Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Evra vows to restore United's wounded pride

Optimism: Patrice Evra believes that Manchester United can  turn around a 2-0 deficit and overcome Olympiakos
Optimism: Patrice Evra believes that Manchester United can turn around a 2-0 deficit and overcome Olympiakos

If this is to be Patrice Evra's final season at Old Trafford, then he is leaving Manchester United much as he found it.

When he arrived with Nemanja Vidic in the January of 2006, United were a bleeding and bewildered institution. They had returned from Lisbon having finished bottom of their Champions League group.

The Chelsea of Jose Mourinho were streaking away with the league and inside their great stadium, the revolt against the takeover by the Glazer family was gathering a furious pace.

It was Sir Alex Ferguson's 20th year in charge and many imagined it would be his last.

He survived, he always did, but his successor does not possess the aura that comes with championships and European Cups.

Unless he can avoid being knocked out of the Champions League by Olympiakos, David Moyes' future might be measured in days. Evra may have longer, though he is likely to leave in the summer, probably for Inter Milan.

"It is not a good day to talk about my future because the most important thing is Manchester United's future, not mine," he said.

"When I put on the Manchester United shirt I will give everything. No matter if I stay or leave, that is the most important thing. I want to show all my team-mates that they can count on me.

"It has been a difficult season for everyone. We are not used to losing games, but everyone is going to fight for this club, everyone loves this club. I am not going to tell you we are going to qualify, but I promise the fans will be proud of us after the game."

It was about time somebody talked like this.

Moyes has been betrayed by his players and yet he has seldom given the impression that he understands the depth of the crisis that faces the biggest football brand in the world.

In his programme notes for Sunday's 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, when United produced what even by their flimsy standards was the most gutless display of a disastrous season, Moyes wrote: "From what I see, positivity is growing every day around the AON Training Complex. What goes on there is completely different to what people perceive the situation to be at Manchester United."

It was Moyes as Marie Antoinette, breathtakingly out of touch with the reality beyond the barricaded, single-track road that leads to United's training ground. Now, with the enemy at the gates, there was a realisation that it was time for some frank talking.

Looked at coldly and dispassionately, Manchester United's task is not that daunting. Olympiakos have lost every one of the 11 games they have played in England. They are champions of a near-bankrupt Greek League.

The feeling among the Olympiakos players is that they would have to score to reach the quarter-finals. Simply protecting a 2-0 lead would not be enough.

Nevertheless, the image of United as a club that forever came back from the brink is somewhat misplaced. Only twice in their history have they overturned a 2-o first-leg deficit. Curiously, both times the year ended in a four and Ferguson wasn't in charge.

The last was in 1984, when a side driven on by Bryan Robson overcame a Barcelona that featured Diego Maradona at a fevered Old Trafford. Evra, too, has experienced it when France, ridiculed and written off, overcame Ukraine to reach the European Championship.

"We let the storm pass," said Evra. "It was a difficult day after the game, we didn't expect to lose 2-0 in Ukraine but after two days everyone was focused. We stood together and we played for the people who love us, our families and our fans. We gave everything.

"I am not someone to sit here and dream and say Manchester United are going to qualify but I believe we can overcome the situation."

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