07.11.2022 IT International Interview Tech

Interview with former footballer Patrice Evra: from the street to the stars

Writer Charlotte Boutelier

Patrice Evra was born in Senegal and moved to Europe when he was only one. After starting his football career in the Italian club Masala, he served as captain for Manchester United and the French national team.

Last week, he was one of the 150 guest speakers to be invited on stage at Web Summit Lisbon. He answered a few questions on his outstanding career, his investor’s journey, and his autobiographic book “I love this game”, published in 2021.

Let’s dive into the world of Patrice Evra – discover the man he has become and the great advice he has to share with entrepreneurs, football lovers and young talented dreamers.

Question 1 – As a legend of the football industry, a champion for your club and your nation, France, what would be your advice for young entrepreneurs, to bring the championship mentality into their startup ?

When you play football, you live in a bubble. You don’t know anything about the real world. When I started to invest in tech, some people were surprised because they expect you to stick to football and only concentrate your effort in one field. But what really matters, and what links the two worlds is discipline.

I always had a great discipline when I was playing football and this is what I apply in the business world as well. Just like a championship, it is a team effort.

You need to make sure you are surrounded by the right people and the goal is to make sure that you can do/overcome anything. Do not listen to people. Be confident and follow your dreams.

When I was a child, I remember that my French teacher asked me who I wanted to become. I answered footballer. She said it was not a job and laughed at me so did the classroom. Today, I feel that I took my revenge and I just hope she will not tell this to other children. We need to dream, fulfill our dreams and to achieve them, you will need to make a lot of sacrifices. Nothing comes for free. Discipline and hard work will bring you to success.

Question 2 – Unfortunately, in the sports industry, we see many cases of young players making bad decisions and failing when it comes to financials. There is the feeling that they are not prepared for a life after their career. When should someone starts thinking about a life after a career and when should we start thinking about investigating other business opportunities?

You’re absolutely right. We are not prepared. Most of the football players I know and, this including myself, we grew up in the street so we don’t know a lot of things about the business world and what we need to do.

It is just about running and kicking the bowl around; and the problem is that, when you become famous, you are surrounded by people who are not here because they like you but because of the fame. When you suddenly have a bad game, nobody calls you, your phone stops ringing.

I have to be honest; I never had a plan in life. I live the present and rarely think about the future because I think you will therefore live with anxiety and stress. I never think about the past because it is living with regrets.

I have been lucky when I retired from football. First of all, I have to say that I don’t miss football even if I have finished my coach licence. I love to learn new things. I don’t want to stay in my comfortable zone. According to me, it has been a gift to play football and I am now using the platform, the network I built to do other things.

Back in the days, I did not think about my retirement or what would happen next. But you’re right, now with the social media, those players need to be protected and prepared.

I have never seen any statistics from the NFL – National Football League – about footballer going bankrupt after they retired. You know, 90% of them go bankrupt unless they were earning 10 million per year. It’s crazy. This is because they were not prepared. I watched the Mike Tyson’s documentary and he mention that he was living a “fast life” because he didn’t know if he would survive, living until 30. They are a lot of factors to take into account.

Question 3 – What is your approach of the technology in the football world? (using social platforms)

It’s really important. We need to use our social media to spread a positive energy because football is about uniting people, not dividing them. When we talk about racism, for instance, and we say that football need to change its mindset about that, I answer no.

This is linked to the society and its education. No one grew up as a racist person, a rapist, a thief.

With the notoriety that you manage to achieve and the number of people following you, this turned as a platform to use and which enables you to speak up. The more people we can reach, the more impact we can have.

Question 4 – My brother is 16 years old and want to become a football player. He is really talented but this scares my father. He told us that when a player is injured, this can stop his entire career. What would be your advice regarding this situation? If you were his age, what would you do?

I’m the best person to give advice and not to apply them. I would say, you should always have a plan B. I never had one, personally, because I strongly believed in myself. He should do what makes him happy.

He should not be pushed away by his own parents. You have to respect your parents, to take care of them but they are not always right. Back in the days, playing football was reserved for poor people. My own dad would have preferred me to study, he always said that this was the more important.

But, actually, the more important is to fulfill your dreams, to believe in it and to make what makes you happy. Go for it, that’s what I would say to your brother.

Question 5 – What would you say to Cristiano Ronaldo right now? In Manchester, he is seen both as a hero and the bad guy. How would you describe his current situation and what is your opinion on that?

I already talked with Cristiano many times in the past. In this world, people like to judge what you do but don’t think about the reasons why this has been done. A lot of things happen behind the scene but the media only show what they want to show. So why did he do that? I would say he is a human being, not a robot, he has feelings, emotions and I would never judge someone too quickly. It’s sure that you have to respect the team, the manager but what happens is between Erik ten Hag and Cristiano Ronaldo, they have discussions about this.

For me, Cristiano Ronaldo is an alien. He doesn’t come from this Earth. Messi and him are the best football players in history, so is Maradona. However, we should not forget that those people remain human beings and whatever they do, nobody should judge them.

Question 6 – Mental health is very important and we don’t talk a lot about it in the sports industry. We have this image that football players, men in particular, cannot be sensitive compared to women. You recently shared some part of your youth and the difficult events you lived (in reference to his book “I love this game”). How did you succeed in being brave enough to reveal this to the world and what would be your message to show the world that nobody should be ashamed of sharing one’s feelings?

This is a question that really matters to me. My dad always thought that crying was a weakness. I grew up in the street, as a black person and, in the world of today, this can be seen as a disadvantage. I was sexually abused at 13 years old and it has been a real trauma.

You said I was brave but I don’t think it’s about being brave or not. This is about talking at the right time. I only talked about this when I was 38 years old and I think that the answer is woman. I met the woman of my life. She is my best friend and I felt safe enough to open myself in front of her. When doing this, I realised I had to share more about my feelings. As an African person, talking about love is taboo. I never saw my parents kissing each other.

I have an anecdote to tell you about this. I remember, we were flying with my team when I was playing for Juventus and one of my teammates started crying in front of a movie. That made me laugh and I told the other team players when we landed: how can we win a game when this person is crying in front of a movie? This is something that I deeply regret now because I am a different person. We need to stop thinking that being strong is linked to our emotions, it is not.

When you let your emotions go out, when you show to people that you can be vulnerable, people appreciate you even more and I started discovering that. Some of my brothers died, some of my friends were shot and I never cried. I did not understand what crying was meant to be and this is clearly linked to my childhood and what happened. I kind of blocked my emotions. I know how much it is important now, not being afraid of sharing our emotions and be capable of trusting others.

Supporting each other is important. I went to Africa, explored programmes that were put in place, talked and shared stories with survivals. I’m still in a learning process…

Question 7 – Regarding the world cup, you will probably be supporting France but is there any other teams that you would support, any surprises we can expect to see?

It’s really difficult to predict this and, honestly, I don’t like predictions. However, for sure, France will be one of the favourite teams so will be Argentina and Brazil. I think Denmark can also be a surprise.

Regarding Brazil, I think this is a great year for Neymar. He received a lot of criticism because he doesn’t care about winning the Ballon d’Or. He cares about entertaining people. However, this year I feel like he has become more mature and he is able to take his country very far. Messi is also playing is last world cup so this promises to be very interesting. I cannot say who will be winning this world cup, let’s discover this all together.

Question 8 – About role models and investments. Sometimes, in the football industry, they are not putting forward the right role models for young people. With your fresh eyes in the world of investing and what you said about the importance of taking care of our planet and being sustainable, how does this reflect in the way you consider your future investments and how can we be more responsible?

This is why I am here actually. I have done many early investments. I love young people because they represent the future. I never declined to support someone because it was not supposed to be the right brand or the right investment. I want to support impactful projects. I have a good team, good business partners. We listen to every offer. When we decide to support a project, it needs to be in line with my philosophy of life and this is to be kind with people.

When I ended my coach license, [Alex] Ferguson told me, why don’t you become a manager, why don’t you come back to Manchester united? Actually, I think I could have done both but I chose to do something different. I can have an impact by talking and inspiring people. Last time, I read a comment on a video I made and it was someone saying that his daughter passed away and that my video makes him smile. This is more important to me than winning a champions’ league. This is where I am standing right now. I follow my heart. My religion is to be the best version of myself, the best human I can be.

Question 9 – As a young person, you have no idea on how the football industry really works. So basically, when it comes to the industry and the huge amount of money pouring into the game, football groups can be restructured and this has an influence on the game and how it is developed. What would be your advice to the young version of yourself, when Patrice started his career as a young football player?

I don’t like to talk about the past. I live the present. I don’t know what to tell to this young Patrice because I believe that everything happens for a reason. I won’t be here if I did not struggle all my childhood. For me it’s difficult to give an advice. We are all different and should only do what we want to do. We should not pretend to be someone else, just be ourselves. This would be my advice.

If, when I was young, I would have received the right advice, I would not have lived what I lived and would probably not be the person I am in front of you today.

Question 10 – What is the good age for a kid to enter a professional club?

I don’t know if there is an age. I think we should prepare kids for life, not for playing football or entering a big club. The football industry is a difficult world and kids are not well prepared enough.

From my side, I never followed any football academy. It came from the street to the stars.

I did not receive any advice from anybody. I left home when I was 17 years old to Italy. My mom thought I was too young and that I should not go and my brother answered that if I stayed there, in the street, I would turn very badly. Set them free. Even if they go and fail along the way, they will learn something.

It’s not about an age. If they have the feeling that they can do it, support them and make sure you’re here if they fail because success in becoming a football player is not the only way.

What about being a physiotherapist or a referee? I don’t see kids wanting to become a referee. There are so many different fields that can be explored in the football world. Without these people, active being the scene, we would be nothing.

When I went to Juventus, they fixed a problem I had with my knee. So, when we won the Italian Cup, I gave all my bonus back to the physio team. They were in shock but I was able to run and to achieve my goal thanks to them when I was 35 years old. It’s important to give back.