Patrice Evra: Dedicated To Discovering The Potential Of The Next Generation In Africa
For Patrice Latyr Evra, football is life and the love for the game fuels his life and every decision he takes.
Gifted a football at the age of 3 by his mother, little did they know that football will become the gift that keeps giving.
37 years after this gift, Evra has been named among the PFA Team of the Year, the FIFPro World XI and the UEFA Team of the Year. In France, he has earned Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year and was included in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year.
Evra Bus stop
Evra Bus stop, as he is fondly called by Nigerians, due to his iconic role as a left-back, has had a fair run as Manchester United’s captain, the French national team’s captain, and as a trainee coach.
Now he is giving back to Africa. He tells Guardian Life that his primary purpose in Africa is to discover and tap the many talents Africa has to offer.
This has seen him visit his hometown in Dakar, Senegal, then Ivory Coast and now Nigeria. On his maiden tour visiting young talents around Africa, Evra says seeing the children with qualities and talents moved him so much and he was ready to support them as much as possible.
“I want to feel the energy, the craziness and the joy, every single emotion. There is so much talent here in Africa and that’s why it was important to me to begin my tour here. Seeing those kids with so much quality and talents, it is clear all they need is the right support to actualise their dreams.”
He stressed that his tour is one born out of necessity, as he intends to break the stereotype of people seeing Africa as just a poor continent with poor people. “Africa is so gifted and rich and we need to raise our people as much as we can and inspire them, and that’s why I’m here.”
Interestingly, although he is known for his play in the French national team, Evra was born to a Senegalese diplomat, and a Cape Verdean and French mother. Yet, he ensures that he maintains ties with his roots.
“I was born and bred in Dakar even though I played for the French national team. I’ve never forgotten where I come from and I want these children to understand that while it’s good to dream of playing in Europe and America, everything they need is here in Africa. I know this now because I’m more mature, which is why I’m trying to help others realise that the future of Africa is bright.
“This is why I’m on a mission to end violence against children in Africa and in other countries of the world as well. I decided right from when I was a child to always stay positive and happy, even when I was begging for money in front of shops; I always had a passion for life and sharing. That’s why when I scream I love this game; it shows my excitement to be alive and share this passion with others,” he says.
Although it is his first time in Nigeria, it wouldn’t be his last, as he feels a strong connection to the country and her people.
“This is my first time in Nigeria and I hope it will not be my last. It feels like we’ve always known one another, it’s really crazy but I feel so much at home here. Immediately I landed at the airport, I felt welcome. I know there’s a big United fan community here and I feel really connected to Nigerians.”
“I LOVE THIS GAME”
As children, we make career choices that waver as we get older and become more self-aware. So when Patrice Evra told his teacher about his choice, she didn’t take him seriously.
“I never knew I was going to earn money from football and simply played for the passion and the love for the game. I told my teacher when I was in school that I wanted to be a football player and she says that’s not a job. Everyone laughed at me, but I never gave up on my dream. When you give me a ball, I am happy and even now I am retired. What keeps me happy is meeting different people across different cultures that share this passion with me.”
You can feel the infectious positive energy he radiates when he talks about football. Describing his favourite moment as a footballer, he says it was when he signed his first professional contract when he was 17 and called his mum with so much excitement to tell her, ‘I made it mama’.
“I was the happiest kid in the world at that moment because I signed my first contract. That kid from the streets has just signed a huge contract,” he noted with glee.
Reminiscing on his playing days and how he made the switch from playing left-wing to left-back, nobody tells the story better.
“When I started playing, I was playing left wing. In a particular game, the left-back in our team got injured towards the last 15 minutes of the match and I played his position so well we won that match. At the end of the game, everyone was saying I was so good at it and by the following week, the manager asked me to play left-back but I refused, saying I was not a left-back. The manager wanted to cut me from the game, so I quickly decided to play it. I hated it at the time but look at me now. I was named the best left-back in the French league four times and best young football player several times. Only strikers like Zidane and Henri used to win this. I stopped loving playing left-back only when I signed for Manchester United.”
Playing left-back was not the first career transition he experienced. From making it to the Champions League finals while playing in front of over 7000 Monaco fans to playing for 80000 at Manchester United, he experienced what he described as “a different kind of pressure.”
“Before I signed for United, I used to play for Monaco and my highlight then was when we made the Champions League finals but lost the final against Porto in 2004. I was playing with the French national team but when I arrived Manchester, it was a completely different world. At Monaco, I used to play in front of 7,000 people but at Manchester United, I was playing in front of 80, 000 people. It was a different kind of pressure and demand and you had to win the league and trophies every year, but I love pressure, as I perform better when I’m under pressure. It was hard at the beginning and I doubted myself for a bit because things were moving so fast but because I’m resilient and determined, the rest, as they say, is history.”
In the video where he announces his tour to Nigeria, he wears a bathrobe with an Afro wig and dances to an improvised remix of Wizkid ft. Tems’s “Essence”.
Fans are all too enthusiastic about seeing him as his usual jovial self, which reflects in his play on the pitch. This jovial demeanour is one that serves as a trusted cheat code for him.
“I’m a crazy person; I was the DJ in the dressing room. I was more focused on the playlist and which song I was going to play and who was going to love it. Fergusson loves Frank Sinatra, and I used to play it for him. I never had any routines because I knew how I was going to perform. During training sessions every week, I was very serious, but when it was just before matches, I was more relaxed. You can’t play a game when you’re pressured. We laugh and dance in the dressing room and then listen to Fergusson’s speech and turn into warriors for the match. We could switch on and off. Many young players today cannot do this. I said I’ll never be on social media then and my teammates were surprised because I usually was the one making banters and making people laugh.
“I can be serious one minute and turn into a clown the next minute; this is why I’m respected in the football world. That’s why I was great at being a captain because I could separate work time from playtime very effectively. When I’m at training, I’m very serious and focused on that and we can play and joke later. I usually told my teammates that so many people wish to be in the position they were in. I don’t think I’ll change. This is who I am and who I’ve always been,” he added.
A New Mission
Speaking to Guardian Life about life after retirement, Evra says that although there are possibilities of becoming a coach, his mission is to touch lives.
“When you play football, you live in a bubble and can’t do much… I made many mistakes when I was younger, but it helped me grow into the man I am today. It’s a process full of learning. I’m not perfect but I try my best every day and without those mistakes, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. I’m happy with the Patrice I am today.”
COVER IMAGE PHOTO: DANNY KASIRYE
ILLUSTRATION: PHILIP CHIME
EDITED BY: NJIDEKA AGBO