Howard Kendall: 'We should've been first club invited back into Europe'

Champions' League football can fill the void for Everton. Ronald Atkin meets the former manager whose fine team were denied the ultimate stage
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The Independent Online

Somehow you expect him to turn up clad in blue, being an Evertonian through and through. Instead, Howard Kendall arrives in a classy black shirt and takes his preferred seat by the window in the restaurant-bar he likes to patronise in the heart of Formby, that peaceful home base for so many Merseyside footballers, past and present. My attempts to summon a drink are waved aside by Kendall with a finger placed on lips and, unbidden, a waiter arrives bearing a bottle of his favourite Rioja, pouring a sample for Howard to taste and approve.

Somehow you expect him to turn up clad in blue, being an Evertonian through and through. Instead, Howard Kendall arrives in a classy black shirt and takes his preferred seat by the window in the restaurant-bar he likes to patronise in the heart of Formby, that peaceful home base for so many Merseyside footballers, past and present. My attempts to summon a drink are waved aside by Kendall with a finger placed on lips and, unbidden, a waiter arrives bearing a bottle of his favourite Rioja, pouring a sample for Howard to taste and approve.

Closing in on his 59th birthday, Kendall is still famous in Formby, as the frequent salutations to passers-by in the street indicate, although a codger at the next table gets it slightly wrong when he announces proudly: "It's a long time since I saw you playing for Liverpool." "A very long time," Kendall agrees, before addressing the matter of the moment, this afternoon's Merseyside derby at Anfield. No, he says, he won't be going. If it was at Goodison, he would be there. "But not the ones at Anfield." Instead, he intends to watch the clash on television, where there will be no risk of abuse from fans with better memories than our lunchtime neighbour.

Kendall was involved in plenty of Liverpool-Everton occasions, first as a player from 1967-74 and then as manager at Goodison three times. There was the momentous six-year spell from 1981-87 encompassing two League titles, four Wembley cup finals and that 1985 European Cup-Winners' Cup triumph with one of the club's best-ever sides. There followed a couple of much less memorable spells, one in the early Nineties and the other towards the end of that decade. Yet he is still revered on the Everton website as "the man who returned Everton to a position of pride".

He reckons the matches as Everton's manager were the nerve-racking ones. "Playing in them you really enjoyed it, but being responsible for the result was totally different because you knew how desperately the fans wanted their team to come out on top, and you wanted to do it for them." Today, he is certain, will be close and low-scoring, with both clubs anxious to put behind them poor home performances against the same opponents, Blackburn, who won at Goodison and then ground out a goalless draw at Anfield.

"I don't see a lot of goals because neither side is providing that sort of attacking play, but if Everton come away with a nil-nil they will be delighted." An opportunity to change this exists, he feels, for two men making their debuts in the 201st Merseyside special, James Beattie and Fernando Morientes. "One of them is likely to become the hero of the day because they are expected to score goals. What an opportunity to be accepted in the city, blue or red, if they get the winner." It is an oppor-tunity, Kendall feels, for Beattie especially, the chance to redeem a deeply embarrassing start to his Goodison career. "Possibly Beattie has something to prove between now and the end of the season. He has not had the best of starts with that red card. To have missed three games because of suspension is stupid, really. So Everton supporters are reserving judgement."

Kendall includes himself among those who, at the start of the season, would have stood accused of spouting nonsense if they had proposed Everton as challengers for a place in Europe. "Everything was doom and gloom, with Wayne Rooney going and the position they had finished in last year. Now they are talking about finishing fourth and competing in the Champions' League." That can be achieved, he claims. "If Everton are still seven points, or more, ahead of Liverpool on Sunday night with eight games to go I think they will hang on to fourth spot. They have worked so hard as a team. It's a bit of a negative system and sometimes it's not pretty to watch, but it's effective in getting results. On the budget he has had, David Moyes has done very well."

Pondering the question of whether Moyes could become one of Everton's great managers, Kendall smiled and said: "Has he won anything yet?" before commending the manager's ability to make an impact after inheriting a club in trouble. The next few weeks, he feels, will be crucial for Moyes. "In previous seasons Ever-ton have failed on the run-in and people may think it is going to happen again. But I don't think they will fall away this time."

Kendall's main criticism of Liverpool is the rotational thinking now in vogue at Anfield. "Foreign managers are more inclined to rotate than British managers and foreign players are more susceptible to saying they are tired or need a rest. I just don't agree with that. Maybe I am one of the old brigade but I think players want to be involved." Having said that, Kendall acknowledged that his great 1985 side, having won the League and beaten Rapid Vienna in Rotterdam to win the European Cup-Winners' Cup, found it too much to overcome Manchester United three days later in the FA Cup final.

"I looked outside on the morning of the Wembley final and the sun was beating down. It was the worst type of day I needed. I wanted rain for the players' sake, I needed them refreshed. They were a fantastic team, on and off the field, but in extra time that day they didn't have any more to give."

It was Everton's dismal luck that, with what Kendall regards as "the best team in Europe at that time" they were barred from competing on the Continent because of the consequences of the Heysel disaster in the Liverpool-Juventus final in Brussels. "English teams were banned for five years when we were on a high. We never thought we would be beaten. Whether we would have been or not, we will never know. When the ban was eventually lifted, Everton should have been the first club invited back into Europe as a gesture." Kendall paid tribute to Kevin Ratcliffe as "a great captain who made my job easy in the dressing room. Team talks were easy. Half-times were boring, especially when they extended it to 15 minutes. What do you say to a side who are making no mistakes?"

Though Kendall regards victory over Rapid as the summit of that season, Ever-tonians treasure the memory of the 3-1 semi-final win against Bayern Munich so dearly that branches of the supporters' club around the country regularly hold what they call "Bayern Nights" at which a tape of the match is played to much acclaim. If anyone who played in that match comes along as a guest, says Kendall, "the tape is stopped and the player is asked, 'What happened next?' " What happened next for Kendall, after winning his second League title in 1987, was to join Athletic Bilbao.

"It was the lure of a challenge in Europe," he says. "I was leaving as manager of the League champions and I thought if it didn't work I could always find a job back in England." By then Kendall had already signed a pre-contract as replacement at Barcelona for Terry Venables, who then opted to stay on for another season. So Kendall got on with lifting Bilbao away from the threat of relegation in La Liga to qualifiers for Europe. Barça bid for him again, and Newcastle tried to persuade him back to England to be their manager.

When he did move back to Britain it was to join Manchester City, only to enrage the Maine Road faithful by succumbing to Everton's siren call after 11 months in charge. "The pull was just too strong when you think about my association with the club," he says. "Things were going great at City and people ask if I made a mistake leaving there. Maybe I did, but I just couldn't say no to Everton. The heart rules the head at certain times." Kendall's second spell at Goodison, which ended in 1993, was followed at the start of 1995 by a bizarre appointment as manager of Notts County. He lasted four months, which he insists was "too long", though he cherishes the statistic that he took County to Wembley where they won the Anglo-Italian Cup. "That's the trivia question that trips people up. They are asked how many times I went to Wembley as a player and manager and say eight. The answer is nine."

Sheffield United was his next port of call in December 1995, but in 1997 he left Bramall Lane and moved into the Goodison managerial seat for the third time. A year later Everton dodged relegation only in the last match, and Howard Kendall's time there was finally over.

His time now is devoted to working on what he terms "a project with some friends" and writing a weekly column for the Liverpool evening paper. "I wouldn't want to go back managing full-time," he insists. "I am only coming up to 59, but there is no way you can be as successful again, and you lose your enthusiasm for it. If someone offered me the time and the money, it might be different. But I don't see any club telling me, 'You've got five years and plenty of money'."

In the meantime, a seat in the window at Formby greeting his admirers with a raised glass of Rioja suits Howard Kendall nicely, even if he isn't wearing blue these days.

Biography

Howard Kendall

Born: 22 May 1946, Ryton, Tyne & Wear.

As a player: Youngest player in Cup final as his Preston lost 3-2 to West Ham in 1964. Joined Everton in 1967, winning title in 1970 as part of golden-triangle midfield with Ball and Harvey. Also played for Birmingham and Stoke before joining Blackburn as player-manager in 1979.

As a manager: Joined Everton in first of three spells in 1981. In 1984 led team to two Wembley finals, losing League Cup but winning FA Cup. Won title and Cup-Winners' Cup in 1985 but denied treble in FA Cup final by Man Utd. Twice Manager of Year. Won title again in 1987 before joining Athletic Bilbao. Joined Manchester City in 1989, returning to Everton a year later, followed by spells with Notts County, Sheffield United - and Everton again.

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