Carlos Tevez's heavily bandaged right knee at Manchester City's Carrington training ground yesterday underlined that he is a major doubt for Sunday's Old Trafford derby but his text messages to Patrice Evra, one of his closest friends at his old club, said something about the Argentine's hunger for victory which is likely to be infectious.
"We have been joking a bit on the texts," Evra revealed yesterday in the aftermath of United's 1-0 win against Besiktas in Istanbul. "He told me they are coming to win here." Evra and Tevez, together with Park Ji-Sung, formed one of Old Trafford's most improbable social groups, whose capers are immortalised in the video, published on YouTube, of Park burning his mouth on his own birthday cake candles.
Evra discussed for the first time the strong emotion he felt at Tevez's departure. "I was surprised he left and a little bit angry about it," the Frenchman said. "He's a friend and was a great player for Manchester United and when you lose a great player it can be difficult to accept – that's why I was surprised. He did a great job. He respected the shirt and the fans understand that. I kept talking to him, telling him to stay here. I tried to persuade him to stay because I didn't want to lose my friend."
But Tevez did go for an as yet unconfirmed sum – "He had some good reasons to go and I just told him, 'Good luck'," Evra reflected – and United's resolve to win what is arguably the most significant Manchester derby in 40 years is all the greater because of it.
"It's not about one player or two players at Manchester United. We know they have lost players in the past," Evra said. "People get jealous and just want to say bad things about the club."
Sir Alex Ferguson's latest prognosis on the club he described this summer as "obsessed" with United will come tomorrow but Evra made it clear that while City – level on 12 points with United and the only side bar Chelsea with maximum points – are a club, United are an institution.
"It will be difficult [on Sunday] because [City] haven't lost," Evra said. "But we are confident because we are Manchester United. You need to show that you are Manchester United. Over the years we have won a lot more than City and we need to make sure we do that again."
The text jokes with Tevez seem likely to continue over the next 24 hours or so – "I said to him, if the fans boo you, I will boo as well with them," Evra joshed. But all that will stop at 1.30pm on Sunday. "I always said that we would have a clear idea of how we were doing after the Arsenal, Spurs and Besiktas games [all wins for United] and I think if we win against City that will be very important for the season ahead," Evra concluded. "When we have played them before they have never been in the top four. That's why the game is more special this season. This year it is a big mission of City's to play in the Champions League."
Evra may not be a Mancunian but he has been around the city long enough to fully understand the depth of passion that each set of supporters has for their club. And he could hardly not be aware of the jaw-dropping impact that the Abu Dhabi United Group have had at Eastlands since they bought the club just over a year ago. It is why Evra is not alone in believing that Sunday's match will have more spice than has been the case for a number of years. "They have not lost yet, so they will come to Old Trafford with a lot of confidence. It will be an amazing game and it is a big challenge. I hope we are ready."
Sir Alex Ferguson certainly has plenty of options. Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea were among those not required to change out of their suits last night, while Wayne Rooney might not have been too happy to sit out the final half hour of United's 1-0 win over Besiktas but Ferguson knows he will be fresh for battle. And, one thing that should not be much of a surprise given United's experience on the banks of the Bosphorus, is the atmosphere.
Ferguson described the noise made by the Besiktas fans as the loudest he has experienced in his long career. Evra is not about to disagree.
"It was an amazing atmosphere," he said. "At the end I clapped the supporters because the noise was just incredible. If you are not excited to play a game like that you never will be. This wall of noise was there from the moment we began our warm-up right until the final whistle."