At 28 and arguably the peak of his powers, Patrice Evra remains as committed a performer as ever, despite having already claimed some of the world’s biggest prizes at club level. A three-time Premier League champion at Manchester United, with whom he has also picked up the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup, the former Monaco left-back was voted the best player in his position in the 2009 FIFA/FIFPro World XI awards.
Yet the Red Devils stalwart, whose attacking thrust is almost as important to Sir Alex Ferguson’s team as his defensive nous, still has a point to prove on the international stage. And after the crushing disappointment of France’s UEFA EURO 2008 showing, the forthcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ offers Les Bleus the chance to set the record straight. And for the Senegal-born Evra, the first edition of the global showpiece to be held on African soil will have a particular resonance.
FIFA.com spoke to Evra about a host of topics including France’s laborious qualifying campaign, chasing further club honours at Old Trafford and his hopes for South Africa 2010.
FIFA.com: Patrice, you earned a spot in the FIFA/FIFPro World XI for 2009, chosen by your fellow professionals. How does it feel to be voted the world’s finest left-back?
Patrice Evra: It’s an honour and really satisfying, particularly because it’s my fellow professionals who have chosen me. All I can do is thank them and hope to keep doing what I do to the best of my ability to continue to earn their appreciation.
That award capped an impressive 2009 for you personally. Is there any one moment in particular that stood out for you?
At the risk of surprising you, the one thing that sticks with me most about that year was the worst moment: the Champions League final defeat against Barcelona. That’s what has stayed with me, because I’m a winner. True, we won the league title and the Carling Cup, but missing out on winning that competition (the Champions League) again had the most impact on me. That bad memory affected me more than any other big moment from last season.
At Manchester United, winning one title per season just doesn’t cut it. We’re obliged to win several, if not all of them.
With regard to that final defeat, why do you think Manchester United fell just short of successfully defending their trophy?
First and foremost, Barcelona won because they played really well. But even so, I’m frustrated because I feel that we didn’t show the real face of Manchester United. We were a bit too confident and sure of ourselves, and we were caught cold.
You have won a host of major trophies with United, including the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup in 2008. What are your objectives for the year 2010 and how do you stay motivated?
We start each season the same, with the desire to go all the way in every competition. At Manchester United, winning one title per season just doesn’t cut it. We’re obliged to win several, if not all of them. This year, the main goal is to win a fourth championship in a row, which would be historic. But we’re also hoping to win the Champions League again, because the defeat in last year’s final still sticks in all our throats. Personally, though, I’ve already won it, I’d like to win it three times before ending my career. I’ve played in three finals (with Monaco in 2004, and United in 2008 and 2009) and have lost in two of them. My objective is to win it again, knowing that it would also give us the chance to compete to become world club champions once more.
Moving away from your club commitments, this year’s footballing highlight is undoubtedly the 2010 FIFA World Cup. France struggled in qualifying before edging out play-off opponents Republic of Ireland in difficult circumstances. Can you give us your take on that experience?
Talking about it again is like going back into the past, whereas I prefer to focus on the future. At the moment I’m simply looking forward to the World Cup, with the aim of going there and winning it. It’s true that we qualified by the back door but what matters is being there, not the path you took. It was particularly important to me to be involved, because I’m of African origin and I know how much support France have on the continent. So it should also make all Africans very happy to see us at this World Cup.
At last December’s Final Draw in Cape Town, France were drawn in Group A alongside Mexico, Uruguay and hosts South Africa. What will be your approach for the match against the host nation?
It’s a privilege to be taking on the host nation. I reckon there’ll be a great atmosphere inside the stadium. The pressure will be on them because they need to have a good World Cup in front of their own fans. It’ll be tough but I see this match as a beautiful celebration.
What is your verdict on the Draw? Do you agree with those who say it could have been much worse for France?
A World Cup is always special. Every player is battling to do their country proud and dreams of becoming a world champion, which means that every opponent is difficult. But there’s no need to deny it, the Draw could indeed have been harder on us. But that doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy. Mexico always perform well at World Cups, South Africa will give everything they’ve got not to fall at the first hurdle on home soil, and Uruguay are a genuinely tough team to play against. Whatever people say, in my opinion it’s by no means an easy group. One thing’s for sure: if France don’t find their best form, they won’t make it through to the next round.
The Draw could have been harder on us. Given the quality we have, we can’t afford not to have a great World Cup. We've got the fire in our bellies.
On that subject, how good would you say the France team really is? Given the number of quality players available, how do you explain the UEFA EURO 2008 disappointment and the struggle to qualify for South Africa 2010?
I think the EURO was a real waste. It’s frustrating because when you look at the players in the side, they all play for the world’s biggest clubs. And they’re all important players for these teams. But with France, no one player can be the star, it has to be the team as a whole, and we’re working more and more towards that goal. As far as the qualifiers are concerned, the fact we needed to qualify via the play-offs simply wasn't good enough. True, we did qualify, but we can’t be proud of it. That’s why we didn’t particularly celebrate qualification. We should have finished the job earlier and we knew that full well. We need to be fully aware of how good we are and the fact that the French team is what really matters, over and above our individual issues, throughout our preparations. Given the quality we have, we can’t afford not to have a great World Cup.
Have France’s qualifying travails and the wave of criticism received afterwards destabilised the team or helped bring you all closer together?
Sides like France and Argentina, who are great footballing nations but struggled (in qualifying), will have a great tournament. I’m convinced of that. We’ve got where we are today thanks to our efforts alone, nobody helped us. We’ve gone through some tough times over the last two years, we’ve been through the mill, but that’s brought us closer together. We’ve got the fire in our bellies from now on. But we don’t play to prove the critics wrong, we play for those who love and believe in us. We’re giving it our best shot for them.
Finally, did you get the chance to speak to your Manchester United team-mate and Republic of Ireland international John O’Shea after the second leg of your European Zone play-off?
Of course. We took the same flight back to Manchester, with six of the Irish guys. They were happy for me and told me that despite everything that had happened, they hoped we’d go on and have a great tournament. I don’t want to go back over that episode [the Thierry Henry handball], but in my view it’s just part of the game, just like the fact that we had a shout for a penalty in the first leg. I repeat, it was part of the game like anything else. What matters now is that France are going to the World Cup.