Patrice Evra has come a spectacularly long way since taking his first steps in the game with modest Sicilian outfit Marsala. Sixteen years on from his low-key debut, the French left-back is readying himself for his fifth UEFA Champions League final on Saturday, when Juventus will take on the fearsome attacking might of Barcelona.

The 34-year-old made the switch to Turin last summer, having won the Champions League among a whole host of trophies during his time at Manchester United. His experience will thus be vital for the Italian side in Berlin, and it was precisely that pedigree which convinced former Juve coach Antonio Conte to tempt the defender south. Evra had 96 caps when Conte pounced, viewing Evra as the perfect figure to help compatriot Paul Pogba progress, but the move threatened to turn sour early on – until Evra's forthright personality helped him carve out his place both on and off the pitch.

"It was tough to leave Manchester United, but I made my choice and now I'm happy to be at Juventus," said Evra, who now boasts 105 appearances for Les Bleus. One of Sir Alex Ferguson's personal favourites and very often named as captain, Evra left not just a club but his comfort zone when he swapped the Premier League for Serie A. The former Monaco full-back had disputed a trio of Champions League finals for the Red Devils, including their 2008 triumph, and could also pride himself on five championship titles and a FIFA Club World Cup crown. Overall, he played 380 games for United across eight successful seasons, so many felt he was looking to wind down his career last July when he joined Juve shortly after his 33rd birthday.

Evra's start to the 2014/15 campaign did little to dispel that notion. Three months into his spell, he had disputed just seven matches – and rarely as a starter – with coach Massimiliano Allegri preferring Ghanaian Kwadwo Asamoah in his 3-5-2 formation.

"I've never worked so hard in my life," explained Evra. "The difference between Serie A and the Premier League is that, even if it's less intense in Italy, you have to be constantly focused and pay attention to everything. Tactics are essential in Serie A and you need to make more sacrifices for your team-mates."

Perhaps, but every player has his limits, and Evra came close to reaching his over the winter. Frustrated by his limited role, he considered a swift return to England in January.

Ultimately, his situation evolved very quickly. Allegri laid the groundwork by convincing the Frenchman to stay, and soon afterwards Asamoah was struck down by a serious injury. Allegri responded by switching to 4-3-1-2, and Evra – knowing the system inside out – promptly tied down a starting berth. Game by game, he grew in stature, not only as a player but also in the dressing room. No longer a marginal figure, the newcomer became indispensable, aided by his excellent bond with Allegri.

"He prepares each match in the perfect way," said Evra. "Of course, the game hasn't been won at the end of his pre-match analysis, but everything becomes easier on the pitch following a presentation like that."

The veteran is well placed to judge. Having contested his first Champions League final for Monaco against Porto in 2004, Evra is a canny judge of quality – and he feels that Juventus deserve more respect. As he said after the Italian giants ousted Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals: "We're not a surprise package; we're a big team.

"Juve are back among the best sides in Europe. But it's not just Juventus. Lots of people are wrong about the standard of Italian football. There's a completely different playing philosophy here. Don't think for a second that it's easy to play in Italy."

Fighting his corner
Speaking from experience, and having won his own battle to make his presence felt, Evra has clearly lost none of his hunger. On the eve of his fifth continental showpiece, and with just one winner's medal to show for his efforts, the defender still possesses all his trademark combativeness and outspokenness.

Those qualities have usually served him well, and even when they have not, he has doggedly fought his corner. His international career looked to be in jeopardy after his role in France's troubled 2010 FIFA World Cup™ bid, but Evra remains a force to be reckoned with. After all, the likes of Gael Clichy, Lucas Digne, Jeremy Mathieu, Layvin Kurzawa and Benoit Tremoulinas have all struggled to dislodge him for Les Bleus – and the Juve man was only half-joking when he told journalists last year: "It's not that easy to replace Patrice Evra."

Like France, Manchester United can attest to that, and Juventus now find themselves hoping that they too can delay the question of his succession. Evra may be closing in on the twilight of his career, but the wily campaigner is a perfect fit for La Vecchia Signora ahead of their biggest game for many a season.