New Leeds United head coach Steve Evans insisted last night that the Football League ban facing owner Massimo Cellino had not dampened his commitment to the job.
Evans brushed aside the uncertainty surrounding Leeds and promised to “concentrate on what happens on the grass” after replacing Uwe Rosler on a deal to the end of the season.
The 52-year-old was unveiled as Cellino’s sixth first-team boss in 18 months yesterday and said he had established clear boundaries with United’s controversial chairman, warning he would walk away if Cellino began interfering with his job.
Control of the first team at Elland Road passed to Evans on Monday morning following the dismissal of Rosler after 12 competitive games.
Cellino’s reign as owner, which started when he bought a majority stake in Leeds in April 2014, has been marred by repeated sackings and allegations over his involvement in team affairs.
The Italian’s influence at Elland Road could soon be drastically reduced, however, after the Football League moved to ban him from running United due to a conviction for tax evasion imposed on him in Sardinia in June.
Cellino has until a week today to appeal and is expected to fight the ruling but failure to overturn the ownership disqualification would see him banned from Leeds until June 2016.
Evans, who takes charge of his first match at Fulham tonight with United in the bottom third of the Championship, admitted that he and Cellino had not spoken at length about the threat from the Football League but said he had sought assurances about his role before accepting the job.
“My biggest question to him was ‘do I get first and last say’,” Evans said. “The president (Cellino) was very clear. I get first and last say.
“The simplest way I can answer is that the day I don’t pick the team I won’t be manager of Leeds United. I have to pick the team. But when I met
Mr Cellino that was never in doubt.
“I heard Jurgen Klopp saying there’s a lot of gifted people around Liverpool, as there is around Leeds United, and I’d be silly not to listen to (Cellino’s) experience or not to listen to the existing coaching staff. But I will have the first say in terms of positional changes, and the last say.”
Evans finalised terms with Leeds minutes before the Football League announced on Monday that Cellino would be disqualified for the second time in his short tenure at Elland Road.
Cellino previously failed the League’s Owner and Directors Test last season following a separate tax conviction and he was forced to remain absent from Elland Road for much of the second half of the campaign. He regained control of the club in May.
Asked who would run Leeds in Cellino’s absence, Evans said: “I’ve not heard. If Mr Cellino is here then he’s my direct boss. On a day-to-day basis I deal with Martyn (Glover, United’s head of recruitment). I’ve not discussed it so I’ve not got any answers.
“A famous manager once told me ‘concentrate on what happens on the grass son’ and keep your focus there. My focus is the game (tonight) and whatever happens above me, that’s for them to deal with. I can’t get involved in what happens above me.”
Evans’ opportunity at Leeds arose three weeks after he parted company with Rotherham, a club he managed for three and a half years and guided out of League One.
The Scot said he had parted company with the Millers on good terms and revealed that Rotherham chairman Tony Stewart was among the people who had contacted him after this appointment at Elland Road.
“One of the most passionate calls I received was from Tony,” Evans said. “He said that if it’s based on desire, commitment and a man who gives everything, he expects Leeds United to be majorly successful. That meant a lot.
“Steve Evans is a manager of Leeds United who opposition fans and players won’t like. I’m so passionate. Rotherham fans will tell you that.
“I gave three-and-a-half years of my life to that club and I’m proud of my association. I want to leave Leeds United with that same affinity.”