Football: Evans to pay for `missing' trophies

Liverpool's joint manager is a `nice man' but his record suggests he lacks the sharp edge needed for success in the Premiership.
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The Independent Online
AS RICK PARRY, Liverpool's chief executive, left Anfield's main entrance on Tuesday night he met a crowd bonded by anxiety. "What's going on, Rick?" one man asked, his face betraying the astonishment at the team's dismal Worthington Cup performance against Tottenham. "Is he going to go?"

Parry did not need to be told who "he" was. The name of Roy Evans has been on the lips of supporters for 18 months now and the words that have followed have not often been complimentary. The lamentable 3-1 defeat against a team who had never scored three goals at Anfield in their history was not the last straw, it was a haystack.

"We spend thousands of pounds each year following Liverpool all over the country," another man persisted, "and we deserve an explanation. We're going backwards. It's getting worse every week." Parry, looking as concerned as those around him, could say nothing and, after listening politely, he hurried off into the night.

If only Liverpool's problems could be left as easily but since Kenny Dalglish departed in 1991, his nerves shredded by Hillsborough and its aftermath, the club have drifted alarmingly. Graeme Souness came and went with just an FA Cup win to show for his time and now it seems a matter of when Evans will leave, not if.

Evans, the joint-manager with Gerard Houllier since the start of the season, had talks with the club's chairman, David Moores, yesterday when severance terms were discussed. A job was offered but Evans rejected it, preferring to cut all links with Anfield, where he has worked for 33 years.

He will go universally regarded as "a nice man" within football but will be condemned for failing to bring trophies to the club which used to win them virtually every season during the 1970s and 80s. A Coca-Cola Cup in 1995, his first season in charge, was simply not good enough.

Born in Bootle in 1948, he made only nine first-team appearances for Liverpool before he followed the advice of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley and became a coach. For the first 11 years he guided the reserves, winning the Central League nine times, before moving up the hierarchy to the top job in 1994.

At the time, the former player Alan Hansen praised the appointment but even as he did so he laid bare a frailty that would bring Evans down. "Whenever you see a crime thriller on television there are always two detectives given the job of interviewing the suspect. One is the hard man who screams, shouts and threatens while the other is the quiet type who extends the the hand of friendship while whispering words of sympathy. Roy falls neatly into that sort of category."

It is one thing soothing smarting egos after Kenny Dalglish and Joe Fagan ripped into players, it is another to become the nasty cop that every manager has to be on occasions. At no time during his spell in charge was there the impression that the Liverpool players were scared of Evans. They might have respected and liked him, but they were missing that little element of fear that Alex Ferguson uses so adroitly at Manchester United.

Hence the "Spice Boys", a tag implying more show than substance. Liverpool are frequently a joy to watch, arguably the most skilful side in the Premiership, but they are not winners. Evans' tenure has been a series of close calls, his side a teasing glimpse of what might have been achieved.

Frequently they were let down by the lack of a commanding centre-half, but they have been there at Anfield and have been either not used or motivated properly. Mark Wright's eternal battle with injury was unfortunate but the physical condition of Neil Ruddock was not. A defender good enough to play for England, he became an overweight sign that discipline was not what it should be. The fact that a slimmed-down version is now playing well for West Ham is an indictment of Evans' powers of motivation.

"Too nice" is the arrow usually aimed at Evans and, paradoxically, Liverpool might have been guilty of the same laudable fault last summer when they instigated the power-sharing arrangement that led to the joint-managership with Houllier. Mindful of his service at the club they did not sack him or move him upstairs, but instead created a mechanism where any credit would be laid at the feet of the new man and any criticism piled on the old.

That decision might have repercussions beyond Evans' going because Houllier is no longer the fresh face he would have been if he had arrived solely this season. He has become tainted by Liverpool's poor form that has pushed them into the bottom half of the Premiership, and supporters will be less willing to afford him time. "It is totally a joint responsibility," the Frenchman said after Tuesday's defeat; now a sceptical public will judge him alone.

Evans, Liverpool to the core, was more concerned about the broader repercussions than himself yesterday. "The speculation has been very difficult to live with," he said. "I have done this job with honesty and integrity, and seeing the club suffer affects me badly."

Evans will go because the situation and the crowd demand it, but Anfield will be a poorer place without him. The players who underachieved for him ought to ponder that.

WHO WON WHAT AT ANFIELD

BILL SHANKLY

League Championship: 1964, 1966, 1973. FA Cup: 1965, 1974. Uefa Cup: 1974.

BOB PAISLEY

League Championship: 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983. League Cup: 1981, 1982, 1983. European Cup: 1977, 1978, 1981. Uefa Cup: 1976.

JOE FAGAN

League Championship: 1984. League Cup: 1984. European Cup: 1984.

KENNY DALGLISH

League Championship: 1986, 1988, 1990. FA Cup: 1986, 1989.

GRAEME SOUNESS

FA Cup: 1992.

ROY EVANS

League Cup: 1995.

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