Ched Evans: It would be folly to sign striker now, but a club will try

Evans won his appeal for conviction against rape today

Ian Herbert
Chief Sports Writer
Thursday 21 April 2016 16:13 BST
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Ched Evans leaving court with his girlfriend Natasha Massey
Ched Evans leaving court with his girlfriend Natasha Massey (PA)

Ched Evans' representatives have not ruled out the idea of him finding a new football club and resuming his career before he stands trial for rape a second time.

The message was that he was “not thinking about football”, after he won his appeal against the conviction for which he served half of a five-year jail term, but there was no timeframe attached to that assertion and no suggestion that he will wait until the end of the retrial. Considering that it may be a year before the Crown Prosecution Service puts together a new case, it may be a year before he does not have a rape allegation hanging over him.

Waiting for that moment would probably mean a resumption his career in the 2017/18 season at the earliest, by which time he would be a 28-year-old striker who had last experienced serious competitive action as a 24-year-old. Football people observe that the lack of competition is Evans’ big problem, no matter how much time he has played informal five-a-sides and how much money he has invested in a personal trainer. He cannot wait until a second trial. It is already now or never for him.

So will he find a club? There are a number of individuals in the game who appreciate the talent he displayed before he was charged and convicted in 2012. Nigel Clough, now managing League One Burton Albion, does not need an introduction, having been impressed with Evans at Sheffield United, a club who have also been awaiting the outcome of this appeal.

Both would have hoped for a more clear-cut outcome than this. Though Evans is innocent of the alleged crime until a second jury might prove him otherwise, he is still charged with an offence of such repugnance that the notion of hiring him risks a backlash. Oldham Athletic had not ruled out the idea of revisiting the idea of signing Evans if the conviction was quashed, though after the storm which accompanied their attempts to do so last year means there is still incredibly sensitivity. No-one in authority at the club will even speak off the record on the subject.

Ched Evans with his girlfriend Natasha Massey who stood by after his conviction (PA)

It would be folly to take Evans until such a moment as he is in the clear, not least because of the very powerful and transparent channels through which public opinion can now find collective self-expression. Despite the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, how would a prospective club’s supporters feel about the decision to employ an individual against whom there might be enough evidence to level a charge of rape? It was put to the owner of a leading National Conference League club recently that taking a gamble on Evans might now be worthwhile, because criticism of the decision would subside, leaving the club with a £1.5m striker. “Not going near that,” he replied. “I know what the phone calls will sound like.”

That chairman has a carefully-laid, costed plan for the building up of his club, though not every proprietor works in such a way. The lower reaches of the Football League and the National Conference are a roulette table, populated by scores of clubs ready to roll the dice to catch the dream or fend off disaster. Oldham got interested in Evans because they were desperate and couldn’t buy a goal: one goal scored and 14 conceded in four consecutive defeats before they began their negotiations with Evans’ representatives.

Wisdom tells you that Oldham just don’t need the trouble now. Against all expectation amid extreme austerity facing the club, manager John Sheridan has put them on a path to survival with four wins and a draw in six and there is a good feeling about the place. It coalesces around the fans’ affection for Sheridan, a former Oldham player and one of their own. The 51-year-old has been around for long enough to be the arbiter of whether he wants Evans in the ranks. That was a luxury not available to Lee Johnson, who was the side’s 33-old manager when told, not asked, about intention to sign Evans last winter.

The £1.5m valuation was being bandied about then, too: that being the price a proprietor will fancy he might sell Evans for if things work out down the road and the player is found not guilty. There will be no transfer market outlay, of course, because he presently has no club. Strip out what the case represents and the 27-year-old represents an opportunity: a £20,000-a-week player, available for perhaps £2,000. This is football, a Wild West environment at the best of times. Someone, somewhere will be ready to place a bet.

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