For managers at Leeds United, April brings with it a sense of creeping death. It was this time of year when Brian McDermott began to think about clearing his desk. It was this time of year when Neil Redfearn was made to look like a lame duck.
Like Steve Evans, they worked without assurances about whether the club had confidence in them – which is to say that both men knew the club and their owner did not. In April they tied up loose ends as abject seasons wound down. In May they were removed from their jobs.
If Evans is destined to follow the same course then in the spirit of decency it would be better to spare him the nods, the winks and the cruel exposure. It would be better to tell him now. He has the attitude of an eternal optimist, a coach who never says never, but the odds are against him. Even if Massimo Cellino is leaving the door ajar – genuinely open to the idea of extending Evans’ contract – then April is not exactly a window of opportunity.
Leeds play eight times in 28 days next month. Four of those matches are away from Elland Road, including games at Burnley, Hull and Rotherham on Saturday. That schedule limits his chances of finishing with a flourish. Evans gave speculation about his job short shrift last week, saying his focus “is on preparing for Rotherham” and for all that he was deflecting the question Rotherham deserve his attention. They are his old club with a manager in Neil Warnock who will fancy this fixture as much as Evans. They are out of the relegation places and in excellent form by the standards of the Championship, let alone their own. This weekend will set the tone for four exacting weeks.
Leeds, nonetheless, need Evans to see the season through. However Cellino intends to deal with him, United’s owner was right to keep Evans in place after last month’s rout at Brighton and right to keep him in place after their hammering by Huddersfield.
Results like those can do for a head coach – results like those can do for head coaches at more stable clubs than Leeds – but Cellino has nothing to gain by creating a coaching vacuum so near to the end of the term. If Evans is still in the running for next season, and to judge by Cellino’s various comments that possibility seems doubtful, then he has time left to make his impression. If not, his successor deserves a clean slate.
The argument often goes that the sooner a head coach comes the table, the sooner he can acclimatise and settle in but parachuting a replacement for Evans into the club for the last month of the season is a nonsensical strategy. Thrown a limited Championship team and a run of hard, congested matches, it would be a hospital pass. Unless Cellino has his eyes closed, Leeds will surely wade into the transfer market in the summer. That business will surely be done with some input or direction from the incumbent head coach. Whoever has the reins next season, be it Evans or someone else, will not want to attack it with Leeds’ existing group of players. The month ahead is the last remnant of the short relationship with Uwe Rosler.
Evans’ retention in the short term is also made necessary by the absence of many suitable caretakers. United’s academy staff in the main are inexperienced by first-team standards. There are clear indications from sources at Elland Road that the most experienced among them, academy director Paul Hart, will leave the club imminently, less than a year after taking charge of youth development. Should Hart go, that vacancy will be added to a list of others including a head of recruitment and potentially a head coach. Evans, too, never quite managed to secure the first-team coach he wanted when he landed his job. One of his options, the former Liverpool coach Mike Marsh, linked up with Huddersfield Town before Christmas.
All in all, United and Cellino could find themselves juggling several balls when the close-season comes. It demonstrates again why some longevity in the head coach’s position would do the club and their owner a favour. But doubt about Evans’ future is established now. As far back as the defeat at Brighton, Cellino’s public criticism of him - “he has been talking too much about the future, his contract, the players” - sounded very much like the Italian starting the countdown to another appointment. Perhaps he has more confidence in Evans than we realise. Perhaps he was as good as he word when he said last week that he was “not considering replacements” for the Scot. But if Cellino is not willing to back Evans at this juncture then he should be considering replacements for him. April makes for a long month but the summer will be upon him before he knows it.