Returning to Ligue 1 to play for Marseille was supposed to provide a neat bookend to what has been an illustrious career, but Patrice Evra’s stay in the south of France was cut abruptly short earlier this season in the most controversial way imaginable.
The subject of abuse from Marseille fans ahead of a Europa League tie with Vitória Guimarães in November, the former France international snapped, first gesturing towards his tormentors, then kicking a ball in their direction, before finally physically confronting them, landing an Eric Cantona-esque high kick on one before being pulled away by team-mates.
Evra, of course, was sent off for his moment of madness – the game hadn’t even kicked off.
Those who witnessed Evra’s most recent stint in Ligue 1, however, have concerns about his suitability for top-level football at this stage of his career, relating more to his performances on the field than his inexplicable indiscretion off it.
Evra’s social media videos and “I love this game” mantra has become famous in recent years. In stark contrast to the way his time with Marseille ended, the former Monaco and Juventus defender appears to be one of football’s most positive, optimistic souls, and this was reflected in his joy – or, considering his tarnished reputation, perhaps that should be relief – at signing for the Hammers.
“It’s amazing to be back and I am thankful to West Ham for giving me the opportunity to do my job,” he said.
“You don’t realise how lucky you are. Just to wake up this morning and know I am going to train with my new team-mates made me smile.
“When you have to make a deal and money is not the issue, the deal could be done in five minutes. It was the fastest thing I have done in my life.”
Players with Evra’s track record – the 81-cap ex-Les Bleus man has won the Premier League five times, Serie A twice and has played in five Champions League finals, winning one – don’t come along very often for West Ham, and certainly not without a transfer fee. In that respect, the East London side’s decision to take the veteran full-back has merited.
But West Ham are mistaken if they think they are getting the same Evra who rampaged up and down the flank at Old Trafford so effectively, one of the best players in the world in his position for several years.
The signing and gradual development of former Chelsea transfer target Alex Sandro from Porto saw Evra slip down the pecking order at Juventus after joining the Bianconeri from Manchester United in 2014, with the effects of time eventually rendering him unable to offer a suitable alternative to the Brazilian, a decade Evra’s junior.
It was a similar tale at Marseille, where Evra’s performances fell some way short of his peak and the arrival of Jordan Amavi from Aston Villa relegated the 36-year-old to a largely back-up role.
Always willing to bomb forward in support of the attack, Evra was no longer able to count on his old recovery pace to get him back into his defensive station when the ball was turned over, causing him to be caught out of position too often, while some of the bite and tenacity than made him a sound one-v-one defender was also gone.
If West Ham boss David Moyes, who worked with the Frenchman during his one, ill-fated season at the Old Trafford helm, is expecting Evra to come straight in and become a difference-maker at left-back, the Scot will be sorely disappointed. Once again, a role as an experienced back-up option is most likely.
There is, however, a left-field option which could see Evra involved more regularly at the London Stadium. Football Whispers’ own French football expert Andrew Gibney, who followed Evra’s Marseille spell closely, believes the ex-Juventus man could coax the last bit of longevity from his career by playing as a left-sided centre-back in a back three, where, as Gibney explains: “With the protection from the midfield and left wing-back, he won’t be as exposed.”
Evra’s true value to Moyes and West Ham could, though, be in the dressing room. The Hammers, although 12th, are only three points clear of the relegation zone and have endured a difficult season, with a fight on their hands to ward of any threat a drop down to the Championship.
A player of Evra’s vast experience and infectious positivity – he has been known to give rousing pre-game and half-time speeches throughout his career – could be the perfect addition to bring harmony and cohesion to an otherwise difficult environment.
Any successful battle against relegation is all about marginal gains; the teams able to squeeze every last drop of potential from their players are the ones able to arrest the slide and preserve their top-flight status. Evra loves this game, and Moyes will be hoping the new man can spread that love.