By Matthew Turner
An ever-present figure in the Manchester United starting line-up for the past nine seasons, it will be a sad day for the Old Trafford faithful when Patrice Evra decides that his time at the Premier League champions has come to an end.
Despite his performances suffering following the bitter fall-out of the France national team at the 2010 World Cup, Evra has been an integral figure both on and off the pitch in a United side that has claimed a succession of titles – and let’s not forget that wonderful evening in Moscow.
Last season’s new-found goal scoring touch managed to overshadow his defensive decline but with new management and the knowledge that he cannot go on forever, Evra’s career at United is in its twilight despite his desire to stay for as long as possible.
When that happens it will leave David Moyes with a difficult decision to make – who does he see as his next long-term left-back?
The obvious answer would, of course, be Leighton Baines. Everton’s dead ball specialist and explosive full-back has all the qualities a United player could hope to have. He’s also English, a current improvement on Evra and would likely relish the opportunity to finally move to a big club.
Martinez’s understandable desire to keep hold of Baines could prove a stumbling block as could the fact that the two sides failed to agree on a transfer fee for the player over the summer but come 2014, the full-back will have just the one year remaining on his contract at Goodison Park, potentially making a switch to reunite with Moyes a simpler task.
However, at soon to be 29, Baines is far from a long term solution and would have to be replaced himself in a few years if he moved to Old Trafford.
Another name banded about by the media in recent weeks is Luke Shaw, who played a big part in the Saints’ 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last weekend. Also English, the 18-year-old arguably represents the England future left-back along with a number of other promising youngsters at St Mary’s.
As always with young, English talent, Shaw would come with a heavy price tag and his apparent support for Chelsea, who will be looking for an Ashley Cole replacement themselves sooner rather than later, could also prove a stumbling block. Nevertheless, he’s certainly one for the United coaching staff to keep an eye on.
Looking abroad, it is also possible that Moyes will look to reignite his interest in Real Madrid left-back Fabio Coentrao. The Portuguese defender looked like he might have sealed a shock loan-move to Old Trafford at the closing of the summer transfer window back in September, only for the lack of a replacement signing on Madrid’s part to scupper the deal.
Reports suggested at the time that Coentrao cried when he learned the move hadn’t gone through and was consoled by Nani and Ronaldo. The 25-year-old is Portugal’s number one left-back at the moment but with Marcelo proving a difficult player to usurp at the Bernabeu, he’d likely jump at the chance should United come knocking again. His willingness to move, obvious talent and a knock-down price could all make him the right choice for Moyes.
A little more unlikely, although The Mirror did make this connection back in May, would be Ben Davies of Swansea City. A serious injury to first choice Neil Taylor allowed the young Welshman to make a name for himself last season when he impressed throughout the league campaign and he was a key member of the Carling Cup winning team back in February.
Along with the aforementioned Luke Shaw, a move for a young, British player would certainly keep-in with the traditions at Old Trafford while his price tag may not be as excessive as the Southampton player. Champions League quality is by no means guaranteed but, with a little nurturing, a player such as Davies could be seen as the ideal, long-term occupant of the left-back position.
As well as all of these players who could be brought in, there is an option closer to home that Moyes can choose if he so wishes in the form of Fabio. The Brazilian had limited opportunities in an underwhelming loan spell at QPR last season but he has never really been given the opportunity of a consistent run in the team at United.
It’s not quite known how much Moyes rates the Brazilian as of yet but if he is given a chance and can stake a claim for the spot this season, then it’s possible United’s future problem could be settled without having to spend a penny.
Who do you think is the best choice left back to replace Patrice Evra?