Redefining boundaries and Monday motivation: the career of Patrice Evra

Redefining boundaries and Monday motivation: the career of Patrice Evra

MONDAY MOTIVATION carries with it a now-famous hashtag displayed across various social media feeds as individuals try to pick people up from weekend hangovers and encourage them to begin their weeks in the most positive way possible. Having become a trend every Monday since its inception, claimed to be sometime in April 2015, firms, football clubs and footballers themselves have picked up on the movement and have their own way of motivating their followers.

A little over 11 months ago, 35-year-old Patrice Evra, playing for Juventus after a trophy-laden stint at Manchester United, started his own version of motivating people on Mondays. A traditionally cheerful man, Evra posts a video on his Instagram account every Monday, hysterically singing a classical hit before jolting off a loud chant of “I love this game” as he expresses his appreciation towards football and life, and ending it with a joyfully villainous laugh.

Almost a year on from initiating his social media ventures, Evra has entertained many with his posts. With just a little over two million followers – nowhere near some of the other famous names – Evra’s feed is all about spreading cheer and entertainment. From his car singing to sharing his love for his pets and a few dances here and there, he has earned a life that he is thoroughly enjoying as he approaches the end of a fantastic career.

Evra’s journey to international acclaim has been a remarkable one. It all started for him in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, his birthplace, where he learned about the toughness of life. He was one of 24 children fathered by the same man, and his family often struggled to make ends meet.

His father moved to Belgium for work and that forced Patrice, his siblings and his mother to live in the French commune of Les Ulis, the same area where future Les Bleus teammate Thierry Henry was raised. Unlike Henry, however, Evra had a rough start in the city and was often accused of stealing from local bakeries. 

While in Les Ulis, he played with the local side and was offered trials at two of country’s big clubs in Toulouse and Paris Saint-Germain, with both showing an interest but ultimately deeming him not good enough.

It wasn’t until he was 17 that his pathway towards a professional career in football kicked in, which, in this era, is relatively late. He was invited to take part in a small five-a-side tournament in northern France, where his talent was spotted by an Italian scout who asked Evra if he wanted a trial with Torino.

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Evra was told that he would not be playing in his accustomed left-back role, but as a forward, which he was known for in his early days. Duly obliging, he didn’t perform as well as he would have hoped at Toro, and was instead signed by a third division side Marsala, in the north of Italy.

Still only 17 and with little exposure to the outside world, Evra was given a simple map of how to make it from Paris to northern Italy via several train routes, but was left baffled by the complexity of it. With no command of any language other than his native French, he would need two attempts at making it to his desired destination. In the first, he was unable to communicate in Italian with any of the other travelling passengers and was forced to spend the night at the station – even going on to tearfully call up his mother, telling her he had given up all hope.

In the first, he was unable to communicate in Italian with any of the other travelling passengers and was forced to spend the night at the station – going on to tearfully call up his mother, telling her he had given up all hope.

The next time, he found the right train thanks of one of his own – a Senegalese man who spotted Evra in distress. During that second journey, however, he ticked off a few travelling nuns with his hysterics on a freezing train as they were constantly bombarded with his questions about when he would reach his location. Mentally battered, he finally made it to the Marsala training centre after a journey that took more out of him than he would have thought.

Making it from poverty in Senegal to the third division in Italy via some time in a French suburb made Evra prouder than ever, often describing it as the greatest moment of his career, despite going on to win trophies in several other countries. “I was approached by a scout from Marsala, a team from Sicily in the third division, and he offered me the chance to become a professional. He said I would get a house, and I said OK. I remember arriving at their training camp and putting on the tracksuit and the flip-flops and looking at myself in the mirror. It was like paradise,” Evra said some years later.

As the focal point in attack, Evra would score six times in 27 games for Marsala and caught the eye of many for his athleticism and desire. He only spent one season at the club, as second division Monza came calling for him, where he went through a less-than-fruitful spell. After a transfer to Roma fell through, Evra found himself with a coach who never wanted him and he spent most of his time on the fringes, playing just three times as the club flirted with relegation.

Out of favour and out of depth, Evra forced a move back home, where Nice would take interest in his services, once again outside the top tier, this time in France. This was where Evra revolutionised his game and stepped upon an unlikely incident that would change his career.

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In a game against Laval, where he was playing as a number 9, he was forced to fill in at left-back towards the end of the game following an injury to their first choice defender. He played 15 minutes there and performed more than just his task as he left the fans and his manager, Sandro Salvioni, suitably impressed.

Against his wishes, Evra continued to play there for the rest of the season and was subsequently voted as the league’s best full-back that season, an acclaim no one was expecting at the start of the season as Nice claimed a deserved promotion to Ligue 1. After two seasons in the south of France and over 40 appearances, he would make the short journey across to Monaco and would kickstart his career at the highest level.

Under the tutelage of French icon Didier Deschamps, Evra would fulfil his potential at left-back, despite his initial aim still being to progress as an attacking threat, and would cement his spot in the Monaco first team in one of the most exciting spells in the club’s history.

Unfortunately for the club, their brilliant attacking displays yielded just one trophy in Evra’s four-year spell, a solitary Coupe de la Ligue success in 2004. They did, however, manage to make the Champions League final, after a magnificent run in the tournament that season, beating the likes of Deportivo, Real Madrid and Chelsea along the way before José Mourinho’s Porto clinically got the better of them in the final.

It was also around this time that he would earn a break with the French national team, competing with Éric Abidal for a starting berth with Les Bleus. His progress was not going unnoticed and Europe’s biggest and best were taking note of his ever-improving performances, but he stayed committed to the task at Monaco.

That was until the 2005/06 season, when Monaco were struggling in Ligue 1, languishing between mid-table and the relegation places. Now confident that he had achieved everything he could at home, he was convinced to move abroad again, signing for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in January 2006 for a fee that would prove to be a mere bargain at the end of his stint – £5.5 million.

For a man whose ambition was to score goals and not stop them, his unconventional career had taken him a long way. His debut for the Red Devils, however, was something he would like to forget forever. Starting a game against rivals Manchester City, he was run ragged by their attacking line as United went two down before the break. Evra never made it back out for the second half, having left with a bruised eyebrow following a tangle with Trevor Sinclair whose studs viciously caught him right above the eye. It was a torrid entrance to English football, but unlike many others who would make this debut a norm for the rest of their careers in England, he would rise up from it stronger than ever.

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His rebuilding started by learning all about the scale of his task and the club that he was representing. This made him a cult figure at the club and subsequently one who was hard to hate. His attitude on and off the pitch was everything anyone would want from a player at a new club, and, in an interview with the Daily Mail, he explained how we settled so well following his horror debut: “I got a load of DVDs. About the Munich disaster and the Busby Babes, about Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, about Eric Cantona. The whole story of the club. You meet these people around the club and I wanted to know who they were. What they had done for the club. Out of respect. Because when you shake the hand of Sir Bobby Charlton you can feel the legend.”

Over the next few years, he formed one of the strongest defensive partnerships in Premier League history alongside goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, opposite full-back Gary Neville, and the solid centre-half standing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić. Together they would contribute to one of the most successful eras in Manchester United’s history where, between 2007 and 2011, they would celebrate four Premier League titles, three League Cups, a Club World Cup, and play three Champions League finals, winning one in Moscow in 2008 against Chelsea.

It was a historic spell and Evra’s standing at the club grew even further. He was often the vice-captain in place of Ryan Giggs or Rio Ferdinand and he formed great bonds with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Park Ji-Sung. In the latter’s case, he attempted to tackle the language barrier by learning Korean in order to communicate better with his friend.

Evra often claimed that racial abuse had followed him throughout his career, even in his native France, and his first altercation with it in England came before a game against Chelsea, where he accused the groundsman at the club following an argument between the two. No serious charges were made against the groundsman but Evra was handed a four-match ban for improper conduct.

In 2011, however, in a game against fierce rivals Liverpool at Anfield, Evra and Luis Suárez were clashing against each other all game, and in the 62nd minute, it was alleged that Suárez dropped racial slurs towards Evra “at least 10 times.” An investigation was opened and two months after the incident, Suárez was handed an eight-game ban and a £40,000 fine.

In the reverse fixture at Old Trafford between the two, there was another scene of controversy before the game as Suárez refused to shake Evra’s hand in the pre-game traditions. Video evidence and Suárez’s autobiography suggested differently, however, as it looked like Evra was the one who retracted his hand just before Suárez was about to complete the ritual. It was an ugly affair between the two, although both have now moved on.

The three years between 2010 and 2012 saw Evra struggle for France. Following Les Bleus’ disastrous exit from the World Cup in 2010, where the side held a mutiny against coach Raymond Domenech following a rift with Nicolas Anelka, Evra was stripped of the captaincy and warmed the bench for the final group game of the tournament. The entire campaign in South Africa was a mess for the French side, with Evra leading the players’ revolt against the management; he was subsequently handed a five-match suspension by the French Football Federation, with many feeling he should have been banned for life from the national team.

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Back in Manchester, he enjoyed the success of another Premier League win in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season with the red Devils in 2013. This proved to be his best goalscoring season as his defender, with his four goals his biggest contribution since the six he scored in a single season for Marsala 14 years prior. Despite his five foot nine inch stature, he proved to be a consistent threat from corners, scoring crucial headers against the likes of Arsenal, Swansea and Newcastle as United would prove to be too dominant for the rest of the teams in the league.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement, David Moyes, famously struggled and saw United fiddling in mid-table. Evra would enjoy another solid season, however, with his last goal for the club, a belter from outside the box that flew straight into the top corner of Manuel Neuer’s net, coming in a Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

Moyes’ successor, Louis van Gaal, brought in Luke Shaw from Southampton in the summer of 2015 and that proved to be the end of Evra’s fantastic nine-year stint at the club as he would move back to Italy, with champions Juventus snapping him up for a measly £1.2 million.

Juventus would prove to be another chapter of success as the 34-year-old would add two Serie A winners medals to his bulging list of honours, and had the opportunity to play in his fourth Champions League final as the Bianconeri would slip to defeat against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona at the Olympiastadion in Berlin in 2015.

The game also saw Evra meet his old rival Suárez, and this time, they did shake hands before the game. His experience was a vital asset to the club, but over the last few months of his stint, he saw minutes hard to come by as the emergence of Brazilian left-back Alex Sandro saw him relegated to the bench. As a result, Evra was on the move again, this time back to the south coast of France with Marseille.

Evra has enjoyed a historic career and has revolutionised the role of the left-back. Right up there as one of the greatest full-backs in the Premier League, alongside the likes of Ashley Cole, Gary Neville and Lauren, Evra has maintained his form for his country, going on to play in the World Cup in 2014 and reaching the final of Euro 2016.

Despite the controversies and the adversity he has fought against, he has always been able to hold his head high, and as his Instagram videos describe, he truly justly loves the game.

By Karan Tejwani  @karan_tejwani26

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