RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) — The atmosphere in France’s World Cup squad is so far removed from the shambles of four years ago that Patrice Evra jokes it’s almost too good to be true.
Evra was captain when the squad created controversy at the 2010 World Cup by refusing to get off the bus for practice in protest at the exclusion of their teammate, Nicolas Anelka.
“I think 2010 consumed all of my energy, I took everything to heart. Now, with experience, I’m able to take a step back,” Evra said Wednesday told a news conference. “I know that if I make the slightest false step, there are some people who are capable of getting the guillotine out again. I’m not crazy.”
Evra served a five-match ban and was widely vilified by the French media for his role in the strike. Although he played at the European Championship two years ago, he was a peripheral figure under former coach Laurent Blanc. That squad was also marred by disputes and conflict, which has not been the case so far in Brazil.
“I’ve been in a lot of squads but this one is scary because everything’s going well. At the dinner table, players say `Pat, imagine if we all played together for the same club.’ It goes to show how they don’t want this adventure to end” Evra said.
“The team spirit is beyond reproach. But the day we start thinking that everything is easy and behaving like stars then we’ll fail. I’ve got a lot of respect for our opponents, but our number one opponent is France (ourselves).”
Since France beat Ukraine 3-0 in the second leg of their World Cup playoff, having lost the first leg 2-0, the disgruntled fans are once more lending their hard-earned support.
“The French were scared to believe in this team. The Ukraine match changed that and now they really believe,” Evra said. “More than 17 million watched our first match (on television) and that’s huge. When you feel that whole country behind you it makes you so proud and you want to give more.”
The 33-year-old Evra, who stands to win his 60th cap against Switzerland in Friday’s match, says the players are desperate not to disappoint again.
“The French must be proud of us at the end of the World Cup, whatever happens,” he said. “When they see us giving us everything on the pitch, respecting this jersey, then they can say `they gave everything.'”
France made a good start, beating Honduras 3-0 in the opening game, and victory against the Swiss will probably seal top spot in Group E. This has boosted premature talk of how far France can go, which worries Evra.
“Everything is fragile and that’s what I tell the players,” Evra said. “I’d like to see how we react when we have a more difficult moment during the competition. Then we’ll see then if we’re really a united squad.”
He’s well-placed to know.
The shocking 2010 campaign was fraught with in-fighting and turmoil. The players fell out with coach Raymond Domenech, after Anelka was sent home for aiming an expletive-laced rant at Domenech during the halftime break of the match against Mexico. With Evra as their leader, they isolated themselves in their discontent and disgraced themselves back home by going on strike.
“We were living in such a bubble,” said Evra, whose relationship at the time with the French media looked beyond repair.
But the Manchester United defender was smiling and joking with journalists at his news conference in Ribeirao Preto.
“I feel like I’m an eight-year-old boy, the age of my son,” he said. “I’m happy, whether it’s on the field or in front of you (the press) I’m living the moment.”
Asked if he prefers the way he is now, Evra struggled to contain his laughter.
“I always love myself. It sounds a bit arrogant, but I always do. Whether it’s in the tough times or the good times I’ll be the same,” he said. “I’m not going to start criticizing myself. Maybe I could have done things a different way. But the Patrice Evra of 2010 and the Patrice Evra of 2014, I dig both of them.”
Despite his good humor, he remains a wary figure.
“Maybe my honesty makes newspaper headlines sometimes, but that’s what I’m like. I won’t change,” he said. “Some journalists will hope that I will start lobbing a few grenades about.”