Is Patrice Evra's Fate A Signpost To Manchester United's Future?

nigel smithCorrespondent IMay 4, 2010

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 07:  Patrice Evra of Manchester United looks dejected at the end of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Manchester United and Bayern Muenchen at Old Trafford on April 7, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

A moment of self congratulation is in order when the Glazer family assembles later this month for the fifth anniversary celebration of its Manchester United take-over.

What a shrewd investment it has proved to be. The Glazers might have pariah status in the precincts of Salford and beyond but as asset managers rather than sports fans, they will not care.

United are worth nearly 30 percent more than the price the Glazers paid for the club in May 2005. The team still wins trophies despite the loss of its greatest talent in a generation. The banks and the financial institutions play nice even as the colossal debt continues its northwards trajectory while the brand remains a worldwide, high value trademark.

The mouthfuls of sherry trifle, vodka jelly, and Franck Ribery-style birthday presents will taste even sweeter to the Glazer party guests, should they join their American patrons in savouring the likely win-win positions of the future,

The Glazer family can maintain its death grip on the club and drain United's treasure to meet interest payments in the certain knowledge that it will cost them little more than the contempt of the Red public.

No matter what the newspapers might write, it remains unclear how the club can be wrenched from the Glazers' grasp if they are not ready to sell their prized possession.

Those Red knights, draped in their green and gold scarves, may find themselves having to be more patient than Whitney Houston fans holding on for the diva's next high note.

It seems that only when these wealthy investors have amassed a fortune large enough to allow the Glazer family to depart with a healthy profit, will they be summoned to the United negotiating table.

Yes, despite five years of constant off the field turmoil, the Glazers should complain little. United are a gift that keeps on giving.

What must delight the Glazers even more is that, after half a decade, all of United's principal forces of continuity are still in place. Indeed, each man is still publicly committed to perfuming the Glazer sulphur.

Chief Executive David Gill's Damascene conversion has reduced him to a hate figure among sections of the United fan base.

In 2004, he avowed that debt would be a disaster for the club. In line with his new PR brief, Gill has since modified his views.

"While debt is obviously on the minds of the supporters, the simple answer is while we didn't reduce overall debt we now have more flexibility with what we believe is a better instrument and the bond issue attracted roughly double the target, so in that sense it was a success, " he explained this month to a befuddled News of The World hack who asked about United's latest debt relief strategy.

"It's not the owners' style to shout from the rooftops, whether United have done well or badly, I don't see them ever turning into the kind of owners who use the club for their own ego."

Got that!

Meanwhile, Sir Alex painted into the smallest of corners amid the corporate plunder, remains as the heartbeat of the club and can still be relied upon to manage the team to glory.

Time and again, Ferguson has been called to defend a Glazer calumny, a respected and essentially decent man forced to dissemble in the name of loyalty and professionalism.

The Glazers pledged to provide £25 million a year of 'new money' for players when they launched their coup-d'état. This promise has not been kept.

Though Gill is ready to "look fans in the eye" and reassure them that money is available for big name signings, the suspicion remains that Ferguson's team building budget will be squeezed progressively by United's debt-inspired parsimony.

'Double winner' Carlos Tevez exited Old Trafford last summer after nine months of United's media sniping that he wasn't worth the money being asked for his playing contract.

This was true. The £47 million demanded for the Argentine striker was preposterous but United didn't haul up their skirt and climb onto a stool out of principle.

Tevez went because the Glazer dividend has called the club away from its legendary ability to dictate the terms of trade between clubs and players, a power that underlined the United's glamour and conferred contempt for generations,

Decades of cash-rich luxury meant United never needed to worry about frantic calls from the local branch bank manager enquiring from where the money for the latest young starlet would come.

Now the world has been transformed and Fergie dare not identify publicly the forces behind the change.

Instead, he talks of finding value in the transfer market, as though United were no different to fixed income pensioners looking for last day supermarket bargains.

When was there ever any value to be had by anyone negotiating in United's name? One of football's immutable truths is that from McDougall to Birtles to Berbatov, the bag man from Old Trafford must stump up the 'United super tax' before he gets what he wants.

United's new 'Under-26' transfer policy reveals a laser-like focus on the bottom line attached to every player. This explains the club's ever more frantic planetary pursuit of the young and the restless, the very same players likely to command a hefty resale value when they are moved on.

Buy cheap and trade to a hugely profitable advantage is the standard operating procedure of every selling club, as fans of Everton, Spurs, and Arsenal will doubtless confirm!

Fergie knows all of this better than most but he cannot fall on his sword, in proud disgust at the deliberate sacking of a venerable institution.

Instead, Sir Alex has sought to make himself as comfortable as is possible in the Glazer den this past half a decade.

Fortunately, titles have rained down faster than junk mail, but with United's overall debt climbing beyond £700 million and the world's finances still shakier than the hips of Cardiff's Michael Barrett, the future may be bleaker than Sir Alex would care to admit.

The manager conceded his frustration at watching the Champions League semifinals last week. The supine collapse of the timid Lyon against United's Champions League conquerors Bayern Munich would have been a terrible ordeal.

As he watched, Fergie might have allowed himself the thought that his side could have progressed further in the Champions League had he been allowed to spend more of the cash recouped from Cristiano Ronaldo's transfer to Madrid.

Sir Alex was given some money, of course. But compared to the old days, when the cheque-book was the only panacea, it must have seemed like Saturday spends.

Meanwhile, the smiling Glazers, sporting their black and white stripes and eye masks, stuffed Madrid's Euros into swag bags, paid themselves consultancy fees for their business acumen and then headed off to share the rest with their chums in the world of high finance.

But that was last year.

Now the Red Kingdom is poised for another summer of tension. The 2010 close season will, in all likelihood, see another bitter-sweet assembly of potentially shrewd investments in the future matched with free transfer pensioners, to augment a squad which has been found wanting this term,

Chief Executive Gill repeats that funds will be made available for top tier talents if the manager wants them.

Ferguson should be livid at being made the fall guy for United's financial shambles but he has long since accepted the Glazer-Gill terms.

Fans too have learned the art of compromise, Following United these days demands accommodation to the hard truth that the world's finest players will only come to Old Trafford as opponents.

But in these anxious times, what will dismay diehards is any hint that United will once again yield to the allure of a Real Madrid suit waving cash in their direction.

Iberian media trumpets have teased for months that Real's president Florentino Perez has his glad eye set on Wayne Rooney. A fee of £90 million is suggested but the steer that should cause insomnia among fans is the news that the Castilians may also covet Patrice Evra.

Yes, the Patrice Evra who is poised to complete his best ever season as a United player.

The same captain Patrice Evra who has again been recognised as one of the two best fullbacks in the world and defined recently by his manager as a simply "sensational" player.

And most definitely, the Patrice Evra who will be 29 years old on 15 May 2010!

"The Spanish giants are determined to land a left back this summer after identifying former Liverpool player Alvaro Arbeloa as the weak link in a defence that has conceded 50 per cent more goals than Barcelona in 34 La Liga games this season," thundered the Daily Mail newspaper last month.

"Sources in France claim that Evra could be tempted by a new challenge after winning about as much as he could have dreamed of since leaving Monaco four-and-a-half years ago."

Arsenal's Gael Clichy and Chelsea's Ashley Cole are also rumoured to be on the Madrid short list.  But with ex-Red Ronaldo providing his new employer with glowing reviews of his former team mate, the newspapers claim it is Evra whom Real would most like to see in their whites next term.

Of course, the transfer tale could come to nothing. It should be remembered that Evra is not the foreign mercenary of cliché.

"It’s a privilege to represent the club," he revealed last year during the club's tour of Asia.

Evra has also immersed himself in United's history and culture too.

"I got a load of DVDs," he told the Mail newspaper last weekend. "About the Munich disaster and the Busby Babes, about Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, about Cantona. The whole story of the club.

"From the moment I arrived here it felt like it was my destiny, because it was only when I became a United player that I found my true identity. This place suited my character. The people here were on my wavelength and I was able to be me."

Clearly, Evra is no ordinary United footballer but his passion for the club could soon be put to the test. We will then know if it is reciprocated.

After four years at United, Evra will soon be looking towards his final and most lucrative contract. His endeavours this season will give him a strong negotiating hand.

It remains to be seen whether United will move quickly to tie the defender to a three year deal or whether the club decides to stick to its guns and refuse to offer a longer term deal, in line with rigid policies established for 30 year old players?

Any hint that United intend to hold fast to their position would pour kerosene on the burning Evra transfer gossip.

The Real Madrid speculation would increase even more if the player enjoys a good World Cup. It would certainly reach fever pitch if Evra were to suggest, in a candid moment, that he was flattered by Madrid's interest, or that his marriage, undermined recently by tabloid photographs of Evra with a mystery blonde, would benefit from a change of environment.

What would United do then?

Would Sir Alex and David Gill snort their derision and declare that United have no intention of selling another top player?

Or would they light their media fireworks, whilst quietly, away from the media frenzy, they worked out a three way carve up of the transfer booty, dividing the cash between team rebuilding, the Glazers and their friends in banking?

If Real Madrid do want Evra to strengthen their rearguard, United stand to make a substantial profit on a player close to 30 years of age, at the peak of his powers, whom they signed for less than £6 million four years ago and who is now valued reportedly at £20 milliion.

How Evra fits into United's future and team building priorities offers a fascinating signpost to the direction of the club under the Glazer stewardship.

Evra's future will be in play until Real Madrid sign a left back, or the French international announces publicly that he and the club have concluded negotiations and he remains United for life,

Selling Evra however, ticks every box of United's current transfer policy. The deal would be sugar-coated too as Ferguson could turn easily for a replacement to the stalwart John O'Shea and the reserve Fabio Da Silva.

Deal or no deal? That is the stark choice facing United's decision-makers concerned with Evra's future.

The prospect of another sale to Real Madrid, Barcelona or another European heavyweight may be vexing but as the Glazers might be tempted to say: You do the math!


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