Rotherham United: Evans’ 24/7 devotion in pursuit of success

Steve Evans at Wembley
Steve Evans at Wembley
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Sometimes when Steve Evans signs his autograph, underneath he spells out the word, ‘gaffer’.

He puts it in little quote marks but writes it in big capitals, Big, big capitals.

Rotherham United Steve Evans celebrates promotion with the trophy after the Sky Bet League One Play Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday May 25, 2014. See PA story SOCCER League One. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No video emulation. No false commercial association.

Rotherham United Steve Evans celebrates promotion with the trophy after the Sky Bet League One Play Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday May 25, 2014. See PA story SOCCER League One. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No video emulation. No false commercial association.

Steve Evans likes being in charge, and he likes people to know he’s in charge.

It’s one of the reasons why Evans is the English game’s most successful manager. Four seasons, four promotions, the last two with Rotherham United as he’s led them from the wastelands of League Two and Don Valley to that combination made in Millers heaven, The Championship and New York Stadium.

“I have to be in control,” Evans readily admits

“The chairman likes to ask the question, if you’re not in control what are you?

Rotherham United manager Steve Evans (left) celebrates with chairman Tony Stewart after the Sky Bet League One Play Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday May 25, 2014. See PA story SOCCER League One. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No video emulation. No false commercial association.

Rotherham United manager Steve Evans (left) celebrates with chairman Tony Stewart after the Sky Bet League One Play Off Final at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday May 25, 2014. See PA story SOCCER League One. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No video emulation. No false commercial association.

“The answer is ‘out of control’.

“I like that quote.

“If you’’re out of control, you’re dispensible. If you’re dispensible, what are you doing there?”

Everyone knows Evans can be confrontational, in your face, capable of finding an argument where there isn’t one if he thinks it will help his club’s cause. Remind you of anyone? Let’s just say he has huge respect for another figure who has divided opinion down the years, Sir Alex Ferguson. If he’s not the manager of your club, you’ll find reason to take issue with him. But if he is at your club …

The Millers boss is often referred to as the Ferguson of the lower leagues and I sense that’s a comparison he’s proud to see made.

Just like Ferguson, many times he’s been labelled a bully. Is he? I’ve never seen him swear at pensioners or take sweets from children, and, away from the cauldron of matchday, he can be charming, charismatic company with a warming touch of self-deprecation.

But if we’re taking about having the appetite to go face to face with a shaken opponent, sniff out weaknesses and then go for the kill while he and his own men never take a backward step, then guilty as charged.

And he’ll apply the same harsh approach to his own players if he thinks it will help coax from them more than even they thought they were capable of giving – that little bit that can turn defeats intro draws and draws into wins

Players like Alex Revell and Joe Skarz, Wembley heroes both, good men both, talk of the squad’s never-say-die mentality and how it starts from the top. They like his modus operandi.

In professional sport, where livelihoods and dreams are at stake and results can be the only things that matter, bullying isn’t just acceptable, it’s a legitimate, often necessary approach adopted by driven serial achievers like Evans. It’s not even bullying. It’s real name is competing.

As for ruthless, he’ll take that any day and see it as compliment. He is The Gaffer, remember. In big capitals. You do things his way or you’re history.

Describing his mentality, he said: “It’s the Sir Alex Ferguson method. If you find you have a bad apple, you have to remove it. And I mean get rid straight away.

“If you have one bad apple and leave it, then next week you have two. If you left those, the next week you’d have three. I’m not going to let that happen.”

His refusal to accept second best is evident in everything he does.

I can clearly remember him at Rochdale in the 2012/13 League Two promotion season on a filthy New Year’s Day.

In the second half the match looked to be slipping away from the Millers, but there was Evans, out in the mud and lashing rain, oblivious to the elements, urging on his players, demanding more than even they thought they could give.

He ruined a very natty pair of shoes that night.

But, in a scenario that was to become thrillingly familiar the following season, his side won with a last-minute goal.

And he can be a man of principle. When chairman Tony Stewart, impressed by Evans’ go-forward Crawley team every time he saw them on TV, went calling, Evans said ‘yes’ - but not until he’d guaranteed Crawley’s promotion as he felt he owed them that much.

Being kept waiting for about five matches wasn’t what Stewart wanted, but, boy, did his new manager impress him with his stance.

Football consumes Evans. It’s 24/7 devotion. He’s often in his office before 7.30am and regularly his working day takes him past 10pm. And when he’s not working, he’s still thinking about it.

Losing cuts so deep that on the rare occasions it happens he simply can’t find it in himself to leave the house.

“It takes me a couple of days to get over a defeat. I never go out on Saturday night if we’ve lost. Never. Not even if I’ve arranged to,” he revealed.

“I wouldn’t be any kind of company so I cancel. I still want the other people to go out. I don’t expect them to feel it to the same depth that I do.

“It’s usually Sunday before I even start coming to terms with it. By then you have to be analysing it and preparing your response for the players so the club can go again.”

I followed the Millers home and away last season and, perhaps fittingly, my two favourite quotes came from the first and last matches.

At Crewe on opening day, Evans’ team, 3-1 down on their League One bow at Crewe, threw caution to the wind in the second half and, with less defenders and extra attackers, bombarded the home side to earn a 3-3 draw.

Crewe boss Steve Davis was a shaken man afterwards as he half-whispered: “They just kept coming.”

Then fast forward to Wembley and an ecstatic Rotherham United manager after the Millers’ astonishing comeback against Leyton Orient in the League One Play-off Final, sparked by Evans’ hearts-and-minds half-time talk.

“That’s what I do,” he said.

Damn right. He does what he wants, and that’s what he does.

He receives abuse, some of it horribly vitriolic, from opposing supporters at virtually every match, but I genuinely believe he couldn’t care less.

I think it matters to him hugely, though, that every time rival followers turn on him, and I mean absolutely every time, the Millers fans respond en masse with their own songs of support.

Thanks to their familiar refrain, and the amazing away record the Millers racked up, ‘That Man, Steve Evans’ must have been laughing at his tormentors at more away grounds last season than any other manager in the Football League.

After four years of relentless effort and success to match the Fergie of the lower leagues is ready to step into Championship football under his own banner.

Inspirational leadership, unrelenting hard work, bold, attacking tactics, the hairdryer treatment for friend and foe alike when required ... Like Fergie, but not Fergie. He’s earned the right for it to be called the Steve Evans way.

Evans and Stewart, the supportive father figure he loves to pieces, have already defied seemingly insurmountable odds in their two and a bit years together.

Just think what has been achieved.

Back-to-back promotions speak for themselves but tell only part of the story.

Evans had the pressure of transforming a struggling team to contend with and, on top of that, was charged with being the man to lead the club into a bright, new era after the out-of-town dark days at Don Valley.

There it was, all laid out in front of him … a wonderful new stadium, proper support from a true football saviour in Stewart, deep, genuine fresh hope among supporters, an ailing town crying out for the chance to feel pride in itself again.

It all came beautifully together, not without a few initial ups and downs, to create the amazing journey of the last two seasons.

But none of it would have happened if Evans had failed.

That he didn’t is testimony to his strength of character, his belief in his own ability, his astute man-management and the kind of motivational skills which make his teams so much more than the sum of their parts.

Many, many others would have buckled under the weight of the challenge. But Evans - and, because of him, his team and his adopted new town - have flourished.

Just like the capitals under his signature, it takes a big, big man to do that.