Patrice Evra will be at Old Trafford at lunchtime on Saturday as a guest of Manchester United.
Much of what he sees on derby day he will recognise, but some things he will not. The last time United played at home, they lost 5-0 to Liverpool.
‘If that had happened to us we would be fighting in the dressing room,’ says Evra without a flicker.
Patrice Evra will be at Old Trafford on Saturday as a guest of Manchester United for the derby
Evra remains welded to his old club and speaks to former boss Sir Alex Ferguson every day
A serial winner in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final seven years as manager, Evra remains welded to his old club. He played alongside Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and speaks to Ferguson every month. He is tight with Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba.
Now aged 40, he sees himself as a United fan, first and foremost. ‘I am a Mancunian,’ he smiles. ‘And United can’t keep making us suffer because it’s such pain to watch them sometimes.
‘There is no role model in that dressing room. Once I had a knock and they said I could not train but then Paul Scholes passed by. He had a knee problem and went out to train. Then Ryan Giggs was stretching a back problem. He went out. Gary Neville with a sore calf. Went out. I thought — if these three dinosaurs are training, am I really going to stay there like a diva?
Evra says the attitude of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes (L-R) at training stopped him acting ‘like a diva’
‘So I got up and put my boots on. It’s not about shouting on the pitch. That’s easy. It’s about leading by example. Who does that now?’
When United lost at Everton in 2013, Giggs stood up on the team bus. ‘Even Everton fans are taking the p**s out of us now,’ he raged. Are United back in that territory?
‘Worse,’ says Evra. ‘Actually, I need to be careful. Not in the actual team, no. But if we don’t want to end up like a team where people just laugh at us, then the players have to feel it deep inside.
‘When we lost the title on the last day in 2012, players were crying. Ferguson told us to feel it, to hurt.
Evra says his dressing room had people with anger and passion, which may be missing now
‘I did an interview and said we would win it back by 10 points the next season. We won it by 13.’
Evra once described himself as addicted to United. It helped him at work, if not at home. ‘I don’t laugh when I see that flag in the crowd saying: “United, Kids, Wife. In that order” because that’s what I did,’ he says. ‘My little son Lenny said he hated United for taking his father away. It’s OK to say you have character but are you ready to bleed every single game?
‘I don’t want to be harsh. I am not with them in that dressing room. But we had people with anger and passion in our team. Maybe that’s missing now.’
Evra signed for United at Christmas 2005 and soon made his debut at Manchester City. United lost and Evra was taken off at half-time.
The confident, cocky left back who had turned up at Carrington in a £3,000 sheepskin coat and had already played in a Champions League final for Monaco had been reduced to nothing by the ferocity of the English game.
He signed for United in 2005 and turned up at Carrington in a £3,000 sheepskin coat
‘We played at noon,’ says Evra. ‘Breakfast at nine. Mikael Silvestre was eating pasta. I did the same and vomited. Maybe I shouldn’t have played but I didn’t want to appear scared.
‘In the first two minutes, Trevor Sinclair elbowed me. My eye was closed. Welcome to England. I remember leaning on the post thinking “What am I doing here?”
‘I was over-confident and arrogant. Scholes teased me, said I should have been a jockey. He was right. I had never even been in a gym! In a reserve game me and Nemanja Vidic were taken off again. In the shower we were saying “I think we should both go home”.’
Vidic — also signed that month — and Evra ultimately played in a team that won five titles and a Champions League. They also lived through a period which saw City on the rise. By the time Evra left for Juventus after a screaming telephone row with United chief executive Ed Woodward in 2014, City had won two titles.
Evra’s education on the nature of the rivalry took a while to complete. Scholes once hammered him for playing an Oasis track in the dressing room (the Gallagher brothers are City fans), while Ferguson chastised him for socialising with Carlos Tevez once his friend had crossed the divide from red to blue. But as City’s star rose, Evra knew what it meant.
‘Winning against Chelsea meant you would win the league,’ he recalls. ‘Winning versus Liverpool and you were beating the enemy. Winning against Arsenal was like winning against our baby. But winning against City was just beating the neighbour. They were not contenders for the title.
‘Then they got better and Ferguson hated it. The Tevez transfer was a massive turning point. Even I was really upset with him. He only went there to try and hurt United but it worked. He won the league for them.’
Evra described beating City, as opposed to other title rivals, as ‘just beating the neighbour’
United have not won the league since Evra and Ferguson last did so together back in 2013
And what about now? City have five Premier League titles and will start as favourites on Saturday. United have not won the league since Evra, Vidic and Ferguson last did so together in 2013. So is the power shift in danger of becoming permanent?
‘No way,’ replies Evra without pause. ‘I have the same number of Premier League titles as City. Just myself! And where is their Champions League? They are much better than United right now but it’s not a worry.
‘The history will never die. If they start to win the Champions League it could be a different story but even to reach the level of Chelsea — well, they are not there yet.
‘Only people born after PlayStation 5 came out (last year) will say that City are the biggest club in the world. Everyone else? No way.’
Evra has a book out and it is a good one. It is not, however, the type of book he intended it to be or, indeed, was when it was first completed. No, Evra’s autobiography had to be recalled from the publishers and furnished with a new first chapter after a conversation with his fiancée Margaux one night.
‘Margaux has opened me emotionally,’ he says. ‘I don’t know how. She must be a magician. She always said she could sense tension in me. She would see me get angry.
Evra has spoken about how important fiancee Margaux Alexandra was in helping him open up
‘But I didn’t let her in. Then one night we saw a programme about a paedophile and she knew something was wrong. I said “no” but I burst into tears and then she knew.’
Evra was regularly sexually abused by a head teacher in France at the age of 13. He was contacted by French police in his early 20s but denied being a victim. Margaux was the first to hear his story.
The Frenchman goes into detail on the incident in his new autobiography ‘I Love This Game’
Then, last month in Paris, his mother. ‘It’s a trauma that I have lived with and survived,’ he explains. ‘You would see that person in your head. It traumatises you. So you bury it, erase it. I don’t even know his name or whether he is alive.
‘I am fine today. I feel great it is out there now. But I do feel shame. I was a coward because I didn’t mention it before. I lied to the police and let down other kids.
‘I even regretted telling Margaux because I thought she would see me as weak. My dad said crying was a weakness. But it’s not, is it?
‘I had already finished the book and I had to call them and say I had to put something in. So we did it again. It’s the first chapter. That’s where it should be.’
After talking to his mother, Evra felt compelled to tell one other person before the book came out. So he flew to Manchester.
‘The boss,’ he says. ‘I had to tell Sir Alex. We had lunch and he was devastated. But he said, “Patrice, I’m not surprised. The way I know you, always fighting. Now I understand everything”. I think he was proud of me. He knows me maybe even better than my father does. We’re close. I will see him on Saturday.’
In his book, Evra is honest about his early life in the Paris suburbs.
A small-time shoplifter and occasional drug dealer, he knows where things could have gone had football not intervened.
‘Some people pretend they want to fight,’ he says. ‘It was my way to survive and I liked it. I don’t want to fight any more as I am a positive guy. It’s not right.’
These days, the ex-Man United left back is energetic, open and marvellously opinionated
These days he is energetic, open and marvellously opinionated. The week we meet, he has done a Q&A at a Manchester school that invigorated him. There has been interest in a documentary and talk of an Evra cartoon. He says much of the ‘dark energy’ that propelled him in his formative years is now well hidden, but it remains. He is not ready to stop pushing.
He is, for example, scornful of football’s attempts to combat racism. ‘Kick it Out and Say “No” in front of the camera before kick off?,’ he asks. ‘I don’t want to be involved. When players are doing it, they don’t know what they are talking about.
‘You have to be racially abused to understand the pain. In France, after our problems during the 2010 World Cup, they had the guillotine ready for me.
‘People must stop pretending they want to stop the racists. They shut down the Super League project in 24 hours. I see my ex-team-mates as pundits talking about it. But I wonder why they couldn’t find the same energy to fight racism. People only care about things that hit them in the pocket. I hate the hypocrisy.’
He is excited about Saturday’s trip to Old Trafford. He will see Ferguson and watch old friends play. He cares and wants to help. Sometimes he does. When United wanted to sign Bruno Fernandes last year, they called Evra and asked him to engage Ronaldo as a Portuguese go-between. It worked. Now Ronaldo is back on the field, too.
Evra feels for Pogba — with whom he won Serie A titles at Juventus — and says he has been the scapegoat for United’s problems. ‘I’ve told him I’d like to punch his agent,’ he says with a smile. ‘He makes him look bad.
‘Paul does not feel love at United. The ex-players hate him. Some fans don’t like his lifestyle so they hate him. I am not defending him just because he is like my little brother, but people are harsh on him. Paul is just a player in that team. He is not United.
Evra feels for Paul Pogba, with whom he won Serie A, and says he has been made the scapegoat for United’s problems
‘When you look at that squad you know there is no longer an excuse. That’s why people now have a go at Ole.’
Evra does not necessarily wish to be one of those people but he will not hide from what is in front of him or inside him. Not any more.
I Love This Game by Patrice Evra (Simon & Schuster UK) is available now, £20.