DUBAI: In the build-up to the UAE All-Stars Tournament at the Expo 2020 Dubai, Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, two of the four-team captains, chatted about the highly anticipated exhibition event.
The UAE Football Association, in collaboration with Expo 2020, will bring together legends from the world of football, alongside famous local and international personalities, to participate, and both Evra and Sagna praised the event for highlighting football as being a sport that is accessible to everyone.
Are you excited to be putting on your football boots again?
Bacary Sagna: Yes, I’m looking forward to it. These last two weeks have been great because I’ve been in touch with the guys. I’m blessed to be playing with them and coming back to the game is something special. We are going to try to create something unique.
Can you talk us through some of your teammates?
Patrice Evra: There is a lot of diversity, including female players. Players like Chef Burak Ozdemir – we always see him in the kitchen and now we are going to see him on the pitch; and although he’s an ex-Manchester City player, there’s Nigel de Jong, who will be our pit bull in the middle; there’s Robbie Keane, the king of Ireland – what a striker – as well as some familiar artists. The challenge is teaching them all to play and how to win, which is what I wanted. I didn’t want everyone to be an ex-football player. Everyone can be part of this event – that’s the beauty of it.
Mike Phillips, the former Wales scrum-half, is a notable name, given he’s a rugby player, not a footballer…
BS: The guys are all buzzing to be playing with us. The beauty of this is bringing people from different environments together. This is what football should be about. This is a perfect model to show everyone that you can be from different environments, but you can still learn.
PE: You’re lucky you got Mike Phillips. UFC [fighter] Khabib Nurmagomedov was meant to be in my team, but he couldn’t make it at the last minute. And he was ready for the fight!
You are both Dubai residents. What do you make of Expo 2020 Dubai?
PE: I’ve visited Expo 2020 with my family and it’s just amazing – the culture and the future … It’s not just Expo 2020 – when you come to Dubai you feel like this city is 10 years ahead. I also want my family to live somewhere safe and organised, and Dubai has a plan, it has goals. It’s difficult to believe that Dubai is only 50 years old! I can’t imagine – and I hope I will still be alive – what Dubai will be like in 50 years’ time! We are going to see people flying in the sky. I’m a crazy person, I love dreaming, and I love it when people tell me: ‘No you can’t.’ That’s when I will do my best to do it. And I feel Dubai is the same. Holding Expo 2020 during the pandemic is a massive challenge, but they have made it a massive success. Dubai is an example for the next generation.
As a former Manchester United player, what are your thoughts on what is happening at the club currently?
PE: I was having a really good day until you asked me that question! Man United is in my DNA, but when fans come up to me today, they don’t even say ‘hello’, they say ‘what is going on?’ It’s a really tough time. Sacking [former manager] Ole Solskjaer was disappointing for me because people were just looking at the last two weeks; they forgot that before that he brought hope to the club. I’m not surprised [current interim manager] Ralf Rangnick is struggling because when you come to a club and you want to instil your philosophy, it takes time. I’m asking all United fans not to call for Rangnick to be sacked because we need to take our time. The United DNA is winning, but it’s also playing with passion and with your heart. Every time you wear that shirt, you carry the history of the club.
BS: I can also add that it’s not easy to go behind Sir Alex Ferguson.
PE: My other concern is that there are not enough characters in the team. You need to create more leaders within the team.
As a former Arsenal player, what do you think about the club’s current position?
BS: It’s a bit like Manchester United, they are rebuilding the team and the club. They are focusing on young players with different targets and strategies. But when you are young, you don’t have the experience of older players, so it may take time for them to get back to the top. I was worried at the beginning of the season because of the lack of commitment – you have to give 110 per cent – but they have changed their mentality. They outplayed Manchester City, but they lost. And they were sad about it. That’s the reaction you need to see – that shows they care. I think we have to give [Arsenal manager] Mikel Arteta credit because he is giving the younger players confidence and he’s not afraid to take out a player.
Is Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola revolutionising football?
PE: I think Pep is a genius. He has a plan and I am impressed by him. What he is doing with City is amazing, but I will say I don’t think they will win the Champions League.”
BS: I learnt aspects of football from him I’d never even heard about. I didn’t think I could learn so much in such a short period of time. I only stayed one year with Pep, but he changed me as a man.
The 2022 World Cup is on the horizon. As a Frenchman, are you confident about France’s prospects?
PE: France is the best team in the world. When I say that, that is to our disadvantage, which is my only worry. I think France’s worst enemy will be France. We saw that at the Euros [last summer] against Switzerland – I nearly broke my TV! I think that was actually a good lesson, so I am confident they won’t let that happen again. The problem with France is that there’s too much talent, too much quality, and when you are the favourite, you need to be able to handle the pressure.
Source: Expo 2020 Website