Manchester United fans may have watched the Champions League semi-final clash between Real Madrid and Juventus on Wednesday night with a mixture of feelings. The match definitely had the X factor for United supporters with an array of former Red Devils on show; Cristiano Ronaldo, Chicharito Hernandez, Carlos Tevez, Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra. It was a bleak reminder of the unique failings in 2013/14 which cost David Moyes his job and jeopardised the clubs future in the Champions League, but it also signified how far Manchester United have come under Louis van Gaal, with a point confirming their qualification for next seasons competition.
It was just over a year ago now that Patrice Evra scored perhaps the best and most memorable goal of his Manchester United career. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, just 60 seconds later he lost Mario Mandzukic in the box as he headed Bayern level and back into the tie, they went on to win 3-1.
Over the course of David Moyes’ reign as Manchester United manager the veteran defender received wide spread criticism in the British press. There was talk of Patrice Evra being past his best, that he wasn’t good enough for Manchester United, that he lacked the tenacity and speed of his younger years, that he was too old. In fact the age card was played a little too often. So after an eight and a half year spell at Old Trafford, a disappointing season under David Moyes concluded in the Frenchman’s decision to part ways with the club despite signing a deal which would have kept him at United until the summer of 2015. Patrice Evra was sold to Juventus for a fee of £1.2 million, which would rise to 1.5 as long as Juve qualified for the 2015/16 Champions League. As it stands they look like they could win this seasons competition and from where I’m sitting the fee for the Frenchman is verging on day light robbery.
Before leaving the club there were rumours that Patrice Evra been offered the United captaincy by Louis van Gaal. It makes sense seeing as the Frenchman had made 379 appearances for Manchester United, picking up the Barclays Premier League trophy 5 times, the Champions League in 2008, 3 League Cups and a Club World Cup. His decision to leave the club may have been down to a lack of belief that Van Gaal could turn it around, he may have questioned whether he could fit into the Dutchman’s system, he may have thought he would have a bit role to play with Luke Shaw’s imminent arrival from Southampton.
Whatever way you look at the situation it’s hard not to view the Frenchman as an Manchester United icon and there is no doubt that his old club will be cheering him on in the final as he comes up to face old enemy Barcelona.
Since arriving in Italy, Evra has proved he has bags of character and despite now being 33 years of age, he is continuing to achieve new records with the Serie A outfit. His impressive Champions League semi final record now stretches to 11 matches unbeaten, with 8 wins backed up by 3 draws and not a single defeat. He defended extremely well against Real Madrid making a ball to Gareth Bale literally unplayable and completely taking the Welshman out of the game.
Speaking to the BBC in September he said leaving United was a hard decision but he believes he made the right choice.
“It was very difficult to leave Man United because it was like my second family,” said Evra. “But as soon as I knew there was interest from Juve, I knew it would be a new challenge for me because I have to repay the faith they showed in me.
“I have to show more as a Juventus player because we have to win [the league] four times in a row. It’s never easy to win four times in a row.”
“I won it with Man United three times but four times is really difficult. And we have to do much better in the Champions League.”
I can’t help but wonder what might have been had Patrice Evra opted to see out the remaining year of his contract at United this season. Louis van Gaal’s side have had so many key injuries at the back that the French defender’s experience would have come in handy. It may even have helped the development of Luke Shaw. Evra is a natural born leader and that’s something United have missed this season. Someone to drive them on when they hit a hot patch, someone who has experience of winning league titles, someone other than Wayne Rooney. Whilst I understand the reasons behind the sale of Patrice Evra, I still find it hard to stomach the price tag. Evra’s record speaks volumes about him and he’s proved that his capability as a defender didn’t just just pack up the moment he hit 33. In the warmer climate he has excelled and he’s proved he is still a great player, it’s just a shame United didn’t hold on to him for a bit longer because his experience would have been an asset under LVG.