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EXCLUSIVE – Leeds manager Steve Evans

by Chris Dunlavy

STEVE Evans squeezes his frame onto a small blue settee and kicks off our interview with a question of his own.

“You ever been in here before?” he asks, gesturing around his sparsely furnished office at Leeds’ plush Thorpe Arch HQ.

“No? Well let me tell you – no Leeds manager has ever used this place as an office before. And I’ve deliberately picked it that way. I didn’t want to sit in the same chair as someone who’d failed.”

Failure, of course, is a relative concept at a club where the finger of owner Massimo Cellino rarely strays far from the eject button.

The Italian – nicknamed the ‘Manager Eater’ in his homeland – has employed six different bosses in his 18 months at the helm. The latest, Uwe Rosler, lasted just 12 games. Does Evans really expect to see much of this tiny room before being bundled on his way?

“That’s been said to me by a lot of people in the game,” admits the Scot, who left Rotherham in September. “From the highest levels to people in Non-League.

“But what do you expect me to do? I can’t turn down a club like Leeds. I’m not an ex-Premier League star. I started out in Non-League, training on public parks and shovelling dog dirt off the pitch.

“I don’t turn up and think ‘This is wrong, that could be better’. I turn up and think everything is magical. I’ve gone from a 20-foot boat in the ocean to an absolute oil tanker.

“How long will it last? I heard Stuart Pearce on talkSPORT saying it would be three weeks. I joked to my players that they had to see me through to Friday. Who knows? My approach is that every day in the chair is a good day.”

Massimo Cellino has been in charge at Elland Road for 18 months (Action Images / Frances Leader)

Massimo Cellino has been in charge at Elland Road for 18 months (Action Images / Frances Leader)

But for the anticipated brevity of his stay – and their general disenchantment – Leeds fans might have kicked up more of a stink at the arrival of a man widely reviled on the terraces.

From his criminal past at Boston to his touchline histrionics and hand grenade press conferences, few men in football provoke bile and disgust like the 51-year-old Glaswegian.

Does Evans, who lives near Peterborough with his wife and teenage daughters, believe the stick is justified?

“Football is a game of jealousy,” he says. “Of resenting others’ success. We have this British trait of building people up to smash them down. What happened at Boston was 14 or 15 years ago. Some of the people who abuse me on social media weren’t even born.

“What they resent is the fact that Steve Evans wins football matches. If I was managing their club, I bet they’d think differently.

“Do I regret what happened in the past? Of course. I’d be very foolish to sit here as a responsible father and say I wouldn’t turn the clock back.

“But I can’t undo my mistakes. As I say to everyone who asks me about the past, I can’t rewrite history. All I can do is affect today and affect the future. Everything else is gone.”

Evans is keen to throw himself into community work and hospital visits. “I did all of that at Rotherham,” he explains. “I just wanted to show them that there was a different side to Steve Evans than the screaming, sweating ogre on the sidelines.”

What cannot be denied is that Evans – while still manic – is a far calmer figure than the man once handed a ten-game stadium ban for berating referees.

For that, he credits Rotherham, the club he joined in 2012 and led to successive promotions, and their chairman Tony Stewart.

“Tony always had a saying,” he explains. “‘If we’re not in control, where are we?’ He loved my passion, my desire to win. He said ‘You can have all that – but how you show it needs to change’.

“He made me realise it was about being more respectful. Yes, question referees, but don’t shout in their face.”

Evans speaks of Stewart with great affection. “We had a fantastic relationship,” he says. “If I wasn’t at home, I’d be in his company for two or three hours every day.

“I’d go round to his house and we’d sit in the garage having a bit of wine. And we didn’t always talk about football. He’d tell me about things that were going on in his business and we’d talk about our families. We were real tight.”

So why, just days after an impressive 2-1 victory over Birmingham, did this seemingly happy marriage abruptly hit the skids? In short, Stewart wanted a transfer committee and Evans did not.

“I’m a great believer that if something works, keep doing it,” he says. “If a striker is late for training because he took a wrong turn and then scores a hat-trick, I’ll say ‘Do it again’.

First of many? Chris Wood levels from the spot in Evans' first match in charge at Fulham (Action Images / Andrew Couldridge)

First of many? Chris Wood levels from the spot in Evans’ first match in charge at Fulham (Action Images / Andrew Couldridge)

“For three-and-a-half years, it was me, Tony, and his son, Richard. We made the decisions – end of.

“What they wanted to do was go back to a technical board with six or seven people. My understanding was that everything would work on a majority decision. That didn’t work for me.

“I expressed an opinion. Tony expressed his. And at the end he said, ‘We’re really going in opposite directions here, mate’.

“We worked out a statement. I went to tell the staff. Then I went down to see Tony again and we said ‘Is this really happening then?’

“If the cleaner had walked in, they’d have seen us stood in his office, hugging each other in tears. I know people will say ‘Is that really true?’ But I swear it is. And that’s why, for the next 25 years or so that I’m on the planet, we’ll be good friends.”

Somehow, it’s hard to imagine Cellino shedding tears over losing a manager. And does Evans really expect to be given final say on transfers by a man previously prone to picking the team?

“I wouldn’t have come without that assurance,” insists Evans, whose first game ended in a 1-1 draw at Fulham.  “And let me tell you something. Tony would sometimes ask what my team was on a Friday afternoon. Against Fulham, the first the president knew about it was when the team-sheets were handed out.

“I can’t control the chairman. I can control the team. And what I promise Leeds fans is a team that give it a go and manager who shows a bit of passion. I put my life into my job. And to me, this job is beyond my wildest dreams.”

This article was brought to you by The Football League Paper. On-sale every Sunday, the newspaper provides extensive coverage for all 72 Football League clubs with news, features and gossip plus comprehensive match reports.
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