If the New York Times can try to make today’s UEFA Champions League Final all about America on the spurious basis that Gigi Buffon might end up coaching the US team some day, then we should have no trouble making it all about Africa. Barcelona, the heavy favorites, don’t have the African superstars they used to — Yaya Toure, Seydou Keita, Samuel Eto’o — but the Juventus squad includes Ghana’s Kwadwo Asamoah, Italy’s Angelo Ogbonna and the French pair Patrice Evra and Paul Pogba.
Evra will have to try to stop Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Suarez and Evra have history, as many people know, and Evra, 34, would surely love to celebrate a Juve win by rubbing Suarez’s nose in, as he famously did at Old Trafford a few years ago.
Fewer people know how interesting Patrice Evra is. Today is Evra’s fifth Champions League final, though he’s only won it once. He was captain of France, but the French dislike him intensely. (As we know, the French have serious issues about what their national team looks like all these years after the end of empire). His decision to represent France rather than Senegal angered a lot of people: “I was called a monkey who grovels for the white man and labelled a money-obsessed traitor to the nation.”
Born in Dakar to a Cape Verdean mother and a Senegalese diplomat father, he grew up mainly in the Paris suburbs. Evra speaks seven languages, including Wolof and Korean (which he learned in order to chat with his former teammate Ji-Sung Park).
In 2010 the legendary Lilian Thuram called for Evra to be permanently banned from the French team for his role during the World Cup fiasco, though we maintain that nobody with any sense could have put up with the buffoonish French coach, Raymond Domenech.
Evra’s team-mate for Juventus and France is Paul Pogba, 22, widely regarded as the best player of his generation. Pogba used to play for Manchester United, but turned his back on the club and Alex Ferguson when he didn’t give him enough playing time. Back then, many in the UK criticized Pogba as arrogant and said he’d regret leaving Manchester and the English league. A few years down the line and Manchester United would have to pay upwards of £70 million to bring him back.
Pogba’s parents are Guinean, and his brother Mathias plays for Crawley Town and the Guinean national team.