France's shining beacon


PARIS, May 27 – With France plagued by scandal, an unpopular coach and a key players lacking form and fitness, Patrice Evra is one of the few members of their squad who will go to the World Cup at the top of his game.The Manchester United left-back has established himself as one of the world’s pre-eminent full-backs since moving to England in January 2006 and has amassed a wealth of silverware during his time at Old Trafford.

A small, athletic defender, Evra is as effective going forwards as he is in reverse and his form in recent seasons has forced Raymond Domenech to deploy Barcelona’s Eric Abidal — whose club coach Pep Guardiola describes him as "the best left-back in the world" — in central defence.

Evra played in 10 of France’s 12 qualification matches and was one of the only high-profile French players to emerge from the campaign with his reputation fully intact.

He was also one of United’s most consistent performers this season, featuring in all of their 38 league matches, and has been named in the Premier League’s PFA Team of the Season on three of the last four occasions.

"Patrice has developed into one of the best full-backs in world football," said Sir Alex Ferguson at the dawn of last season. "And his infectious personality has helped build an incredible team spirit."

While he may now enjoy level pegging with the great and the good of the global game, the 29-year-old has had to take a circuitous route to the top.

The son of a diplomat and one of 26 siblings, two of whom died in infancy, Evra was born in the Senegalese capital Dakar in 1981 but moved to France aged six and grew up in the Les Ulis district south of Paris that was also the home of his international captain Thierry Henry.

As a teenager Evra trained with Paris Saint-Germain, but the left-winger was not offered a professional contract at the Parc des Princes.

Instead he moved to Italy, joining Sicilian minnows Marsala in 1998 before signing for Serie B side Monza a year later.

He played just three times in Italy’s second tier before returning to France with second division Nice and it was on the Mediterranean coast that Evra’s career took a significant detour.

He was a striker when he arrived at Stade du Ray but injuries forced coach Sandro Salvioni to deploy him at left-back and with his natural pace and tenacity, Evra excelled.

Re-born as a roving defender, he joined Monaco after two seasons at Nice and was an important figure in the side that finished runners-up to Porto in the 2003-04 Champions League under the guidance of Didier Deschamps.

Ferguson pounced in 2006 and, after a nightmare debut that saw him substituted at half-time during a 3-1 defeat at city rivals Manchester City, Evra made the left-back berth his own.

He has won eight major titles to date at United, including the 2007-08 Champions League, and captained the side in their League Cup final victory over Aston Villa in March.

"Being the second Frenchman to lift a trophy for United, after (Eric) Cantona, is a source of great pride," he said.

Overlooked for the 2006 World Cup, Evra was brought back into the France fold at the 2008 European Championship.

Having taken the scenic route to international football’s uppermost echelon, he will be itching to make his mark at what could be his first and last World Cup.