Evra sees an opportunity
Some thrive on pressure, others wilt in its presence, but Patrice Evra says Manchester United travel to Real Madrid for Wednesday’s blockbuster Champions League last 16 first leg tie relishing the opportunity of playing in a match between two football superpowers.
The Frenchman’s one clear objective is that the Reds do not miss an opportunity to “show who we really are”, whilst it is also tempting to ponder what effect victory over two legs against Real could have on United’s season.
“It could lift everyone,” Patrice told Inside United this month. “If we can beat Madrid then the response it provides for other teams is important. Don’t forget, last year we were knocked out in the first stage of the Champions League and maybe people have that image of Manchester United in Europe. We have to change that.
“That’s why I think this is the perfect year to show who we really are. We can’t miss this opportunity to show ourselves, it would be a massive disappointment.”
Evra says it is “a privilege” not pressure to play in these games against Jose Mourinho’s men. “Lots of people think it brings a lot of pressure to play in this kind of game. No way!” he says. “You can’t concentrate on pressure. Everyone dreams of playing in games like this.
“You just have to be a kid. Not on the pitch, of course! But before you start the game, you have to be like a kid who’s dreamed of playing this game and so you don’t want to miss your chance to do well. When the game comes you have to be focused and concentrate because it will be difficult and we will have to fight to win. And when it’s time to face Madrid, we will be ready when the referee blows the first whistle.”
Evra could come face to face with his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, now terrorising defences in La Liga. The narrative of a hero returning to face his old club is difficult to ignore, but Evra is keen for it not to dominate the tale, nor provide a happy ending for his good friend.
“We have already been texting each other,” Patrice says of Ronaldo. “I hope he will get a great ovation from our fans because what he did for United was unbelievable. I miss him too.
“We have played against Ronny many times in training, and me and Rafa know what he can do. He is a top-class player. For me, he is the best player in the world. He will be a tough opponent but we have to make sure we are friends out of the pitch, and enemies on it! It will be emotional for Ronny because he loves Manchester United. I hope the emotion will get to him. That will be perfect for us.”
What Ronaldo does or does not do at the Santiago Bernabeu will be up to the likes of Evra and Rafael to control, but on his return to Old Trafford next month Patrice says there is one way fans can help contain him.
“We don’t have to wind him up before this game because when he is angry he is at his best,” he says, before joking: “So, let’s just be nice. We can say, ‘Welcome home, Ronny. It’s so nice to have you back, we love you, you are the best player’. We can kill him with love!”