As the Juventus defender, 34, prepares to enter the history books with a fifth appearance in a Champions League final — more than the four of fellow Frenchmen Raymond Kopa and Didier Deschamps, level with Clarence Seedorf and with only Paolo Maldini ahead — he might reflect on the early days of his career, where he started out as a winger in Serie C1 for Marsala in Sicily.
He was earning £20 a week then and at the end of his debut season, Lazio and AC Milan wanted to sign him. That never happened and instead he ended up first at Monza, then Monaco and Manchester United. That he has been so successful this season at Juventus is in part down to those teenage years. He had already mastered the language and was used to playing in a forward role, so could easily adapt to coach Max Allegri’s switch to 3-5-2, where he played as a wing-back, when required.
Even so, he needed some time to settle in to the rigours of a new league. In November, Evra was cited for allowing Torino’s Bruno Peres to outrun him to score an equaliser in the Turin derby.
He had just come back from a six-week injury break. A fortnight later, he gave those fans a taste of their own medicine by shouting at them after his only goal of the season, against Sampdoria.
“After an initial period of integration, Pat has had a brilliant second half of the season,” said Allegri. “He is a very smart player, who has become an important player with a lot of personality.”
These are the qualities that first caught the eye of Alex Ferguson, when he was part of the Monaco side that surprisingly reached the 2004 Champions League final. In the opening minutes of that season’s semi-final second leg at Chelsea, Evra went down under a crunching challenge from Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. There was a hole in Evra’s sock, and he could see the gaping wound and a bit of bone. Monaco’s physio wanted Evra to go off, but the player refused. “I knew it was a bit mad, but I just had to play, even though my foot felt like it was hanging off. Ferguson later said it showed my character, and he liked my determination,” Evra said.
Ferguson was right. Evra went on to captain United when they won the 2010 League Cup final, and in the title-deciding win over Arsenal that same season.
“In terms of personality, Patrice Evra is a powerful force,” Ferguson said. “He has a great influence in the dressing-room and on the team.”
This was apparent in Juventus’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid last month. Real Madrid had scored in the first half but were still just one goal from elimination. Evra, who had argued with a ball-boy at the Bernabeu, turned on his team-mates at the break.
“After Real Madrid scored, I noticed a strange resignation in my team- mates, dejection was getting the better of them,” Evra said. “I talked to many of them in the dressing-room at half-time and then back on the pitch. I shouted that I could not believe that they were hungrier than us. And I tried to make them understand that physically we were better than them and that we had to score, because we were running more than them and we had the upper hand.”
No surprise then to hear Italian journalist Federico Farcomeni say: “Evra has won over the fans with his improved performances in these ‘clutch’ situations. It’s no surprise that he’s played the most Serie A games this season without defeat [21 games]. He has a winning mentality and it rubs off on his team-mates.”
Evra also has a point to prove against Barcelona, who beat his Manchester United side in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals. “The [first] defeat to Barcelona [in 2009] was a tough one for us all,” he remembered. “This final will be a difficult match, it will be like David against Goliath, but you never know in football, anything can happen. Barcelona is still Barcelona, but when I played against them in 2009 and 2011, they were more of a collective. Now, they have three players in front, Messi, Neymar and Suarez, who can make the difference. They can score anytime and we must be ready for that.”
The sub-plot to Evra’s presence in Berlin is his previous with Suarez, who was found guilty of racial abuse, fined £40,000 and given an eight-match ban after a clash with the defender in 2011. Suarez still claims the verdict was wrong, but Evra is not one for looking back.
“It’s not important,” he added. “The most important thing is that I play this final. I am proud of who I am and my colour and I will shake his hand. It’s not a problem, but I’ll make sure he feels my presence on the pitch.”