How 'Uncle Pat' Evra defied the doubters at Juventus – and left Cole in his wake
When Juventus secured their place in the final four of the Champions League, a raft of internet memes unflatteringly portrayed the Bianconeri as a zebra being stalked by three lions. The inference was simple: the Italian giants and Serie A leaders were viewed as fodder for the three remaining super clubs, who each wanted to draw the Old Lady in the semi-finals.
While Barcelona and Bayern Munich were paired to do battle, Real Madrid were the ones deemed fortunate, with Carlo Ancelotti set to lead the holders of the competition against his former club.
In more than 180 minutes of football, however, Massimiliano Allegri got the better of the man he once replaced at Milan, masterminding a 3-2 aggregate victory against the odds as Juventus proved that sometimes the fleet-footed zebra can escape and leave the big cat to go hungry.
One man quick to pay homage to the impact made from the bench was Patrice Evra, saying shortly after the final whistle in Madrid: “A lot of credit must also go to Mister Allegri.” Continuing along the same theme as those earlier memes, the France international went on to say that the coach’s tactical variety “always changed the menu” as he looked for ways to help his team bridge the obvious chasm in talent.
While the Bianconeri could rely on intelligent alternatives from Allegri, former Manchester United star Evra has come to represent something of a guarantee at left-back. Like Carlos Tevez, who was once his team-mate at Old Trafford, he has overcome initial concerns about his arrival to establish himself as a vital member of the side as they clinched a fourth consecutive Serie A title at a canter. The fears surrounding the Argentine striker revolved around his professionalism and attitude, but with Evra it was simply a question of age, having seemingly begun to fade during his final season in England's top flight.
ALSO ON FFT.COM
Freed from the pressures of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, however, Evra has thrived on the peninsula, the 34-year-old slotting seamlessly into a back-line that has been one of Europe’s strongest in recent seasons. Juventus began the 2014/15 campaign in the same 3-5-2 formation which had been central to their domestic dominance under Antonio Conte and, having completed a £1.2 million transfer and signed a two-year contract, Evra showed his ability as a wing-back. Defensively diligent and tactically aware, the Frenchman was a welcome addition when Juventus were in possession, his natural grasp of the role a huge boost to the side as he made overlapping runs to stretch opponents.
Contributing a steady stream of dangerous crosses, he complemented the consistent quality of Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right flank and even proved to be a threat at set-pieces.
Evra quickly became a veteran presence, helping to guide the club’s young players like Kingsley Coman and Paul Pogba, who referred to him as “Uncle Pat” and thanked him for the guidance and insight he provided.
ALSO ON FFT.COM
Allegri eventually moved away from that three-man defence and began to deploy what he labelled a “4-3-and then we’ll see” formation. While those around him had not played in a back four for a number of years, Evra was wholly familiar with the intricacies of it and helped ensure the transition was smooth as he returned to playing a more orthodox position. An injury to Ghanaian wideman Kwadwo Asamoah left the former Monaco defender as the only real option in that role, however, with converted midfielder Simone Padoin occasionally trusted to give him a breather.
Evra marked his 32nd appearance of the campaign in the Coppa Italia final with a crucial assist in Juve’s 2-1 extra-time victory. His impact once again provided a stark contrast to the Italian adventure of Ashley Cole, perhaps the only player who had rivalled his ability at left-back during the Premier League era.
The former Arsenal and Chelsea full-back had arguably enjoyed a much better final season in England with the Blues, and as Roma picked the then 33-year-old up on a free transfer just two weeks before the Frenchman landed in Turin, the Giallorossi were seen to have made the better deal.
It certainly hasn't turned out that way, however, with Cole enduring a torrid time in Serie A, making just 11 starts for Rudi Garcia’s men. Much like Evra, he was brought in to add experience to a young side as Roma made their return to the Champions League, yet he has merely compounded their collapse with a string of disappointing performances. Perhaps his time in the peninsula’s capital is best summed up by his part in their 7-1 mauling at the hands of Bayern Munich, when he was hauled off at half-time after being largely culpable for the five first-half goals his side had shipped at the Stadio Olimpico.
Meanwhile, Evra has saved his best displays for the continental competition, and now heads to the fifth Champions League final of his career, a total bettered only by Milan legend Paolo Maldini’s tally of eight.
He's only won one of the previous four, though, and his record is similar to that of Juve, who have lifted the trophy just twice in seven appearances and hope to improve that record against Messi & Co. in Berlin. “The final was an objective from the first moment Juventus called me,” he told Sky Italia moments after helping the Bianconeri eliminate Real Madrid, going on to thank “those who wanted me and my experience here”.
Events at the 2010 World Cup – Evra leading a players' strike in protest of Nicolas Anelka’s exclusion from the squad – had tainted the value of that veteran leadership, but it has certainly come to the fore in Turin.
In the hours after they overcame the Spanish giants at the Santiago Bernabeu, footage of the jubilant Juventus players celebrating their place in the final emerged, singing about going to Berlin to the tune of Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. There, clearly in charge of proceedings, the Frenchman hammered out the tune on an equipment box, with the rest of the squad performing to the beat of his drumming.
Evra has joined Buffon, Pirlo and Tevez to become one of the genuine leaders of this group that now stands 90 minutes away from immortalising themselves in the storied history of Italian football’s grand Old Lady.