Patrice Evra: Ferguson Used to Destroy Any Player Thinking He's Bigger Than the Team

 Patrice Evra is enjoying a new start in his personal life and planning for a new role, coaching, in his professional life. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
Patrice Evra is enjoying a new start in his personal life and planning for a new role, coaching, in his professional life. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Patrice Evra: Ferguson Used to Destroy Any Player Thinking He's Bigger Than the Team

 Patrice Evra is enjoying a new start in his personal life and planning for a new role, coaching, in his professional life. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
Patrice Evra is enjoying a new start in his personal life and planning for a new role, coaching, in his professional life. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

“Sometimes I don’t want to talk about all these things because, inside, I’m crying,” Patrice Evra says as we sit on his favorite bench in London. The former Manchester United defender shields his eyes on the hottest day of the summer as we look over the Thames in a discreet corner of Battersea. Evra has led me to his secret bench because we can talk here for more than two hours about his complex life.

Evra is well-known for his Instagram videos in which he shouts “I love this game” while singing along to Marvin Gaye, with or without Paul Pogba, or wearing a Panda costume as his gleeful way of undercutting racism.

“I want to spread that positive message,” he says while acknowledging his own “dark energy”. After being racially abused he kicked one of his club’s fans at Marseille in 2017. Evra was also insulted in racial terms by Luis Suárez in 2011. He played in five Champions League finals and was one of Alex Ferguson’s favorite players in five Premier League-winning campaigns.

But so much has happened in a strange and difficult year that Evra asked to do this interview. He often makes me laugh but, now, he is somber. He remembers how, as one of 24 children in his family, he had to beg and steal on the streets of Paris. The 39-year-old also recalls how the prejudice that tested him during his career continues today. “Silence is a crime,” Evra says. “You can’t be in silence any more.”

Evra grew up in Les Ulis, a gritty commune in Paris where his feisty spark was forged. He is now fluent in six languages but his early opportunities were limited. “The first time I learn about people of color at school it was to do with slavery. In France you talk about the revolution and Napoleon. But when you talk about people with colored skin it’s slavery. Even now I’ve got friends who say: ‘Patrice, we love you. But it will be difficult if my daughter or son is with a colored guy or woman because my grandparents won’t accept it.’ But those people have to be strong like I’ve been strong all my life.

“I know it’s not easy. One of my brothers is called Mamadou. When he calls for a job, as soon as he says Mamadou they hang up. He changed his name to Claude and got some jobs. But it’s not enough to say no to racism. Let’s educate people.”

Evra points to a raggedy pigeon drifting across the grey river. “I like this so much,” he says. “Sitting here, talking like this, looking at the pigeons.” This is Evra’s engaging way. He grips my arm or whoops whenever something thrills him.

“When I went to Sicily I was 17,” he says, remembering his first professional club, Marsala, in Serie C, in 1998. “A kid and his dad keep looking at me. They come close and the dad said: ‘Can I have a picture?’ I think: ‘Wow. I’m already famous.’ The kid start to touch my skin. His dad says: ‘But why didn’t you wash your body?’”

Was it the first time they saw a black person in Sicily? “Exactly. I was not angry as they were not educated. My teammates were the same. They welcomed me but they ask: ‘Do you know how to use your phone?’ I call this ignorance so I wasn’t sad. I loved Sicily and the people.

“I received some bananas and monkey noises when I was playing. But it made me stronger. After a few years I am bought by Monza in Serie B. They had another black player and called him Nero [Italian for black]. When someone shouted at me: ‘Hey, Nero, pass the ball,’ I stop playing. I say: ‘You know my mum give me a name. Patrice. If you are calling me Nero, I will call you Bianco di Merda.’ No one called me Nero again. Some people don’t have that courage. So we have to encourage them to be brave.

“We can play with shirts that say Black Lives Matter but it’s more important what your parents teach you or what you teach your kids. When I do the message against racism I dress up in a panda costume because I want to educate the kids. The panda bear is black, white and chubby. I want kids to be like that panda. Be cool, be funny but respect everyone.”

Evra’s respect for his various managers is obvious and he highlights the impact of Sandro Salvioni at Nice from 2000-2002, who converted him from a striker to a left-back. “Salvioni thought I was a gangster because when I shake his hand I always had my cap on. I was aggressive and from the street and, because people [verbally] abused me, really angry. He said: ‘Patrice, if you keep not being educated you won’t play.’ He didn’t pick me and one day I scratched his car with my keys.”

Did Salvioni find out? “No,” Evra exclaims. “I ran the other way. A year later I started playing left-wing. Then the left-back is injured in a game. Salvioni say: ‘Patrice, go left-back.’ I play an amazing game and we won 2–1. The next game he said: ‘Patrice, left-back.’ I said: ‘No. I’m not a left-back.’ He said: ‘OK, someone else play.’ I decided to try. Salvioni said: ‘You’re going to become the best left-back in the world because you hate that position.’”

Evra spent four years at Monaco, managed by Didier Deschamps, as they reached the 2004 Champions League final. “Deschamps was a massive influence because he taught me about winning and he knew the star is always the team. When Deschamps left Monaco [to manage Juventus] I went to his house and said: ‘You told me to never give up. But now you give up. You let down me and the team.’”

How did Deschamps react? “I become like his little brother because he could see I was ready to die for him. After the fiasco of the 2010 World Cup [when Evra led the French players on a strike against their coach, Raymond Domenech] Laurent Blanc was in charge and we didn’t work well. I was going to stop playing for France but Deschamps called: ‘Patrice, I’m the new manager. You know the deal. You play well, I play you.’ I keep playing for France. We had an amazing World Cup in 2014 and at Euro 2016 we made the final. That’s Deschamps.”

From 2006 to 2014 Ferguson exerted the most powerful influence on Evra. His admiration and respect for the Scot is profound. “My first introduction to the real Sir Alex was my debut against Manchester City [after a horrendous first half Evra was replaced]. At half-time he gave the hairdryer for one minute to every player. It was a long 15 minutes. At the end he say to me in five seconds: ‘Patrice, sit down. You will learn how to play in England.’ That night my agent said: ‘We made the biggest mistake coming here. I’m sorry.’ I was upset but I was burning.

“The new generation are softer than we used to be. I give you an example. At half-time we’re beating Tottenham 2-0. Everyone’s saying: ‘Patrice, you’re playing amazing.’ The worst is when Ferguson stays quiet. He was quiet that day for five minutes. He looks straight in my eyes. ‘Patrice, do you think you’re playing good?’ I say: ‘Yeah.’ Ferguson says: ‘I saw you pass the ball back to Van der Saar.’

“‘Yes, boss, but just one.’ He said: ‘If you pass the ball back again I take you off because this is one of your worst games.’

“My eyes start burning because I don’t like the injustice. We won 4-0 and the next day I go to Ferguson’s office. ‘Hello, son, what’s the problem?’ ‘Boss, the problem is yesterday.’ Ferguson says: ‘Patrice, some players were disrespecting the opposition. I wanted everyone focused. I picked you to give them the message because you’re strong.’”

When the manager wanted to rest him against Stoke, Evra told Ferguson: “I will rest when I die. I’m playing this game.” Ferguson replied: “Sorry, I’ve already picked the team.” Evra remained adamant that only he could outjump Peter Crouch in the Stoke attack. “He didn’t say anything,” Evra says of Ferguson. “The day of the game he put the team up and I was starting. I played a great game. Afterwards he shakes my hand.’

“We are still so close now. I speak to the boss three times a month and his nephews love my videos. One day he texted me: ‘Patrice, I love that video.’ I say: ‘Boss, one day you give me the hairdryer, now you’re laughing about my videos.’”

Before the Champions League final in 2008, when United beat Chelsea, Ferguson “gave the best speech ever. He didn’t talk football. He said: ‘Imagine Patrice with his 24 brothers and sisters. His parents have to feed them all on a bad street.’ He talked about Rooney growing up in a tough part of Liverpool. Carlos Tevez coming from Argentina. He talked about difficulties for other players. He then said: ‘This is my victory. We have already won the Champions League. Enjoy the game.’ Even now I’m having goosebumps.

“When Ferguson left, United lost their DNA, their philosophy. He was inspiring so much respect, so much fear, and if any player starts thinking he is bigger than the team then he destroyed you. The players always wanted to play for Ferguson. I tried my best for David Moyes but I knew it would be a disaster because players won’t respect him like that. It was a mission impossible.”

Evra’s former wife, Sandra, wanted to leave Manchester and he agreed to accept an offer from Juventus in 2014 – only to decide he might stay once he heard that Antonio Conte, who wanted to entice him to Turin, would become Italy’s manager. Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman, triggered an option to extend Evra’s contract for a year.

“I felt betrayed by Ed,” Evra says. “I called Juventus to tell them I am coming. Ed then said: ‘We offer you a two-year contract, more money, the captaincy, a testimonial.’ Too late [for Evra to renege on his agreement with Juventus].”

A year later, in June 2015, Evra played for Juventus in the Champions League final. “My ex-wife said: ‘See? Manchester are nearly in the Championship and you’re in this final.’ I love Juventus but I said: ‘Even if they’re in the Championship, I prefer to be at United. Nothing can replace my love for them.’”

Does he feel optimistic about United under Ole Gunnar Solskjær? “United have qualified for the Champions League. It’s not a big achievement but it’s massive progress from where we’ve come. I love Ole. One game we’re on the bench and I started talking. He said: ‘Patrice. I’m focused.’ He would analyse everything so he knows which defender is getting tired. That’s why we called him the Babyfaced Assassin. He helped United win the Champions League [as a player in 1999] that way.

“United can’t challenge Liverpool or Man City. Not yet. There’s been massive damage but we’re moving in the right direction. When they wanted to sign Bruno Fernandes, Ole texted me. I asked for advice from Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano says: ‘Bruno’s a good guy and very professional.’ I say: ‘Ole, I’ve spoken with Cristiano. Let’s go for it.’ And Fernandes had a massive impact. Without him I don’t think we would have qualified for the Champions League.”

Pogba has seemed more settled recently but he is often a controversial figure. “Paul’s really misunderstood. People talk more about his hairstyle but he’s a great kid, a shy boy actually. It was important for Fernandes to relieve that attention on Paul. It wasn’t fair. Paul is a happy person and we have been close so long. He Facetimed me yesterday at 11.30pm. I said: ‘Paul, I’m in bed. Let me sleep.’”

It feels like a new start for Evra now he is separated from his wife. “We were together 25 years and have two children. But after some difficult times we were no longer sharing the same roof. We would only meet around family moments. It’s never nice to divorce but I have a new love and positive energy with Margaux.”

Margaux, his fiancee, is a Danish model whom Evra takes me to meet at their apartment. She is warm and friendly and Evra says: “She makes me softer. She controls my fire, that dark energy. I am tranquil now.”

That tranquillity means Evra is at peace with the Suárez saga. He was especially hurt when, after Suárez was banned for eight games for his insults, Liverpool’s players wore shirts supporting the striker. “I was really upset with Kenny Dalglish [Liverpool’s manager at the time].”

When Jamie Carragher apologized to him recently for Liverpool’s actions, Evra was “so surprised but grateful. I also received a letter from Liverpool’s owner apologizing. People were trying to distract me and say: ‘This happened nine years ago. But it’s better late than never. I forgive and have more respect for Liverpool.”

The abuse he suffered from one of his club’s fans at Marseille, and Evra’s violent reaction, was more upsetting. “He said I am a monkey and he was threatening to cut my throat, and the throats of my kids. I reacted because I’m human. I have since done a lot of meditation and it helps.”

He is keen to deny accusations of sexism when he applauded, in a seemingly patronizing way, the well-researched punditry of Eni Aluko during the 2018 World Cup.

“When someone is good, I clap. She was very good and knows football. It was unfair to say I was patronizing because I know the strength of women. My mum had 13 kids and educated every single one. Even when she lost her leg she became stronger. My mum is my hero. So I want to do so much to promote women in football. I also feel very strongly about the rights of gay people and want to support them in football and life.”

Evra is “involved in many projects from my foundation to two orphanages in Senegal. But a Premier League team contacted my agent to see if I will play again. They saw how fit I am in my videos.”

He laughs. “I don’t miss football but I’m doing my A coaching licence. I’m not in a rush but Sir Alex said [Ryan] Giggs and me will become great managers. He said: ‘Patrice, you know how to drive people. You understand tactics and have the work ethic. You speak many languages and respect people – whether it’s the manager, the chef or the cleaner.’ I was very proud.”

Evra insists on driving me from Battersea to Clapham Junction. Sunshine streams across an afternoon framed by the world’s current uncertainty and I wonder if Evra, who has fire and ice within him, could fulfill Ferguson’s prediction? “I sacrificed my life a lot being a footballer. A manager makes a double sacrifice. Right now I want to make people laugh and think.”

It feels like a happy and reflective pause for the man who kicked out against racism, won many titles in different countries, played 81 times for France, bonded with Ferguson, crooned What’s Going On to Marvin Gaye and impersonated a panda. From Les Ulis to Battersea, it’s been an incredible journey. The next step, for Patrice Evra, could be just as interesting.

The Guardian Sport

Germany Looking to Book Spot in Euro 2024 Knockout Stage with Another Win against Hungary

Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smiles during press conference of the German national soccer team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (dpa via AP)
Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smiles during press conference of the German national soccer team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (dpa via AP)

Germany Looking to Book Spot in Euro 2024 Knockout Stage with Another Win against Hungary

Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smiles during press conference of the German national soccer team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (dpa via AP)
Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smiles during press conference of the German national soccer team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (dpa via AP)

Germany faces Hungary on Wednesday in Stuttgart in their second Group A match. Germany tops the group after beating Scotland 5-1 in the opener while Hungary lost 3-1 against Switzerland. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT). Here’s what to know about the match:

Match facts:

— Victory for Germany would all but guarantee a spot in the knockout stages and it would definitely advance if Switzerland also beats Scotland in the other group match.

— Another defeat would not end Hungary’s chances as it could still claim one of the four best third-place spots up for grabs.

— Germany is winless in its last three meetings against Hungary and was beaten 1-0 in the last game between the two teams, in September 2022.

— Germany had to twice come from behind when the teams met in the group stage at the last European Championship. That was the teams’ first competitive meeting since the 1954 World Cup final, won 3-2 by West Germany.

Team news:

— Hungary coach Marco Rossi is hopeful French-born midfielder Loic Nego will have recovered to face Germany after he was only fit for a place on the bench against Switzerland.

— Germany has reported no injury concerns.

By the numbers:

— Germany’s five goals scored against Scotland leaves it just one short of its best-ever group stage tally at the European Championship, when it scored six at Euro 2020.

— Hungary midfielder Ádám Nagy, who turned 29 on Sunday, could make his eighth tournament appearance if he plays against Germany. That would be a new record for Hungary, breaking the joint mark Nagy holds with former captain Ádám Szalai.

— Germany’s victory over Scotland saw the team win its European Championship opener for a record-extending eighth time.

What they’re saying:

“Hungary is an unpleasant opponent, they can sometimes be wild and they’re difficult to get a hold of. There are a lot of free spirits out there” — Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann.

“We beat them (Germany) in 2022, so I’m sure it will be an extra motivation for them. They’ll be thinking: ‘Not again.’ But it’s clear from the first game that this Germany side is a completely proposition to what they were back then or even last year.” — Hungary forward Martin Ádám.

“On the pitch you felt how every single one of our players was annoyed that we conceded. That is a good sign. Scoring goals is nice, but we are thinking defensively and want to have stability at the back.” — Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.