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the square ball week: we don’t want to talk about it

the square ball week: we don’t want to talk about it


“I was at Elland Road until 10pm on Monday,” Steve Evans told the YEP’s Phil Hay this week. “That was the first time it became obvious that things weren’t going to happen.”

Really, Steve. That was absolutely the first time it was “obvious” Leeds United weren’t going to sign anybody with an easily spelled name in the January transfer window. 10pm. On deadline day. That was the first time. Really. That’s what happened.

So darkness had descended on Elland Road before a lightbulb illuminated the wrinkled spacehopper, sitting atop an unbranded poloshirt, that danced before the blurred vision of Massimo Cellino, that let out a burring cry: “Mr President, do you know I don’t think we’re going to get these lads over the line the night?”

It was 10pm when Massimo, confused, said, “Terry, Terry, Terry,” and asked him finally, “Terry, the pumpkin talks? Why is the pumpkin talking?”

“It’s Steve Evans, Mr President, the coach. He seems to think we won’t be signing any more players today.”

And therefore it was night time when another lightbulb went on above Cellino’s head; of course, this wasn’t a pumpkin, it was a watermelon. And that’s when he leaned back in his chair, and replied the way he’d been aching to reply since ten o’clock that morning: With a very. Slow. Round. Of. Applause.

Part of me has begun to find some sympathy for Steve Evans, as he trudges obstinately on, along the party line; a line that meanders, zags and unravels and takes him no nearer his hopeful destination of the Premier League, and a chance to renew his acquaintance with — well, he makes it sound like Alex Ferguson is the only Premier League manager he’s ever met, so I guess it’s begin rather than renew. But where Evans is concerned, the only sympathetic parts I have for him are the ones that aren’t connected to my ears.

The more he talks the more he tries to justify and the more he spins and the more wearisome it becomes; and he isn’t even trying to justify himself. Rewind a week or so to when he disputed whether Cellino had said there would be no new signings, or whether new signings were unlikely. “If the president says there will be no more signings then there will be no more signings, but the words I heard attributed to the president was it was unlikely,” he insisted. I wonder if that came up at 10pm too. “So Mr President, did I mishear you, or…?”

“Steve, you are a joke.”

The joke is definitely on Steve. Right now, he’s desperately trying to suggest that the season isn’t over because “we can see if other clubs can deal with squeaky bum time”, i.e., can the fourteen better teams above us, with their better form and their stronger squads, stay above Leeds United, with their one new permanent signing, their one fit striker who actually wants to be here, their three central defenders who want to be in their panic rooms and their one league win in seven. Hey Derby, hey Ipswich, can you h-h-handle the heat?

Yeah, they probably can. But that’s fine, because that one’s on other clubs, so when “squeaky bum time” leaves Leeds exactly where we always get left — up a noxious creek — Evans can just shrug it off with a, ‘What are you gonna do about Sheffield Wednesday?’

But other ones are on Leeds, and it’s hard to tell whether Evans is desperately firefighting on his president’s behalf, covering all eventualities, or just bullshitting freely because he’s got nothing to lose.

“To be fair to the supporters, if I was looking at the headlines I’d be seeing a lot of money coming in for Sam, a certain amount being spent on Toumani and I’d be thinking ‘what about the rest of the money?’” said Evans, for once finding himself bang on that rare beast, the money.

“But I know the wages for Toumani, and for Carayol and Bridcutt,” he added. “I know what we were bidding for other players. That’s what people don’t see.” And wrapped up in there is the implication that the Byram money has been put to good use, paying the wages of new recruits and backing bids for the likes of Sam Winnall, of Barnsley.

But then at his press conference, we get this, reported by Lee Sobot: “Evans says the Byram money is still available and more, and lack of money was not the reason for deals not going through.” So what’s paying the wages of Bridcutt, Carayol and Diagouraga? Meanwhile, the laughter echoing up the M1 from Barnsley tells us all we need to know about the bid we put in for League One’s second-top goalscorer (one ahead of a Mr B. Sharp of Sheffield), and probably all we need to know about the bid for Middlesbrough’s Kike. That’s a “bizarre situation” according to Evans, who can’t understand why a player would rather not play for the rest of the season then join a club in La Liga, instead of signing for Leeds United.

We should also bear this in mind from Evans’ press conference: “We’d have liked to have strengthened further… but we don’t want to put the club at risk.” The club, that has the #ByramMoney&More available, would be at risk if it bought… bought what? One more player? One hundred more? Kike is believed to have cost Eibar around £2m — is that a “risk” Leeds United could have taken?

So either a) the #ByramMoney&More has been spent on three new players, or b) the #ByramMoney&More is still there to be spent, or c) touching a penny of the #ByramMoney&More could put the future of Leeds United in jeopardy. Multiple choice! If you answered mostly a) you have wasted your time, if you answered mostly b) you have wasted your time, and if you answered mostly c), you have wasted your time.

“I’m not here to be Massimo Cellino’s friend and I’m not saying he’s faultless or perfect…” says Evans, but it’s pretty easy to parse his constantly shifting claims and see them as the first lines of defence for his constantly shifting president. If Steve Evans were to say what Steve Evans really thinks, Steve Evans would soon find out what Neil Redfearn found out before him, that what Steve Evans thinks isn’t as valuable to Massimo Cellino as what Steve Evans thinks about what Massimo Cellino thinks; (deep breath) in other words he’s just one more paid kiss-arse in the crowd at Cellino’s loins. — formerly Rap Genius — built a $400m business from annotating rap lyrics, and now aims to annotate the world; even just this week’s worth of talk from the mouth of Steve Evans would make for a serious annotation project on its own. I’m not sure it would be worth close to $400m though, or the #ByramMoney&More, so I’ll leave off trying to sew these shreds back together. I doubt the resultant cloth will have any particular dignity, anyway.

But Evans might want to consider what I said at the start; that sympathy for his plight — the plight of anyone working as a coach for Cellino, and an understanding that he does have to keep up appearances with the media — is inversely proportional to the amount of bollocks he comes out with.

When Evans says: “On Monday night Cellino said to me ‘anyone else?’ But I wasn’t going to start coming up with names for the sake of it,” I imagine the next, unspoken scene to involve Cellino pouring whisky in his hair and shouting, ‘You want Messi? You want Neymar? You want anyone else, Dave?’ — enough to make anyone’s heart melt for the tearfully deflating coach. But then I remember that Steve Evans is bringing all this upon Steve Evans, and the old cynicism gene kicks in, and I think, bollocks did he say that, Steve, bollocks did he.

“I know I’ll be backed in the summer because the owner has backed me with Bridcutt, Carayol and Diagouraga,” reckons Evans. Apparently because Cellino did that good thing for him once, Cellino will do other good things for him again. Yes, Steve, do look for repeated patterns in your president’s behaviour; look at what he’s done in the past, and think about what he might do again. And try to think about what seems most likely to happen in the future, and then think about what you might like to say about that. You may not wish to say anything without your lawyer present, like that time before, but if that means peace and sympathy, I’m all for that.


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