Football: Thank Evans for Liverpool's revival: Former European champions who dominated the English game for nearly two decades are starting to show signs of rehabilitation. Glenn Moore talks to the manager who is building on the club's great traditions

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The Independent Online
ROY EVANS, the Liverpool manager, watched Wednesday night's Champions' League tie between Manchester United and Barcelona with mixed feelings.

'I really enjoyed it. It was an excellent game, but I kept thinking: 'That's our cup - and we want it back', ' he said. 'Whenever I see the European Cup I feel jealous because I feel it is ours. We have won it a few times but it is a few years since the last one.'

The last one, in 1984, was the fifth. Evans was a member of Anfield's famed coaching coven, 'the boot room,' for every one. Now, as its latest graduate, he has the responsibility of trying to lead the club to a sixth.

'It would be nice to get a chance to get our hands on it again,' he said.

'But to do that, you have to do well domestically. That is our priority at the moment. The rest is still at the dreaming stage.'

Liverpool, who meet Wimbledon at Anfield today, are currently fifth in the Premiership. 'We got off to a good start and are trying to build on that,' Evans said. 'But we are very aware it is only early days. Although people are starting to feel we are a force to be reckoned with again, we have to maintain it.'

Evans was appointed in January after an FA Cup defeat by Bristol City had finally brought Graeme Souness's revolution to a shuddering halt. The fans were unhappy, the players were unhappy, even the bank manager was unhappy.

Souness had spent pounds 9m in the transfer market and twice failed to get the club into Europe. There were big bills to pay, and not just in salaries: for example, the Kop had to be seated.

The appointment of Souness, like that of his predecessor as Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, had broken with Anfield tradition. Whereas Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan had been members of the backroom staff, their successors had come directly to the top job - Souness from Rangers, Dalglish from a playing career.

Paisley and Fagan, like their mentor Bill Shankly, had been men of modest tastes whose lives were centred around the club and the city. Their successors, though former Liverpool players, had already enjoyed great fame and fortune. Souness lives in palatial style in Cheshire, Dalglish on the Lancashire golf-coast.

Evans is a throwback. He may wear a smart suit in the post-match press conference, but he wears a track-suit in the dug-out. He has a modest house on the outskirts of Liverpool. He has spent his career in the background and a lifetime as a Koppite. He speaks of the job as if he is holding it in trust, not as a means of fulfilling personal ambition. As a child he watched from the terraces; as an old man he will follow Liverpool from his sofa. Now he just happens to be the man entrusted with perpetuating the legend.

Upon his appointment the atmosphere at Anfield changed overnight. The players, always wary of Souness's volatile moods, relaxed and the fear left their game.

Not that Evans is a soft touch. Don Hutchison was sold to West Ham after a series of unsavoury incidents that tarnished the club's image. Mark Wright and Julian Dicks were frozen out after reacting poorly to Evans' criticism.

Dicks is now back at West Ham and Wright wastes in the shadowland of the reserves.

'We had got to a stage where we needed to have discipline,' Evans said. 'Not underlined in capital letters, but something everybody can work with. People in football and life like a bit of discipline. It means they can get on with their job better.'

Bruce Grobbelaar and Ronnie Whelan, both long and loyal servants, have also moved on, unhappy at being offered one-year contracts. 'We felt at their age one year was reasonable,' Evans said. 'We would like to thank them for what they did for Liverpool and wish them well.'

The players left behind - the old hands like Ian Rush, John Barnes and Jan Molby, the youngsters like Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, and the big-money buys like John Scales and Phil Babb - have blended well.

'We have a nice mix,' Evans said. 'It is not about the youngsters or the old ones: they are all part of the team and that is the nice part. I think in the past it has been a bit young and old - there have been factions. Now the youngsters have taken the experience of the older players on board and the older ones have helped.'

The change has been symbolised by McManaman's return to form. 'At the start of the season we asked him to be more positive and produce a better end product,' Evans said, adding self-consciously: 'That sounds a bit technical.

What I mean is to score more goals and to put in more telling crosses.'

Liverpool started this season with three wins. Although they have been unable to maintain that form, they have outplayed Manchester United, Newcastle and Blackburn in successive away games. But unlike the old Liverpool, who had the knack of winning when playing badly, the new Liverpool have been losing when playing well. They have taken just one point from those three games.

'I'm pleased at the way we played, but disappointed at the results,' Evans said. 'I think everyone at Liverpool realises if we are going to be serious contenders for Europe, and maybe even the championship, we have got to get points against the bigger teams.

'But we are playing well and entertaining. We have got players who are working very hard and enjoying their football, which is the important factor.

''When I took over the mood was very low. The manager had just resigned and we had been knocked out of the FA Cup by a First Division team for the second successive year.

'We decided to start pulling together and enjoying our football - no major changes, just a little in personnel.'

Ah yes, personnel. Evans' conversation is peppered with references to 'we' - not the royal 'we' but the Liverpool 'we' that was instilled in the club by Shankly's boot-room democracy. Under Souness, internal relations deteriorated to the point where Phil Thompson needed the threat of an industrial tribunal to secure a settlement after he was sacked.

Under Evans, the old ethos has returned. Doug Livermore (an Evans appointment and former team- mate), Sammy Lee and the boot room veteran, Ronnie Moran, all have a voice in policy.

'We are all indoctrinated with Shanks's words of wisdom, the simplicity,' Evans said. 'The 'Liverpool way' is an adaptation of that and all the personalities since. There is no secret. It is hard work and having good players. You cannot do anything without that.'

Evans first sat in on boot room discussions in his mid-twenties. A former apprentice, he had spent years in the reserves but managed barely a dozen first-team appearances. A succession of left-backs, from Gerry Byrne to Alec Lindsay, kept him out until Paisley, on taking over from Shankly in 1974, asked him to become reserve team manager.

'I was very reluctant to take it. I wanted to carry on playing and I could have gone into the lower divisions, or even to another First Division club.

But a lot of people advised me to take it, from Joe Fagan and Ronnie Moran to Tommy Smith. It turned out a good move for me.

'I never sought the position of manager. At different times the manager has changed and people said: 'You might have a chance.' But it never came my way. It did not bother me, but this time I would have been disappointed if it had not. If there is such a thing as 'your time', I felt this was mine and I wanted the job.'

And if it had not, would he have gone elsewhere? 'That is one of those questions I will never know the answer to,' he said. 'I have never wanted to leave Liverpool. I'm probably unique in that I've done the lot here - fan, apprentice, player, coach, manager. There can't be many who have gone from boyhood dreams to fantasy league. I don't fancy going on to do the chairman's job, though.

'I think, having been a supporter, you have an awareness of what people think. I know Liverpool people want a team of triers. They also want a team of footballers. They have been brought up on success and want it back, which can go against us when we are looking for patience. But since I have taken over they have been magnificent. We are all pulling the same way.

'Liverpool always start off hoping to qualify for Europe, but we must always feel we have a chance of the championship, too. Our fans demand we are there or thereabouts.'

On the evidence of the season so far, they will be.

(Photograph omitted)

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