The reliable defensive unit that helped Manchester United to three straight Premier Leagues and the 2008 Champions League title is no more after Patrice Evra became the latest departure.
After eight and a half years at the club, Evra today confirmed he was moving to Italian champions Juventus.
He joins ex-United colleague Nemanja Vidic in Serie A and his exit also follows that of Rio Ferdinand to QPR, instrumental alongside Evra in the 2007-09 league dominance and also two further European finals in 2009 and 2011.
“After a great deal of thought I have decided the time is right for me to leave Manchester United,” Evra said on United’s website.
“It is the biggest decision of my career as this club is, and will always remain, in my heart.”
Right-back Gary Neville and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, the final cogs in the wheel during United’s second most successful era, hung up their boots in 2011.
Evra’s decision means 18-year-old Luke Shaw is United’s sole remaining left-back after Fabio and Alexander Büttner also departed in 2014.
The Frenchman may have become increasingly unreliable in defence in the last couple of seasons, but he never lost his appetite for going forward, as shown by last season’s unforgettable goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final.
Where he will be most missed, however, is in terms of his presence as a popular and above all experienced member of the squad.
All of this means another headache for new manager Louis van Gaal, who is without another United stalwart, Michael Carrick, through injury for at least a couple of months.
In terms of Evra’s vacated position on the left, it is clear that Van Gaal must bring someone else in, as Shaw and last season’s under-21s left-back Reece James cannot be expected to carry the burden by themselves.
Daley Blind of Ajax has been linked with a move to Old Trafford, and certainly he is someone that Van Gaal knows well through the Dutch international side.
Whatever Van Gaal does to replace Evra, there will be greater emphasis on those already at the club to prove their worth.
Van Gaal has a proud record of getting the best out of young prospects, from Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert at Ajax to David Alaba and Thomas Müller.
However, he can’t do it all himself – it is time for Rafael, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to make the step up.
Evans and Rafael, having joined United in 2006 and 2008 respectively, are now United’s most experienced defenders.
Both have shown in their Old Trafford careers that they are capable of exemplary performances on their day, but consistency has so far eluded them.
The same applies to Jones and Smalling, who at some point will need to stop being ‘players with potential’ and become defensive bedrocks.
The good news for United fans is that Van Gaal took the Netherlands to third place in the World Cup despite his defence being inexperienced and primarily comprised of players from the Eredivisie, a league where Afonso Alves scored 34 goals in 2006-07.
Signings of the calibre of Blind and Mats Hummels would of course be a huge boost to United, but it is also clear that Van Gaal and his current defensive troops must do much of the work themselves.
If they fail, Evra’s departure will only look like another man jumping off a sinking ship.
Main image courtesy of are wire via YouTube, with thanks.