World Cup redemption for Evra?
Patrice Evra will not be France's captain on Sunday against Honduras in their opening game of the World Cup. He will not be vice-captain either. His time in such leadership roles for Les Bleus is over. He will never wear an armband (or anything that looks like one) ever again for his national team.
Even Didier Deschamps, his mentor and a real father figure to the veteran left-back, knew he could not take it that far. In an interview with L'Equipe last week, the France coach said it was clear: "He will never captain while I am the manager and he knows it."
Let's be clear: without Deschamps, Patrice Evra would surely not be even wearing the blue shirt anymore. He would be on holiday right now, watching the World Cup on TV with his son Lenny on his lap. At Euro 2012, he lost his place in the starting line-up; Laurent Blanc preferred Gael Clichy. However, Blanc's contract was not extended, and Deschamps arrived.
Had it been any other manager in charge, Evra would have been out of the picture. First, because he has been far from his best this season. At 33, he had a poor year at Manchester United and is too often a burden defensively for France.
The second reason is the most important: because of his role in Knysna, the small South African town where he disgraced himself in 2010. On June 20, he led a protest against the exclusion from the squad of Nicolas Anelka for insulting the manager, Raymond Domenech, a few days earlier at half-time of the game against Mexico. The protest led to the French squad refusing to train that day when they refused to get off the coach that took them from their hotel to the pitch.
Evra was at the front of it. At the time, he was French captain, and as captain, he was the leader and instigator of an action that was executed in front of the world's media who gathered to attend what they thought would be a normal training session. Evra was all over the place and got it completely wrong from start to finish, never realising or anticipating the scandal it would generate. He never thought about the consequences, but as captain, he should have, and his and his team-mates' actions tarnished the French national team's reputation.
Evra eventually took responsibility for it, apologising to the entire nation. Once he realised and understood the damage done, he spoke of his devastation. I believe him, but I don't care. He should have thought about it before he acted. He claims he loves his country more than anything else, hence his distress, but if you love your country, you don't do things like that.
Evra was banned by the French federation (FFP) for five games. A lot of former players, like Lilian Thuram, and prominent French personalities like Chantal Jouanno, the French sports minister at the time, asked for him to be banned for life from the national team.
"I have nothing against Evra but, as a France player and especially captain, he did not defend the values of sport which are shared by the Republic. I am sure there exist other talents who have not sullied France and are waiting for the chance to write new history" said the former cabinet member.
Now, despite Deschamps' solicitude, most of French fans still haven't forgiven him. Evra is never mentioned among the most liked players of the squad, which is not surprising given that, in a recent poll, 76 percent admitted they were still scarred by the embarrassment of 2010, while 82 percent still had a bad opinion of the national team in general.
Last season, Evra also heavily criticized and even insulted some famous and important French pundits -- among them former players Bixente Lizarazu and Luis Fernandez, plus current Montpellier manager Roland Courbis -- which also didn't go down well with supporters.
Anyway, despite all this, the Red Devil will be on the pitch on Sunday against Honduras, starting at left-back.
Evra is like a cat. He is a man with nine lives. Early in his career, after failing to impress French clubs (including PSG) in a series of trials, he decided to leave France aged 17 to try his luck in Italy's lower divisions and make it as a pro. He went to Marsala (Serie C) and Monza (Serie B), had ups and downs and finally came back home to Nice, where his career really took off.
He joined Deschamps at Monaco and they reached the Champions League final together in 2004. The outcome was disappointing -- a defeat to Jose Mourinho's Porto -- but that's where the strong bond between Deschamps and Evra began. That season, the coach made the player vice-captain despite him being only 23, because Deschamps knew exactly what he was made of.
In the manager's' mind, Evra already had all the qualities of a leader and, even at that young age, set an example on and off the pitch. Deschamps liked his positive and fearless attitude, and Evra already had the respect of the dressing room and of older players. Plus, he was shining on the pitch, too, which led to his transfer to Manchester United in January 2006.
"He is so important," Deschamps also said in the L'Equipe interview. "He has experience. But I have the impression that whatever he does, it will never be good enough. I understand he can have an image [for the fans] that doesn't reflect who he is. There is some hostility towards him today."
Despite all this, Evra is appreciated by the rest of the current dressing room. Other players listen to him. He has charisma, a big mouth for always teasing teammates, brings a good atmosphere to the squad and has a positive attitude -- a big contrast to his mindset in 2010. "He is one of the bosses of the team," Blaise Matuidi said last week at a news conference during the pre-World Cup training camp.
Evra is indeed important for the team -- albeit off the field more than on it. With 58 caps, he is the most experienced player in the squad since Franck Ribery pulled out of the tournament, and he is also the most successful in terms of trophies won at the club level. However, many French supporters have not forgotten the events of 2010.
Evra's redemption is not complete, but this World Cup, surely his last one and perhaps also his final big tournament at any level, offers a chance to achieve it.
Julian Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter @LaurensJulien.