United’s latest head coach, Steve Evans was unveiled yesterday and told the assembled media he was not planning to fail in the job and if he did, it would not be for the want of trying. Phil Hay reports.
Uwe Rosler started out by making promises. A certain formation, a certain style, a certain target for this season. The tangle he got himself in over the subject of promotion last week was one of the reasons – justified or otherwise – why Massimo Cellino turfed him out of his job on Sunday. Cellino no longer trusted Rosler to deliver.
At Steve Evans’ introduction, there was none of that. “I’m here to win football matches,” Leeds United’s new head coach said, plain and simple. The club need him to do that. Evans is adamant that Leeds, near the foot of the Championship, “won’t be in any trouble” but with 11 games played they look like they might be. Results are needed and results were the factor which presented him with a dream job.
Evans’ habit of name-checking Leeds over the years made it clear how coveted this opportunity was. It did not matter to him that Leeds are 19th in the league, that their form is a problem or that their owner is about to be banned by the Football League again. Regardless of whether Evans was forewarned about Cellino’s punishment – a disqualification until June of next year – confirmation of it didn’t tempt him to use reverse gear and back out of Elland Road.
“When Leeds United ring you up, how can you say no?” Evans asked. “How can you say no? It’s overwhelming. I didn’t think an iPhone could take 840 text messages but I’ve learned that it can.
“Am I cautious, nervous, excited? I’m everything. It’s your wedding day, you baby being born, your first date all rolled into one. I’m honoured and humbled and I mean it. There are many big clubs in the Championship but only one biggest. You could do a straw poll from here to China and they’d tell you that.”
The public reaction to Evans’ appointment on Monday, a swift choice which Cellino set in motion on Saturday evening, could be charitably described as unconvinced. Evans acknowledged as much yesterday or at least made the effort to be a mixture of modest and self-depricating. Far back in the early days of Cellino’s tenure, David Hockaday set the wrong tone by refusing to accept that his selection as head coach was in any way questionable. Evans, with a more credible record than Hockaday’s, kept ego out of it.
“Steve Evans doesn’t lie in bed and dream,” he said. “I’m a realist. Steve Evans certainly isn’t a name where if you polled the Leeds United supporters they’d say ‘he’s the man’.
“But I wasn’t the choice at Rotherham or Crawley. As a manager results dictate your future and dictate whether fans love you or don’t want to see you. I’ve got a track record which says that whatever we do works in terms of winning matches.”
That is certainly fair on the evidence of Evans’ entire career. He took Crawley Town into the Football League, a huge step forward for the Sussex club. He took Rotherham United into the Championship in 2014, albeit before moving on last month with Rotherham in the league’s bottom three. “To the supporters I say ‘give me an opportunity and I’ll give you a team which plays with passion and pride.’ That’s the least I’ll do. And hopefully I can give it the ability that wins matches.”
Cellino did not attend yesterday’s press conference at Elland Road. It is often the way with United’s owner – that circumstances and his own problems make his presence unhelpful. With Cellino in the room, the questions would have focused solely on the Football League and the implications of the Italian’s impending suspension. Evans did his best to wash over it. “I’ve just caught up with the president in the last 15 minutes,” he said. “I didn’t really get into it. I’m here to concentrate on what happens on the grass.”
The 52-year-old went through the list of points that Cellino’s head coaches are always forced to deal with, and always respond to in the same way. Evans would have full control of team selection, he said. “I don’t know the president enough to know if I can entertain him but he’s a very passionate man. What should have been a couple of hours (of conversation) on Sunday turned into nine.
“The simplest way I can answer it is that the day I don’t pick the team, I won’t be manager of Leeds United.”
He was more pragmatic about Cellino’s habit of dispensing with coaches, a habit which Rosler could not change. “I know the ramifications as every other coach or manager at Leeds knows – if you don’t win matches, you know what comes.
“You tend to get longevity if you win football matches. You asked me what the brief was and the brief is to get matches won.” Wins failed to keep Neil Redfearn, Evans’ current successor at Rotherham, in a job under Cellino at the end of last season but you took his point. Cellino’s remark about turning up to fixtures under Rosler with “worry and fear” revealed the extent to which a record of two wins from 11 games was starting to rattle him.
Evans takes Leeds to Fulham tonight to play a side who beat his Rotherham team 3-1 in August. If United are not heading for trouble then the next six games should prove as much, involving five matches against teams in the bottom half of the division and two in the bottom three.
“We won’t be in (relegation) trouble,” Evans said. “I’m basing that on what I know about the squad.
“We’ve had some good performances this season but they’ve been sporadic. To be sitting 18th after 11 games at Leeds United is not acceptable. That’s not knocking Uwe. A lot of things came along.”
He felt the same about Leeds’ home record; the worst in their history with no wins at Elland Road since the beginning of March. “That’s far too long for a club in League Two, never mind a club who should be in the league above this one,” he said. “But first and foremost let’s try to get something at Fulham. That’s the immediate future and that’s away to a very talented team who took my Rotherham team apart recently.”
It set a trend which might do Evans good – of taking care not to make promises he can’t keep. The Scot is a confirmed maverick, the manager who turned up to Elland Road on the final day of last season dressed in a sombrero and beach gear.
“They’re fantastic people here,” he said. “They showed that here last season when I turned up looking like an idiot.” Various managers have contacted him telling him not to change.
Changes to the team wouldn’t be drastic, Evans insisted. Under-performing players were possibly needing to be “managed more”. “We like to attack and win games,” he said, of him and his assistant Paul Raynor. “The Leeds United supporters can get ready for winning football because that’s going to come.”
When Leeds first approached Evans, he thought the phone call was “a joke”. He spoke of waking at 4am on Monday and pinching himself.
“If you stay up in the Championship with the lowest budget (at Rotherham) and have four promotions then it’s a CV which maybe warrants a biggest opportunity,” Evans said.
“Does it warrant an opportunity at Leeds United? It’s such a massive club. There’s no point dressing it up in any other way.
“I’m not a big ex-Premier League player who can say this means nothing to me. If it doesn’t work out for me here, I will drive out of Thorp Arch probably in tears.”