Football: Walker remains confident of waking giant: Everton manager stands firm as rumblings of disillusionment among fans increase. Derick Allsop reports

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MIKE WALKER'S variation on an old philosophical theme reflected not only the somersaulting of circumstances but also the strain on his sense of humour: 'Interesting game, football, isn't it?' A funny one it can hardly be when you are the manager of Everton.

This time last year Walker was in charge of Norwich City and together they were feasting at the European banquet. His new club are bottom of the Premiership table with just one point, their worst start for 36 years, and the breakdown of Muller's transfer from Sao Paulo has heaped further embarrassment on their plate.

Worse still, Roy Evans' 'lot over there' (they are not encouraged to use words like 'Liverpool' or 'Anfield' over here) have had a fairly impressive opening phase to the season, and optimism is again coursing through the red half of the city.

The rumblings of disillusionment are already drumming Walker's ears but, upright and resistant as any ex-keeper ought to be, he stands his ground, his reflex responses sharp though not terse.

'Of course it's not gone as well as I would have hoped,' he said. 'You never expect to be down at the bottom, but we're only five games into the season, and I think we should have won three of those, so it's not as though we've had a complete nightmare.'

Walker joined Everton at the beginning of the year after an acrimonious parting from Norwich. The move held out the prospect of every manager's promised land: dormant giant of a club, passionate environment, financial security. He had to wait until the summer for the new chairman, Peter Johnson, to take over and the funds for major transfers to become available, but he could live with that. Everton avoided relegation in a desperate, finale, and Walker planned his campaign of revival.

'To be fair,' he says, 'the difference now at Everton, compared with the last three or four years, is that we are able to purchase the best, and if you are purchasing the best, you appreciate that it is very difficult to shift the best. If I went to try to bring in Shearer or Cole I wouldn't get much encouragement.

'But it's no good to just go and sign three or four players, and find six months later that they are not right, so we've taken our time. Only four players have been brought in, Muller would have been five.'

The winger, Anders Limpar, the midfield player, Vinny Samways, a defender, David Burrows and the Nigerian World Cup striker, Daniel Amokachi, are Walker's recruits. Muller was to have made his debut in today's home match, against Queens Park Rangers. Instead, the search for Amokachi's partner goes on.

Those who question his choices might wonder about Limpar. Walker said: 'I would like to see him hold the width a bit more, because that's what we got him for. As he proved against Villa and Forest, when he does keep the width, one on one, he's a force, definitely a danger. He can win games and sometimes he can frustrate you, but we needed that little extra buzz at the time.'

Samways? 'We're well pleased with Samways. We needed a passer in the team, to bring some variation and as we get better players, or as we increase the squad, then obviously it's going to be an asset to us. We've done a lot of work on trying to get the passing right, because although they thought they were a passing team, they weren't that good, and there have been distinct signs of improvement on that side.'

Burrows arrived at Goodison Park as part of an exchange deal that returned Tony Cottee to West Ham United. 'It was a convenient way,' Walker said. 'They didn't have the money to pay for Tony. It's not often things fall so sweetly into place and I'm delighted to get David. Not only is he a very good player but he's also enthusiastic and he competes. I needed a bit of that.'

And then came Amokachi, at pounds 3m the most expensive as well as adventurous piece of business. 'I've no worries about him,' Walker said. 'He's packed in a hell of a lot of experience. He's been playing in European competition, he's won the League with Bruges and he's been in the World Cup. He's not the sort of player who's going to be fazed. He's strong and got good pace. He also speaks better English than some of our Scouser lads]'

Walker was also conscious of the deficiencies in attack, yet the sudden leakage of goals has caused alarm. 'All the clever dicks are getting on saying: 'What about the defence?'. Yeah, I'm aware of that. It's causing me anxiety and this week we've worked very hard on the back four, along with the midfield players doing the right thing, and the front men. If we can't tighten up we'll have to look at that.'

There are those who suggest goalkeeper Neville Southall's time is up and that Walker should try to prise his son, Ian, from Tottenham. Walker Snr said: 'Ever since I came to the club I've been advised Neville was over the top, ready to go and so on. I will decide that and I'm sure Neville will realise when he's had it. I still feel he's saving more games than he's costing us.

'We've had to change some attitudes as well. For a few years now it's been going down here, and that's as hard as anything. It's getting heads right to do it. Certainly most of the players are quite capable of competing with the best.'

The time Walker asks to create a side capable of beating the best may, of course, be at a premium. The new regime might be as restless as the natives. Some wonder if this 48-year-old Welshman, who played in the lower divisions and surprised most by fashioning Norwich into a potent as well as beautiful team, peaked in that relatively safe haven and now finds himself out of his depth.

Walker said: 'The start we've had has battered my pride, but not my belief. I was at the top with Colchester, and the same at Norwich, so this is new to me. But a little adversity makes you appreciate other things. There are two things you can do - you can stand up and be counted and fight, or you can turn over and sink. There's no way I intend to sink.

'All right, I played in the old Fourth Division, and the Third and Second, Under-23s for Wales. But I think you get better values when you come from the bottom. That doesn't bother me. I don't feel embarrassed now to be manager of a top club, rubbing shoulders with the Fergusons and Grahams.

'Most of the people who played at the top haven't got a clue. I'm manager of Everton but it's not something that just happened, it took me 30 years to do it, through trial and error, mistakes, relegation and promotion. You learn as you go. It's how you perceive the game, it doesn't mean because you were at the bottom you know nothing about the top. The principles that worked at Norwich were good enough to put us up there with the top teams, so why shouldn't they work here? I've always liked a passing game and I think I've proved that last year in Europe, when Norwich beat Bayern. Tactically, we worked it out and we did it. The teams who win the big prizes these days tend to play that way.

'We're not kidding ourselves we're going to go out and tear up the League. We've got to lay the foundations and build something to last, not just waste money. It took Alex Ferguson seven years and pounds 20m to build that team at Man United. It was a good Cup run that saved his job. Patience is important for a manager and those around him. Alex once told me to make sure I was single-minded.'

Even if you grant the pedigree, can the demanding followers of this club be sure he shares their passion and commitment? He said: 'The expectations got through to me within five minutes of walking into the city. When I went shopping for the first time it took me 40 minutes to go 200 yards. I stop to talk to people and suddenly I was swamped. That's how passionate they are, but because of the passion they want it yesterday and I understand that.

'Any top manager will tell you it's a 24-hour a day, seven-day-a- week job. Football is almost more important than family. It's marginal. You've got to have the enthusiasm as well as ability. You can have some of the greatest players, but if they don't want to know, no chance. You're always a fan if you're really into it. If you're not, you might as well say goodbye, pack it in. I'm a fan.'

(Photograph omitted)

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