The incentives for Manchester United in Rome next Wednesday are growing by the day. That it would have been Sir Matt Busby's 100th birthday on the eve of the final provides more poignancy and United have their own tribute planned: a giant mosaic which fans will be asked to hold up in Stadio Olimpico. "For Sir Matt," it will read.
For Patrice Evra, the memory of his excellent job dealing with Lionel Messi in last year's semi-final – Barcelona did not find the net in either leg – offers further motivation. "Last year was last year and this is totally different," Evra says. "But I was very proud of myself after the semi-final, because I'd done my job very well. I won't forget that but this is a new year."
Evra has a daily reminder of the kind of ability he is up against, even though Messi has not scored on nine occasions against English opposition. "I don't have to prepare any differently because it's Messi, because every day in training I am up against people like [Wayne] Rooney, [Dimitar] Berbatov, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Carlos] Tevez, so you know what to do against big players. Still, you can stop Messi 10 times, but if he passes you once and scores, people say 'Evra played a poor game'."
That is what the football world was saying of the 28-year-old Frenchman after Tottenham Hotspur's Aaron Lennon danced around him in the Carling Cup final at Wembley in March, though that rankles. "After my four-match ban [for the previous season's Chelsea ruckus] and injury I had one bad game in the Carling Cup final and people said I wasn't the same player as last year," the left back said. "I've played for Manchester United for three years and had one bad game, so I was actually happy with the criticism because it made me believe I'm the best left back in the world."
Evra also spoke for the first time about his fury over the ban imposed upon him by the FA for the Chelsea episode. "If you asked me about it over the next 10 years I would still say I don't accept it because I lost 10 games. I didn't touch anyone but got a four-game ban. It still hurts me when I talk about it now. I remember every day in the gym thinking of coming back against Chelsea [in January]. I was angry before the game, and although I played well, that ban killed me. But I don't win for revenge now, just myself."
That is in the past now, with the Barcelona game delivering Evra back to a country where he began his senior career, with Serie C side Marsala, 11 years back. "When I'm asked what is my best moment, I don't say the Champions League final or things like that, I say it was in Italy. I was 17 and they were great to me. I remember when I got my first tracksuit, looking at it in the mirror, feeling so proud."
Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, has been consulted on the Busby mural. "We wanted to do something to mark Sir Matt's 100th birthday and we were approached by the fans with an idea that would recognise the role he had played in the club's unique place in Europe," said the United chief executive, David Gill. "Alex liked the idea straight away."Reuse content