Is Steve Evans changing his spots at Rotherham United?
They say a leopard can never change its spots but Steve Evans is doing a passable impression of an honest, mature and diplomatic football manager this season. We’re now approaching March, nearly a year into his reign as Rotherham United manager, and the Glaswegian has yet to find himself at the centre of a single unsavoury incident. Given his track record, it’s extremely good going.
Shades of the old Steve Evans still exist – mostly in the form of extreme bias when analysing performances, which manifests as sour grapes when summarising any defeat – but the pre-match wind-ups have ceased, the Millers’ disciplinary record is no worse than ordinary and there’s been a definite shift in his touchline conduct. The big question is why.
After all, overt masculinity is a fundamental cog in the Evans machinery. Whether he can help himself or not, success with Boston and Crawley was achieved by pushing the boundaries of psychological warfare. His ability to up the ante and get his players fired up beyond what most opponents consider acceptable was key to getting both of those clubs promoted to the Football League. It was a special kind of skill.
So why would he risk losing his edge by toning down his act? Why jeopardise his chances of success by embarking on a different approach to that which caught Tony Stewart’s attention in the first place?
The difference, perhaps, is pride – pride and responsibility. Maybe Evans is proud to be recognised as the man to lead a traditional Football League club like Rotherham into an exciting new era. And maybe Evans understands the responsibility that goes with preserving the good name of that club.
Until the call came from Stewart, he had always been an outcast. He was rarely out of the limelight, dominating lower-league headlines for all the wrong reasons, but the dark cloud of ‘contract irregularities’ still overshadows his achievements at Boston and nobody ever remarks upon Crawley’s rise from the Conference to League One without referring to the unprecedented level of money that was spent in the process.
In short, Evans had no incentive to control his behaviour at those clubs because widespread recognition would never be forthcoming in any case – not that that constitutes a reliable defence. Now, though, a different sort of opportunity knocks. And like the serial criminal who finds an exciting legitimate business interest to pursue upon his latest release from prison, Evans is going straight.
As if to emphasise the sense of pride that now presides over his natural instincts, consider his reaction to the goal that won the local derby against Chesterfield at New York Stadium on Saturday. Nearly an hour had elapsed when skipper Johnny Mullins headed home a David Noble corner. Nearly an hour of Millers dominance without reward.
Relief should have been the over-riding emotion at that moment, composure should have been overpowered by jubilation. But as three sides of the ground went bananas, Evans stood motionless in the technical area, soaking it all up. This was his first Rotherham-Chesterfield derby – the biggest game of his career to date with only pride at stake – and he made a promise to himself that he would stop and absorb the surroundings if Rotherham took the lead.
Most perennial League Two followers will assume that Evans is merely keeping a low profile in response to a six-match stadium ban imposed by the FA earlier this season for his part in the infamous Bradford v Crawley match last March. The cynics will go a step further and suggest it’s only a matter of time before the novelty wears off and he goes back to his old ways.
But as the weeks pass by with Evans steering clear of the news, it seems increasingly apparent that there could be more to it. Maybe the pride of managing Rotherham United at their new 12,000-seater capacity stadium is enough to make him change his ways.football
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