Premier League Clubs Managed: Liverpool FC (1994-1998)
Bill Shankly once said when manager of Liverpool FC, “second place will never do.” Roy Evans was one of his disciples. Evans was the final part of the famous ‘Boot Room’ team at Anfield who got a crack at managing the Merseyside giants.
There was initial promise and he played a significant part in Robbie Fowler’s rise through the ranks from young hotshot to serial Premier League goalscorer. Unfortunately, he couldn’t revitalise the magic that some of his predecessors had demonstrated over the years.
Learning the ropes
Evans did embark on a playing career that never really took off. He played just nine times for Liverpool FC in nine years. In the 1970s, Shankly saw something different in Evans and suggested for him to abandon his unsuccessful playing role and try a career as a coach. It was an inspired move.
Evans served as a coach for the best part of two decades at Anfield, witnessing Liverpool FC’s dominance of English football in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a coach under Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. When Graeme Souness succeeded Dalglish in 1991, Evans became assistant manager, with long-time friend Ronnie Moran remaining as first-team coach. The seeds had been sown for Evans to step out of the shadows and into the limelight.
In January 1994, Liverpool FC’s decline was evident. They were dumped out of the FA Cup at Anfield in a replay by lowly Bristol City. Realising results were not improving, Souness quit with the team only mid-table in the league and out of both domestic cup competitions. Speculation was that the Reds’ would turn to a more well-known face but they stuck to their principles. After a brief caretaker spell, Evans was given the job permanently in March 1994.
Promising early signs
Evans took over a team that was low on confidence. Souness’ radical aim to usher out the old guard and push more youngsters through had backfired. He had made too many changes and also made some dodgy moves in the transfer market. Evans inherited a right old mess but there were promising early signs.
In his first full season, Liverpool FC became an attractive side to watch again. Evans guided the club to a domestic cup final. Two goals from Steve McManaman saw the Merseysiders defeat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the League Cup final. There was a 4th-place finish in the league too. The likes of McManaman and Jamie Redknapp made impressive strides forward in their development. That also brought the best out of the likes of John Barnes and Ian Rush. One of Evans’ biggest successes though was the rise of Robbie Fowler. Fowler became one of the hottest prospects in English football, scoring a flurry of goals that saw him win the PFA Young Player of the Year award for two seasons running.
Evans signed John Scales from Wimbledon and Coventry City’s Phil Babb to add more defensive options to his line-up. His next part of the jigsaw was to break the British transfer record in the summer of 1995 to sign Stan Collymore. Liverpool FC were seen as a serious title challenger and they improved their finishing position to third in 1995-1996. Unfortunately, a dire run of form in November saw them tumble from second to ninth in the table and that ultimately scuppered a serious title push. Once again, there were bright moments. Aston Villa blown away in eight minutes in March 1996 and Collymore’s dramatic winner in the epic 4-3 win over Newcastle United a month later. After several years in the wilderness, Liverpool were emerging again as a major player in the English game.
Blowing the big chance
Liverpool FC made the FA Cup final in 1996 but in a dour game, played poorly and were beaten by Manchester United thanks to an Eric Cantona goal. It was a day when the club were remembered more for a disastrous white suit that was worn pre-game! If anything, this was the beginning of the end for Evans, who probably lacked the authority and demeanour of other Liverpool managers.
For the 1996-1997 season, he added Patrik Berger after his outstanding Euro 96 performances for the Czech Republic. It was a young side and at the turn of the year, they went five points clear at the top of the table. Despite disappointing cup exits in January 1997 to Middlesbrough and Chelsea respectively, it looked like the league championship could well return to Anfield. Unfortunately, too many slip-ups proved costly.
The Reds’ failed to beat Blackburn Rovers at home, lost to a late Ian Taylor goal at Villa Park and were then beaten at Anfield by bottom-placed Coventry City. By now, the media has dubbed the LFC youngsters – McManaman, Redknapp, Fowler, Berger and Jason McAteer as “The Spice Boys.” The general opinion was they were having too much fun off-the-pitch and not focusing enough on the job of bringing the championship prize back to the Anfield trophy cabinet.
Evans wasn’t helped by some calamitous goalkeeping displays by David James. He lacked the strength in this department and didn’t have the bravery to drop James for his error-strewn performances. Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat at home to Manchester United in April was a deeply disappointing display from the whole team which dashed their hopes of winning the league. They ended up in fourth place, pipped to a runners-up spot on goal difference by Newcastle United and Arsenal.
The joint-manager failure
Although Michael Owen made a similar impact Fowler had five seasons earlier with his goals in 1997-1998, Liverpool were nowhere near the title race and finished a distant third, 13 points behind champions Arsenal. Their points total declined for a third season in a row and the board decided to act.
They brought Gerard Houllier into the club to work alongside Evans as joint-managers. From the outset, questions were raised about the partnership and it was clear the players struggled to deal with two different sets of instructions. Following a League Cup exit in November 1998 to Tottenham Hotspur, it spelt an emotional end for Roy. He realised the partnership between him and Houllier was not working.
Two days after the Spurs loss, a press conference was held to confirm his departure after 33 years with the club in various capacities. Evans admitted: “I’d like to thank the chairman and board for the support they have given me. I dispute my record is one of failure. At any other club it would be a success but not at Liverpool. Our biggest regret is that we could not achieve success for the people who work at the club.”
Today, Roy Evans is still a Liverpool man and he works regularly as a co-commentator for live audio broadcasts of Reds’ matches on the club website. He is also a regular pundit on the club’s dedicated TV channel LFCTV.
Roy Evans is a one-club man and deserved his opportunity to follow in the footsteps of legendary Liverpool managers. Sadly for him, it didn’t go the way he hoped. He had a great relationship with the board and did really well in bringing younger players through. Unfortunately, his lack of decisiveness and ruthlessness was probably the contributing factor in not being able to bring the league championship back to Anfield.