Manchester United

Ranking Patrice Evra in Manchester United's Best All-Time Left-Backs

Scott RomFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2014

Ranking Patrice Evra in Manchester United's Best All-Time Left-Backs

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    SCOTT HEPPELL/Associated Press

    When Patrice Evra signed a contract extension in May, many Manchester United fans breathed a huge sigh of relief. 

    It was clear that the club would be looking for a new first-choice left-back before the following season started but it appeared as though Evra was happy enough to be used when called upon.

    However, when offered greater security from Juventus, in the form of a longer contract than the one-year deal offered by United, he asked to leave the club, per Jamie Jackson of The Guardian.

    When he does leave, it will be interesting to reflect on the years he has spent at United, and where he ranks amongst the other players to play in his position.

    At United, full-backs need to be able to defend, but their ability to attack is an attribute which is probably just as necessary. In terms of their skill, trophies they've won, dedication to the cause, length of career and general likeability among the fans, who are the greatest left-backs United have ever had, and where does Evra fit in?

4. Patrice Evra

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    After a disastrous debut against Manchester City, where he was subbed off at half-time, Evra quickly became a favourite among United fans.

    When he first joined the club, he reportedly asked Gary Neville for the directions to the nearest church. Neville told him but then asked why. He smiled and said that he needed to “thank God for letting me join the biggest club in the world”.

    What made Evra so popular was his genuine feelings of appreciation for the club. He had such a strong desire to learn more about United and understand its identity. 

    Matt Lawton interviewed Evra for the Daily Mail and the player explained how he spent his early days at the club.

    I got a load of DVDs. About the Munich disaster and the Busby Babes, about Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, about Cantona. The whole story of the club. You meet these people around the club and I wanted to know who they were. What they had done for the club. Out of respect. Because when you shake the hand of Sir Bobby Charlton you can feel the legend. All the young players here need to understand the history of the club. After I watched those DVDs I realised I needed to respect the shirt. I needed to respect the story. Every time I play that is in my head. What a privilege it is to play for Manchester United. When you pull on the shirt you are pulling on history, and I say thanks to God that I play for this club.

    While his feelings for the club certainly earn credibility among the supporters, it shouldn't be overlooked that Evra was, for a time, the best left-back in the Premier League, if not Europe. When you consider that he's had Ashley Cole at his peak to compete with, that is an impressive achievement.

    He was voted in to the PFA Team of the Season in 2007, 2009 and 2010, as well as the UEFA Team of the Year and FIFA World XI in 2009.

    Throughout this time, he has been one of United's most used players, having averaged 47 games a season over the past seven years. 

    While Evra has added scoring to his repertoire more recently, with seven goals in the past two seasons, his form over recent years has cost him a higher ranking amongst United's best left-backs.

3. Tony Dunne

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    Associated Press

    Tony Dunne joined Manchester United from his local team in Ireland when he was still a teenager. He went on to spend 13 years at the club and only six players have played in more games for United than him.

    Three years into his career in Manchester, Dunne won the FA Cup, after Sir Matt Busby led his team to a 3-1 victory against Leicester in the final. He replaced Shay Brennan in the starting line-up for the final when he was just 21 years old.

    Two years later he won the league title, United's first since the Munich Air Disaster, and he won it again another two seasons after that.

    Dunne's highlight was the European Cup final in 1968 when he was tasked with limiting the influence of Jose Torres, who played in three finals in this competition during his time at Benfica. 

    Dunne left United when he turned 32 and signed for Bolton, before moving to the United States to finish his career. He returned to Manchester, though, and now, in his 70s, lives 10 minutes from Old Trafford.

    He ranks as one of United's best left-backs because of what he achieved with the club. He was part of Busby's team that rose from the flames of Munich, winning United's first-ever European Cup, as well as those early titles.

    It's not just about what he won, though, but the length of his career at United, remaining dedicated for over a decade and putting himself among club legends in terms of how many appearances he made.

2. Roger Byrne

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    JAN PITMAN/Associated Press

    Roger Byrne was born in Manchester and joined the youth team when he was a teenager from his local team in Gorton, Ryder Brow Boys Club.

    Byrne was part of the team that won Busby's first league title and United's first in more than 40 years. After spending three years as a regular in the first team, Byrne was made captain at just 24 years old. He then led United to title success in 1956 and 1957.

    Having reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1957, Byrne probably should have captained United to European glory the following season. However, he was one of the eight players to lose their life in the Munich Air Disaster. 

    He had been a father figure to this team of kids who had an average age of just 22. Byrne was 28 years old when he died but still should have had years ahead of him at the club.

    Byrne's ranking is a difficult one to justify, though, as it is more than likely he would have had a spectacular career for United if his life was not tragically cut short. The Busby Babes were one of the greatest football teams of all time and Byrne was their captain, which certainly says a lot about him as a player.

    For fans who saw him play, however, he may well be remembered as their best left-back in a United shirt.

1. Denis Irwin

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    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    Denis Irwin joined United from Oldham Athletic when he was 24 years old. In his first five seasons at the club he averaged an incredible 53 games a season, with United competing for every trophy every season.

    Irwin was a solid defender and a great attacking support to the likes of Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs on the left wing.

    However, this wasn't where his skills stopped. Irwin was an accomplished free-kick and penalty taker, with the Daily Mail listing him as one of the best of all time from the penalty spot. He scored eight of the 10 he took for United, according to United's official website, which means only Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo have a better record than him in the Premier League era.

    In 12 years at United, Irwin won seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups, one League Cup, one Champions League, one Cup Winners' Cup, one European Super Cup and one Intercontinental Cup.

    Fifteen trophies in 12 years is a pretty impressive record, particularly when you consider he started all but one of the finals. Irwin missed the FA Cup final in 1999 after David Elleray bizarrely gave him a second yellow card in a game against Liverpool for kicking the ball away, when it appeared as though Irwin hadn't heard the whistle.  

    Irwin left United when he was 36 years old but, after retiring from the game in 2004, he became a pundit for MUTV. He continues to work for the club, goes on pre-season tours and speaks like a fan in the press when discussing United.

    When interviewed by By Far The Greatest Team last year, Irwin modestly played down the talk of him being the club's best left-back:

    Tony Dunne was a fantastic player back in the 1960s. Patrice Evra has been great in the last seven or eight years since arriving. I was fortunate in that I spent 12 years here during which the club was so successful. I played in a great team so it’s just good to be remembered.

    Irwin had it all as a player, offering qualities above and beyond what you would expect from a left-back, but he has been keen to extend his connection with the club past his playing days. He won it all with United and should be the bar that Luke Shaw measures himself against. 

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