The thought of managing Leeds United never loses its appeal. Every time Massimo Cellino sacks a head coach the weight of interest in the vacancy is vast.
Circumstances don’t come into it. Bad publicity makes little difference. “It’s one of those jobs,” an agent once told me.
Coaches will tell you that the responsibility is a privilege. What they can’t disguise is the strain that comes with the desk. It wore down Neil Warnock and threatened to break Brian McDermott. Uwe Rosler was diligent, professional and extremely particular but he spoke about the intensity keeping him awake at night. It was easy to spot the stress in Rosler, especially towards the end.
Seeing Simon Grayson at Elland Road on Sunday brought to mind the last manager who found a way of enjoying the post. Or the last manager before Steve Evans. Grayson coped as well with Leeds as most coaches before him and any other since. He and the club were a comfortable fit. Only in his final season, when frustrations about player recruitment began to get to him, did Grayson look harassed or in trouble.
Evans is yet to experience a FIFA transfer window at Leeds and a barren January would doubtless change his outlook, but the most striking thing in his two months as head coach has been his attitude. Evans is happy in the job to the point of being relaxed. The worst parts of it – handling the politics and the fixation on Cellino – have almost amused him. You get used to the sight of managers fretting in the corridors at Thorp Arch. Compared to a number of his predecessors, Evans’ demeanour is positively offbeat.
It could be said that others before him witnessed false dawns – purple patches which ended quickly and darkened their perspective – but Evans is a singular personality. Strange as it sounds, you find no fear of failure in him; not because he assumes he will be a success but because he knows he is lucky to be here. He will defend his CV and talk up his career but he was honest enough to accept at the outset that if Leeds were a richer, more successful club, they would not have appointed an out-of-work boss whose last job was at Rotherham. They’d have thrown big money at someone like Paul Clement.
Coming from Evans it sounds like skilful self-deprecation. He appreciates that people were sceptical about him so he is allowing himself to be judged. One of David Hockaday’s biggest mistakes was to imply that the offer he received from Leeds was nature taking its course. Evans’ image draws attention so he disarms the abuse by joking about food. In an environment where minutiae causes angst, a coach who tries not to take himself seriously might actually be on to something.
Which is not to say that Evans is soft. In his time in charge, he has deliberately limited his players’ days off, much as he knew it might upset them. He will have them in for training on Christmas Day, even though Leeds have no game until Sunday. However pleased he is to be employed at Elland Road, his performance matters. Coaches fold quickly here, especially under Cellino, and Evans has no more protection than anyone else. He will feel no happier than anyone else if he comes to be seen as another notch on Cellino’s axe.
But two months in he is comfortably in credit. The football under him as been patchy but the best patches have been better than they were under Rosler. Leeds are winning at home for the first time in months and Evans is close to an average of a win from every two games, including a rare victory at Molineux and an even rarer victory over Cardiff City. Rosler took 11 points from as many games. Evans has taken 18. In real terms, what was a perilous situation in the Championship is infinitely more comfortable.
Two months into his tenure, there is no other way of judging him; and little else that anyone could have asked for. The change in league position will inevitably bring with it a change in the way that Evans’ influence is viewed. Eleven points above the relegation places and no longer under threat, the crowd will look for more complete performances. With one eye on the play-offs, inconsistent results will be harder to tolerate. It’s an odd marriage, Evans and Leeds, and even he won’t predict how long it will last but it says much about his input so far that he might find himself dealing with tangible expectation during the second half of the season. In hard, pressurised circumstances, the Scot is proving a good fit.