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Patrice Evra: Manchester United’s Last Great Full-Back

There hasn’t been a great full-back at United since Patrice Evra. Can his success be a blueprint for the future?

FC Bayern Muenchen v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round Quarter Final Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Manchester United have lacked quality in many positions over the last few seasons, but one position group in particular has suffered the most: defense. Manchester United boasted one of the best defenses in Europe for nearly 7 years. The Great Wall of Manchester, featuring Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić, held down the centre back positions with world class quality. Gary Neville spent his later years of form at right back winning titles and passing the torch — via the steady professionalism of Wes Brown — onto Rafael Da Silva, a young player who showed a lot of promise. Then there was Patrice Evra at left back, a leader on the pitch and in the dressing room who still bleeds red for Manchester United.

Evra was more than just a great defender for United. His ruthless defending and his pace and attacking intellect paired with dominant wingers (from a much nicer time in United’s history) made him a priceless asset for United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final years in charge.

His passion for the club was, and seemingly still is, unmatched. After several years dominating opponents and winning the hearts of the United faithful he rose to become captain as Nemanja Vidić’s injuries became more frequent. His captaincy was all too short however, and as Sir Alex Ferguson departed so did the confidence, stability, and invincibility of the squad. David Moyes’ abysmal season in charge at Old Trafford saw many legends question their future, and the rebuild well and truly began with the departures of Ferdinand, Vidić, and Evra.

Evra was irreplaceable, and he’s even more irreplaceable now that he’s gone. Luke Shaw, Ashley Young, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian, and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have all seen time at left back for Manchester United since 2014, and none of them have separated themselves as the undisputed starter at the position.

Ashley Young and Luke Shaw have come the closest to a permanent answer at the back, but are still far from ideal. Ashley Young has produced a few decent performances here and there, but lacks the physicality, stamina, and defensive prowess to fully adapt to the role in the later years of his career. Luke Shaw has either been out of form or injured since his nightmare broken leg in 2015, and though he is still young many United faithful have grown impatient with him.

Ed Woodward passed on making further additions beyond Fred and Diogo Dalot in the summer transfer window, and many fans were unhappy not to see a left back, centre back, or both among the new arrivals. Many looked at Brazilian national team exile Alex Sandro as a potential replacement, but with his newfound role in Juventus’ new look squad led by Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s hard to see him moving to a club whose future looks a lot less trophy-laden.

So, who is left, if no one currently at the club is the answer? If United want to follow the Patrice Evra mold of players, they need to discover someone with grit, passion, and experience.

Kieran Tierney of Celtic and Layvin Kurzawa of PSG are two solid options. They’re both young players who already have plenty of experience under their belts.

Tierney, 21, has achieved just about everything he can at Celtic in this age of Scottish football. He was already a regular for the Glasgow side as a teenager, and was a key member of the 2016/17 “Invincibles” side which went undefeated in the Scottish Premier League, Scottish League Cup, and Scottish Cup competitions. He’s now a regular for Scotland as well, who just barely missed out on a trip to Russia for the 2018 World Cup. His defensive intelligence and physicality have earned him recognition, and he’s even turned heads in Europe during Celtic’s Champions League and Europa League.

Layvin Kurzawa, 25, may be closer to where Patrice Evra was in his career when United took notice. He’s achieved success in France with both Monaco and Paris, winning every domestic trophy multiple times, but has become a bit unsettled at the club given constant changes in management and active transfer pursuit of other left back options. He could look to United for an opportunity to elevate his game, like Evra, and possibly earn back a spot in the French national team.

Of course, the transfer window is now shut. Premier League sides can no longer do business with other clubs until January, and even then there is the risk of purchasing a cup tied player. However, a temporary attempt to replace Patrice Evra’s production could be to recruit Patrice Evra himself.

The emphatic Frenchmen has been without a club since his short stint at West Ham ended in June, and he’s spent the summer watching the World Cup, boasting about Paul Pogba, and just all around loving this game. Yes, Evra is 37, he’s certainly lost a step in his game, but honestly United haven’t got that much to lose. He’d provide depth and leadership to a weak position group, and he may even earn a few starts given the inconsistent form and fitness of Luke Shaw and Ashley Young.