Patrice Evra has always been a much-loved figure among Manchester United supporters, despite rubbing up rival fans the wrong way. Arsenal fans were the first to take a real dislike to him, after he claimed that United’s 2009 Champions League semi-final win over Arsene Wenger’s side was akin to men against babies. Liverpool supporters were the next to make him a target for abuse after Luis Suarez racially abused him in 2011.
However, the Frenchman’s presence on social media has made him a well-liked figure even with those who don’t have fond feelings for United. His catchphrase of “I love this game” has accompanied a whole host of weird and wonderful Instagram videos that have gone some way to explaining why he has always been such a popular figure in the dressing room.
ITV, wanting to latch on to Evra’s newfound favour, have employed him as a pundit for this summer’s World Cup.
On Sunday afternoon he was on a panel alongside former England and current Juventus women’s team player, Eni Aluko, as well as former United and Celtic striker, Henrik Larsson, for Costa Rica against Serbia.
Aluko, who is probably better known now for her bravery in combatting the racism present in the women’s national team and FA’s attempt to cover it up, gave a refreshing analysis of the two international teams about to play. With so many pundits, Evra included, rocking up to reel off tired clichés and exhibiting little knowledge about lesser known international outfits, Aluko’s knowledge was great to see.
“She’s good isn’t she?” said presenter Jacqui Oatley, complicit in the sexism, in reaction to Evra’s impressed expression. The Frenchman applauded, agreeing that she was “very good”, in a move that has been widely criticised as patronising. It’s hard to imagine Evra applauding Gary Neville, another pundit signed up to ITV this summer, for giving the same analysis.
“This is just amazing, I think we should leave Henri, because she knows about more football than us!” Evra added. “I’m really impressed you know.”
— Harry Hesketh (@HashtagHarry__) June 17, 2018
Aluko has earned over 100 caps for England, has a large collection of winners’ medals, has been the top scorer in the league and winner of individual player of the year awards. Although that shouldn’t really matter, as the pundits couch is regularly filled with people who have achieved more in the game who still don’t have the first clue when it comes to punditry.
Maybe that is why Evra was surprised – because he’s so used to people who are paid to talk about football not being able to do their job effectively. Neither Larsson nor Evra offered even the smallest amount of insight in comparison to Aluko’s offering.
Yet the presumption that Aluko, a qualified lawyer and professional footballer, wouldn’t be able to speak with the knowledge that she did is insulting. She had done her homework. She knew about the individual players. She knew how they had performed for their clubs in their various leagues in the season just gone. She could analyse their tactics and approach to the game. It’s no wonder Evra had little else to do but clap, as he certainly didn’t have much to say.
He instead trotted off soundbites about players needing more passion and how he would have played for United for free. Aluko discussed the playing style of reported United target Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, while Evra just talked about how the player should be “prepared to die” for the club.
There have been huge overreactions to Evra’s behaviour on social media, as expected, with some fans calling for him to be sacked from his role.
If there’s anything redeeming about Evra’s behaviour it’s that at least he was able to acknowledge Aluko’s superior knowledge. He didn’t shy away from it or deflect from his embarrassment by disagreeing with her. Other pundits may well have not been able to bring themselves to do the same when outshone by a woman.
It’s unlikely his intention was to be patronising. He was genuinely impressed.
But he exposed his own ignorance by being so blown away that a woman would be able to speak intelligently about football.
Aluko is raising the bar when it comes to football punditry. Hopefully her male counterparts can now follow suit.