Great Reds: Roy Evans, the top-four King

Today we are looking at former manager, Roy Evans career during his time at Liverpool where he won cemented his name in Liverpool history.
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It's an often an overlooked (or forgotten) fact that in each of Roy Evans' full seasons as Liverpool manager, the club finished in the top four. Today, that would be enough to claim European Cup football and as such further riches with which to strengthen the side and be like latter-day Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, pretending to still be relevant. 

There was even a League Cup win, and an FA Cup final thrown into those four years (although the less said about the cream suits, never mind the result, of the 1996 clash against United, the better)

(Sipa USA)

(Sipa USA)

So maybe therefore its because of a upward shift in expectations, or because of the success of the men who came after Evans - namely the late Gerard Houllier and then Rafael Benitez (who were responsible for said expectations), that we tend to forget, or overlook not only his record, but Roy Evans himself. A kindly, softly-spoken man, Liverpool Football Club baked into his very soul.

Evans was the ultimate professional, someone who dedicated his life to the Anfield cause and who saw all of the old glory days. So as he's approaching his 73rd birthday, let's take a look at his career as one of our Great Reds.

Born in Bootle a few years after the Second World War, Roy Quentin Echlin Evans was an England Schoolboys centre-back who signed for the Reds in 1965 and although he only featured nine times in the first team, (his full debut was in a a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday) he nevertheless was part of that incredible Shankly outfit that established itself as a dominant force in English football. 

It was Shanks himself, who rather than let Evans leave the club (he was nowhere near being a first choice player at the time, such was the talent that Liverpool possessed), suggested that he look into coaching instead, as Evans's football brain was keen and his intelligence offered the manager another use for his talent. 

Although only in his mid-twenties, Evans, following advice from the mentors in the fabled "Boot Room", Shankly, Paisley and Ronnie Moran, he took up the offer and never ever looked back.

Evans worked under Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish and Souness as coach, seeing the club bring in a huge haul of trophies and silverware, and was an integral part of the setup that made Liverpool the most successful and dominant force in the country at the time. 

All the while he learned his craft, keenly taking notes from the managers and their styles, and cultivating his own ideas as to how to approach management. It was no surprise to anyone that he was offered the role of manager when Souness departed in 1994; he had truly served his time before the mast and as the club sought to maintain continuity and a link to the mythologised Boot Room traditions, Evans was seen as the natural fit.

He took the job in the January of that year, with the club languishing in mid-table (Souness quit after Bristol City dumped the Reds out of the FA Cup third round) but secured a semi-respectable 8th placed finish when the cards were counted at the end of the campaign. 

In the following season, he signed players like John Scales to solidify the side in defence, but if there was ever a genuine legacy of Roy Evans as Liverpool manager, it was the trust he placed in Jamie Redknapp, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler - three of the brightest talents in English football and in Fowler's case in particular, a player who would go on to become one of the most naturally gifted players to pull on the red shirt. 

Evans utilised ageing stars like John Barnes very well, mixing youth with experience to forge an exciting, free-flowing attacking side, finishing fourth in the 94/95 campaign and collecting the League Cup by defeating Bolton Wanderers 2-1, with McManaman producing one of the all-time great performances in the competition.

Evans's perception for a player was another overlooked skill - he wanted Teddy Sheringham for example, who would go on to play for Manchester United and win all kinds of honours, but the Liverpool board said "no" to him as they saw the wantaway Spurs forward as "too old". 

The only time Evans himself felt that he missed the mark was the signing of Sean Dundee, who he described as "terrible on and off the pitch". No argument from this Red there.

His most famous signing of course had to be the acquisition of Stan Collymore from Nottingham Forest in 1995, for a then-British record fee of £8.5m. The controversial and enigmatic Collymore would dovetail well with Robbie Fowler (by now the most lethal finisher in the English game) as Evans's cavalier Reds went one better than their previous season's finish, ending up third behind Newcastle and winners Manchester United. 

There were some incredible games in that campaign, not least of all that 4-3 game against Kevin Keegan's title-chasing Newcastle, but there were also worrying signs of things to come; the damp squib FA Cup final defeat to United showing that if you could blunt Roy Evans' Liverpool in attack, you would eventually make a breakthrough at the back - Eric Cantona's late half-volley travelling rather slowly through a sea of green and white shirts before finding the net was a dagger in my teenage heart.

However, Evans had improved on the previous season and so 1996/97 could be looked forward to with relative optimism; Fowler and McManaman were a match for anyone on their day and if the defence could be sorted out, then surely Liverpool could challenge for the title? Well, if leagues were won in January then that would be a big fat "yes" - the Reds were five clear at the top, playing fabulous footy and showing off new the chiselled good looks of Patrick Berger and his siege-gun of a left foot proved to be another stroke of transfer genius on the part of the manager. 

However, the wheels well and truly came off after that month, the Reds won only 7 of their remaining 17 games, once again beaten to the punch by Manchester United.Once again, Liverpool finished 4th, and with hindsight possibly their best chance of winning the league under Evans was gone. 

David James had established himself as the chief villain of the piece, claiming that an addiction to video games played havoc with his judgement, leading him to drop "clangers" for "no real reason" according to teammate Mark Wright. 

Alongside the "Spice Boys" culture that the media swarmed all over, it was apparent that all was not well with Roy Evans' side by the end of 1997. Defensively they just had never been able to get the mix right, defenders like Phil Babb and Bjorn Tore Kvarme were just not good enough to take the side to the next level.

Evans, ever the student of the game, quietly went about trying to solve his problems with his generally trustworthy judgement in the transfer market, signing Paul Ince from Manchester United in a bid to add leadership and steel to the side that collapsed so alarmingly post-January the following season. 

In the end, despite Steve McManaman performing at this Liverpool peak, and the emergence of one Michael Owen, it was another third-placed finish for Evans, in another "could have been" season that saw Arsenal win the title. Nine defeats and eleven draws showed just how far off the pace his side were in the end - 13 points off, in fact.

But at that point, his days were numbered. Back then, only the top two league spots offered the European Cup as reward and the club hierarchy had belatedly began to modernise - or try to - in the face of the ever-changing football world and the dominance of United and Arsenal. 

Gerard Houllier was drafted in as the joint-manager alongside Evans for the 1998/99 in an arrangement that looking back now was utterly baffling; it was almost as if the club not only couldn't let go of the old traditions of the club, but also couldn't quite figure out how to say goodbye to one of its most dedicated and loyal servants. 

In the end, amidst player confusion and divided loyalties in the dressing room, Evans walked away; he knew that the club wouldn't sack the Frenchman so soon and he felt that it was in the best interests of the club if he walked instead.

And that was the man in a nutshell - Roy Evans' entire mantra at Liverpool Football Club - a man who would do anything for the club. From boot cleaner to kit man to part-time physio to reserve team boss to first team coach to manager. 

Everything was for the club. He gave it his absolute all, and although he fell agonisingly short with "his only regret" as boss, winning the league title, he left an indelible mark on the club. He was one of a handful of managers to lift a trophy as Reds boss, and he allowed some real talent to develop under his tutelage, with the likes of Fowler and McManaman, and then Michael Owen coming into their own as Reds. 

He had a dynamic, thrill-a-minute side that were capable of dazzling any side in the top flight, with goals galore and attacking football rarely matched ever since. And above all else, he was Liverpool through and through. Here's to you, Uncle Roy.