Exclusive - Former Liverpool manager Roy Evans has likened current manager Jurgen Klopp to legendary boss Joe Fagan, who delivered the Reds’ fourth European Cup title in 1984.
Like Evans, Fagan was one of Liverpool’s fabled ‘Boot Room Boys’ at Anfield, a coaching staff that ran the club for the best part of 40 years from the early 1960s until the late 1990s, delivering 28 major trophies – including 13 English league titles and four European Cups.
The iconic ‘Boot Room’, was literally a small room by the Anfield changing rooms where successive Liverpool managers would gather their staff to discuss tactics. But the culture it nurtured and its longstanding legacy that paved the way for decades of success made it so much more.
It began soon after Bill Shankly arrived as manager in 1959 at a time when Liverpool had fallen into the second tier. Bob Paisley and the aforementioned Fagan were already at the club but became assistant manager and reserve team manager respectively.
Reuben Bennett, Tom Saunders and Ronnie Moran, the latter also a legend as a player, soon held key coaching and player development roles, while Evans himself was brought into the fold a few years later in the 1970s when his playing career at the club ended prematurely.
“The biggest thing that turned Liverpool around was Shankly,” Evans tells 90min.
“When he joined Liverpool, they started to be successful, followed then by Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan. Bob was different to Shanks. Shanks was very upward; Bob was very tactical and Joe was very honest. Ronnie Moran was [always] on your case.
“All the backroom staff were totally different but all worked together in a great way. If you’ve got a staff that does that, then it’s down to the players, who played a massive part. The club was in the second division but then started winning all sort of trophies.”
After Shankly retired in 1974, he was replaced by Paisley as a culture of promotion from within became prominent to ensure the ‘Liverpool way’ remained strong. In turn, three-time European Cup winner Paisley was eventually succeeded by Fagan in 1983, while ex-Liverpool players Kenny Daglish and Graeme Souness also had spells as manager before control went to Evans in 1994.
It was only in 1998 when Evans left Anfield after nearly 40 years at the club as a player, coach and manager that the 'Boot Room' dynasty finally came to an end.
“I didn’t want to be a coach, I was only 25 or 26,” recalls of his own journey. “I thought about it and they said they would like me to take the reserve team and run it the same way as they did the first team – when the reserves weren’t playing, I would go with the first-team.
“It was a great offer at the end of the day. As much as I would have liked to have been a player – because that’s the biggest part of football without a doubt – that’s where I ended up. I was with the reserve team for 10 years and we won the Central League, as it was then, nine times out of 10. I worked with some of the top people that there will ever be in football.
“They were fantastic to work with, teaching me different things, and eventually I turned up as the manager of the club I’d always supported and loved.”
Evans continued, “I was brought up in the ‘Liverpool way’ – Moran was similar. Bob, Joe and Ronnie were all slightly different personalities. Shankly, you could listen to him all day because he loved to talk about football, but he was always on your case if you did something wrong. It was the balance of great guys who all had opinions, but wanted to do it the ‘Liverpool way’.”
That collaborative approach at Anfield essentially encouraged each member of the staff to put forward their own ideas, although the final say would always come down to the manager.
Liverpool arguably moved away from their heritage in the 2000s and early 2010s, but there is something about Jurgen Klopp and the way he leads that is reminiscent of the Boot Room culture.
“I’m a fan of Jurgen Klopp. I like the way he manages,” Evans says.
“He reminds me a little bit of Joe Fagan in some ways, because Joe was straightforward and you didn’t mess around with him. But [everyone in the Boot Room] had a different role and I’m sure that Jurgen will have a staff around him that are all into different things.”
There are other potential overlapping characteristics between the Klopp era and the Boot Room, some of which may yet to be seen. Assistant coach Pep Lijnders has long been tipped to be one of the main candidates to replace Klopp when the German eventually leaves Anfield – that kind of promotion from within, people who already know the club, was a key component of the Boot Room.
“One of the big things about Liverpool is [people questioning] why they didn’t bring in managers from different clubs and different places. [It was] because we were successful in what we did and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Evans explains.
“Obviously Jurgen is the manager and he gets all the praise or the criticism. But if the backroom staff are anything like Jurgen and have the same sort of ideas, which of course they do, it would work in our era, for sure, that you could change the manager and bring in somebody who had been through the system [at the club],” he adds.
“We went from Shankly, to Paisley, to Fagan. Ronnie Moran didn’t manage much – he did have a little spell – but was there for a long time. Myself and Kenny and Souey, we went for years with people that had been through our system because we’d been successful and why change it?”
As for the current Liverpool side, Evans, while acknowledging that Mohamed Salah is ‘obviously a great player’, places tremendous value on the roles that Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk have as squad leaders and chief communicators.
“People like Henderson – he’s one of those guys that is very straightforward – good player by the way – but also talks to people on the pitch,” Evans says. “He’s helpful and keeps it together, a bit like Van Dijk. Van Dijk is a great footballer, but also when it comes to talking to players from that position. They’re the people that keep the team together. They’re not criticising [the other players] but their mouth is just as important as their football ability.”