Fifteen years on, and it’s still hard to believe that this really happened.
The side Roy Evans built after Graeme Souness left Liverpool in 1994 was characterised as high on flair, but weak on mental resolve. They were the kind of side who could roll any team in the country over on their day, but could also throw away points at crucial moments. They were exciting, and they were frail – and as a result that’s been the summation of Evans’ time at the club ever since. He should have won something, but he didn’t.
There have always been whispers regarding his relationship with the Liverpool board at the time, and the failure of the ownership to properly support him in the transfer market. In his autobiography, Robbie Fowler revealed that before the Tottenham forward moved to Manchester United, Evans had been pursuing Teddy Sheringham before being told that £3.5m was above and beyond the club’s reach. Evans may not have ultimately been successful, but that situation was probably never as black and white as it appeared.
Still, it got stranger.
In July 1998, the club announced that Gerard Houllier was being appointed – not to replace Evans, but to work alongside him as a joint-manager.
In all of the Premier League’s brief history, there isn’t a single decision more baffling than that one – and neither is there one which was more destined to end badly. Find me someone who thought that the Evans/Houllier partnership was a good idea, and you’ll have found me a liar.
Two different managers, two different ideologies, two different tactical philosophies, two different approaches in the transfer market. At what point did anybody think that that was going to go well?
The sight of Houllier and Evans sitting together in the dug-out was as comical as it was brief, and Evans announced his departure from the club five months later, leaving Houllier in sole charge.
It’s one of those moments that people have forgotten about, and that when they do remember, it leaves them shaking their head. Rightly so, it was truly bizarre.
In retrospect, what was at the time sold as a ‘innovative new approach’ to management, actually looked like a spineless way of forcing Evans out of the club that he had loved and served both as a player and manager – a classic constructed redundancy. Either way, the free-flowing flair-heavy football was gone, to be replaced with a more ‘functional’ approach to the game which did, to its credit, yield a hefty return in silverware.