the former gave it for free.
Evra is – and always will be – one of us. Imaginary lady parts and all.