Joe Royle Interview
The Bigger Picture
|Preface||Joe on Joe --The Interview||The First Interview|
The following interview took place in Joe Royle's office at Bellefield on Monday 27 January 1997. The interviewer is Joe Banerjee, a life-long Evertonian who now lives in Japan, and keeps in touch with Everton through the Internet. This is the second such interview that Joe Banerjee has done (Click here to read Joe Banerjee's first interview with Joe Royle in February 1996).
What you read below is pretty much an exact transcript of what was said no selective editing, and no attempt to spin the story, as our friends in the professional media do incessantly. Joe Banerjee has added things in parentheses to clarify, where necessary.
After this interview, Joe Royle gave an interview to the national press most of that was recorded on Joe Banerjee's tape as well. He will try and transcribe that as soon as he can when he gets back to Japan, so depending on jet-lag you might see it on this website during the week of February 4th 1997.
Joe Banerjee is happy to answer any questions arising from this interview, but he won't have email access until the February 1, so send any questions on to Toffeenet, Kermit will save them for me and I'll answer them as soon as I can. Hope you enjoy it.
Joe Banerjee: First of all thanks very much for once again agreeing to the interview. After Saturday I would have understood if you had cancelled. Secondly, I want to say that, not only am I die-hard Everton fan, but I am a totally unabashed and unashamed Joe Royle fan ....
Joe Royle: Thank you.
JB: .... so if I ask a question which you think unfair I will only be doing so because I want to have some balance in the interview not because I agree with the question.
JR: No problem.
JB: Well it is almost a year to the day that we met last year, just before the Port Vale defeat. How would you sum up the year since then?
JR: The year overall has been successful. There is no doubt about it, despite our current run - current dismal run, the year has been successful. We finished sixth in the league, which was great progress from a side that had spent three years fighting relegation. We've got better players in, there is no doubt about it, with the signings of Nick Barmby, Gary Speed, Claus Thomsen and Terry Phelan. So I'm quite happy with the overall progress. It's just that at the moment we are in a dismal run. Football of course changes from game to game, people don't see the overall picture. My overall record here - I've had one full season and two half seasons - is the escape from relegation, which I would still put at the top of my CV; we won the cup; we finished sixth; we've been in Europe. That's all from a side that had three years struggling. As it stands now, we are ninth from top in the Premier Division. So it's an absurd situation really, but it does show you the fickle feeling of supporters (a) for the team and (b) for the manager.
JB: You've bought a number of players as you've just mentioned. Would you like to take the players individually and say how you think they've done in the team? Let's start with Nick Barmby.
JR: Well Nick up to now has found it a little bit hard settling in. He was bought to play a specific role, as a free player, and because we are having a bad time at the moment it is hard for him to be that free player. We need all hands to the pump. The idea was that we were changing as a side, developing as a side and Nick would give us that bit more control around our front areas. It hasn't worked out like that as yet, but he's only 22.
JB: Gary Speed?
JR: Gary's done well. He's got eight goals from midfield. Even in our lowest times this year, which is probably at the moment, he's still, as they say in football, there for you. He still gives you what he's got and he's a very committed player and he works hard for the team. So Gary I think has been a great success.
JB: Terry Phelan?
JR: Well Terry's just arrived and he's only had four games this season. He was out for a long time with injury, had got back into the Chelsea team and was doing well, but we'd lost Andy Hinchcliffe and we needed a left back. I knew that Terry wanted to return north and realistically for the 800,000 or 850,000 we paid for him, he represents marvellous value.
JB: Claus Thomsen?
JR: He's played one game and did well against Arsenal. Prior to that he'd only played three games, I think, for Ipswich after having a hernia operation. Again, it will take time for Claus to come to his best, but I know that in Denmark, and certainly with other Premiership clubs, they think we've stolen him. People think we've stolen him. For the player that he is, I'm sure he's one for the future as well. He can play either at midfield or at centre back.
JB: I was at the game against Arsenal and I was very impressed. I thought he had a very good debut especially in the first half.
JR: Yes he did and it was only when he tired later on, when his lack of match fitness told, that he became a bit leggy. He has to get match fit but we are quietly excited about Claus's future.
JB: There's one other player and that's Marc Hottiger. I think that probably wraps up the five that you've bought.
JR: Well when Marc was brought in at the end of last season there were severe doubts about Earl's future after he'd gone out with an operation. We didn't have a natural replacement on the books that I felt was what we needed. I thought that Matt Jackson had to get away from here to get his career going again. Marc was available and I took him from Newcastle. He'd been instrumental in a lot of Newcastle's success and you could say he was 10 minutes away from being a successful buy. Had we got into Europe last year, which looked like it, everyone would have said that he'd done well. But Earl has got fit again and Earl is seen as number one and Marc has struggled to get a game, and when he has come in this year he hasn't done particularly well. So you've got to say at the moment that, for whatever reason, Marc has not really come off as we'd have liked.
JB: Andrei Kanchelskis hasn't quite hit the form of last year.
JR: No, Andrei has found it hard to get going. He set such high standards last year 16 goals without penalties or free kicks was quite phenomenal but for whatever reason he hasn't quite got going this year. I know that he was deeply upset after the European failure of Russia in Euro '96, and I know equally that he was unsettled by all the talk about a move to Italy earlier on in the season which was quite mischievous really by a certain agent, but nevertheless it did unsettle him. For whatever reason, and they are all factors, he's not been himself.
JB: Those noises from Italy. Does it mean he was interested in going to Italy himself?
JR: No, I think it just unsettled him. I think it caught him at a very tender time when he was upset both with his own performances in Euro '96, and the Russians had played badly as a team. I think just that the timing was wrong. In a normal season it wouldn't have bothered him, but the two things together probably unsettled him and he's not been quite himself.
JB: Through the Internet I read a lot of match reports both from the national press and from people who have been at the game, and a lot of people commented on a small incident that I'd like to bring up now. After the first half at the Man. United game, we didn't score for three and a half games until Sheffield Wednesday at home when Andrei scored. The only person who went to congratulate him, it said in these reports, was Earl Barrett. The rumours about Italy were also flying around this time and I was wondering if anything had happened between Andrei and the other players or if there was any bad feeling between them?
JR: No, I don't think so. I think the realistic fact is that Andrei had run away from everybody and he was so far away from everybody ....
JB: Yes, someone did say that.
JR: .... and then he'd gone to the corner so that Earl was the only one near him. They certainly congratulated him after he came back. I think too much was made of it and that's quite symptomatic of what goes on in football now. Never let the truth stand in the way let's look for anything else. So, there's no problem with Andrei within the team. He speaks not sparse English, but certainly not fluent English, but there are no problems with Andrei.
JB: Do the team as a whole get on well?
JR: The spirit's fine. It always has been. I complain that they are too quiet, but nevertheless there is no problem with team spirit.
JB: That's good. With Andrei some people see him as a right-sided forward rather than as a winger. If that is the case he is really Duncan's striking partner up front, but then he's not always there for Duncan's knockdowns. Would you agree that's what he is (Duncan's striking partner) or is he an out-and-out winger?
JR: No, he's not an out-and-out right winger, because his crossing is not, say, as an out-and-out right winger's would be, and having got 16 goals last year it's fair to assume that he's a striker. And I think he's got seven goals this season so we can't be too critical of him as a striker. We have got goals from a number of sources, and obviously Andrei's six or seven contribute to our total.
JB: Going on to Duncan's striking partner. Do we need a proven goalscorer to partner him?
JR: Like who and who is available?
JB: Well I know that rumours are often just that, rumours, but we have been linked with Andy Cole and I personally thought that he was one that we might have gone for. Then he got pneumonia and then Neil Ruddock crocked his legs. Were you ever interested in him?
JR: I don't think it's fair to mention players from other clubs that you are linked with. It does unsettle them. We have the same situation here where I'm complaining about Andrei Kanchelskis being openly tapped in the press, as it were. So I don't think it's fair to talk about other people's players for the same reason.
JB: That's fair enough, but there must be players that you look at. Do you look all the time?
JR: I'm out five nights a week at some stages - whether I'm watching our reserves or our youth team .... I'm driving to Norwich after this interview to see our youth team and I'll be watching a game tomorrow [Tuesday] night. So myself and the chief scout are constantly out looking for players. We know all the players in England anyway. We know all the best players that would improve us and they are generally not available.
JB: So who starts transfer rumours?
JR: The papers make things up. They are quite happy if you knock them down, because that's the next day's story, but their motto is "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story." The Daily Mirror the other week had a letter from somebody complaining about the players I was supposed to be interested in, and they had made the players up that I was interested in anyway. So you just can't win.
JB: Is there a particular kind of Everton player that Everton fans like. Would you ever let that influence a decision where you think a player is good, but you think maybe the fans would crucify him?
JR: I remember speaking with Howard many years ago and Howard felt that there were certain players that wouldn't look right here. They might be ugly ducklings even though they were going to grow into a swan. There is that theory that sometimes they don't take to a player because he's not as easy on the eye, even though he does his job. So you have to be careful about that. You certainly couldn't have too many of those kind of players in the side. There were players that they never gave a chance to here. Brett Angel I think started three games, or something like that, and they'd decided that they weren't going to give him a chance. Equally they took to Duncan very quickly, who looks the part. So I know that there is that side of it and I am aware of it.
JB: One of the players who has taken a lot of stick is Earl Barrett, because possibly he isn't so easy on the eye. Whether he is or not he looks uncomfortable on the ball. He has taken a lot of stick and yet has done very well for us.
JR: Yes, he's defended very well, and you get people like Ryan Giggs saying he's the hardest player that he plays against and all the forwards in the Premier League would tell you that, but sometimes they just don't take to players and Earl's taken a long time to win them over.
JB: I noticed that Ryan Giggs's Premiership team had two Everton players in it, Andy Hinchcliffe and Earl Barrett, but how does a player who gets constantly knocked by the fans deal with it?
JR: Well, he's a very strong character. He's realised that he's taken a while, but I think there are signs of them warming to him. They're realising that he is a good defender and you must have them. He has defended very well for us ever since he's been here, but I couldn't argue with the fact that they have taken time to warm to him.
JB: The reports I've read suggest that he's probably played better at centre back than as a right back.
JR: No, he's played fine at full back, believe me. It's just different people see the game different ways. You'll find that he's one of those that the professionals admire, but not necessarily the punters. You have to say that the fella has now played in the Premiership for three different clubs and played for his country, so he's no mug.
JB: Just to go back to players and transfers, you went to see the Russians a number of times before Euro '96, and then you must have seen them during the tournament as well and they were probably the biggest disappointment as far as expectations were concerned ....
JR: They tend to be. When they get to tournaments they do let themselves down. The Russians technically are as good as any players in the world and I'd obviously felt that with Andrei here we could consider another Russian, that there might be a possibility that the two might thrive together. So I did consider it, but we've gone away from the idea completely now because of work permit problems. The overriding reason being that if they don't play 75% of your games in a season you won't get another work permit for them. No matter what their qualifications. We are going to have the same problems with Marc Hottiger who is a regular for Switzerland, but because he hasn't played enough games this year he won't get another work permit.
JB: Are work permits granted year to year or for the duration of a player's contract with a club?
JR: Year to year, not contract to contract. So realistically you have the chance at the end of a season of having a player registered for you who can't get a work permit to play. So we have to be very, very careful now taking in non-EC players.
JB: I asked about the Russians because of Tsymbalar.
JR: Tsymbalar is a great talent. There is no doubt about it.
JB: How do you cope with the pressure from fans? Coping with the intense demands of Everton fans, especially at home this season, must be a real headache.
JR: It is. It's massive. The demands and the expectancy. People forget how far we've come in three years. We've come a long way. I mean we have come a long way and make no mistake about it, but in our current run the pressure gets intense both on myself and on the team. The pressure is now raised more and more. More and more people have a say on football. Everybody tells them what is happening on football programmes and everyone's an expert. I would never dream of telling a computer expert, a bricklayer or a doctor how to do his job, but they all know my job better than me. And then you have the absurd situation where even the BBC have a phone-in. The dreaded phone-ins and fanzines, and letter pages which is just cheap journalism. There is a specific kind of person who joins in that kind of thing and they are usually very negative people. If you ask the press men themselves what credibility the people who write letters to papers have, they will tell you "We know most of them because they keep writing, they love seeing their names in the paper," but they keep printing them also. As for people who go on phone-ins, you'll find that people are on personal first-name terms with those people. So they don't represent true fans, but they do have a say. I don't know about the Internet. I've never looked at the Internet, whether you get the same people all the time.
JB: I would say the Internet is representative of what goes on in other mediums. When Everton are on a roll, Toffeenet is on a roll. When things go bad, the doom and gloom merchants hog the bandwidth. But I want to read you a "doom and gloom" piece and once this is over I will be able to relax. In fairness to the person who wrote it he didn't know you would be reading it and his wording might have been different if he had known.
JR: Let's see it.
(At this stage I let Joe Royle read a particularly vitriolic piece attacking him and his buying policy which I had culled from a message posted on Toffeenet.)
JB: To show you that not everyone agrees with that here's an opposing view.
(Here I let him read another Toffeenet message where the writer suggests that the "cream of European football" hasn't really cut it in England.)
JR: Well that's more towards the way I'm thinking. The success rate of foreign players over here is something like 10-1 against. Quite seriously, whether we like it or not, the game is quite unique and there have been a lot of failures. There have been a lot more failures than successes.
JB: Are foreign players just too hit and miss for you?
JR: Well the northern Europeans I know what we are going to get from them. They are the good type, the right type the English mentality. But certainly you have to be very, very careful with South Americans and other mentalities.
JB: Sometime mid-season when we had a long break I think you went to, according to rumours, Italy, Africa and Los Angeles. Have you changed your mind since then?
JR: No, because I'd always been very, very suspicious but equally when you hear of a very, very special talent you still have to see it. You have got to say that Ronaldo, whether he's Brazilian or not, you'd have to be interested in taking a chance. They have to be very, very special talents and I've still got to see them, but I've got certain criteria in my head that they will have to pass, having met them, so that they are of the right mentality. So we shall see.
JB: This is the second time I have met you and just as with the last time you immediately made me feel comfortable and any nervousness on my part disappeared almost immediately. I can understand that you feel pressure and you want Everton to win as much as any fan, but criticism like that (the vitriolic piece), criticism in the press, the graffiti on the wall (outside Bellefield) is surely not important, the only opinion that matters is the Chairman's isn't it?
JR: Well the Chairman up till now has been very supportive, but let's not get carried away we are talking about five games - five League games on the trot.
JB: I agree.
JR: The whole thing is out of perspective. We are actually in with the chance of the same amount of domestic trophies as Liverpool, and we're still the last team on Merseyside to have won a trophy. People get carried away, but because it is the third time that we have been giant-killed in the last 12 months I think the reaction has been overstated. Nevertheless, that will happen and it will continue to be whipped up by the media.
JB: I didn't read this myself, but someone told me that they read in the papers that the Chairman had said words to the effect of "we have total confidence in Joe Royle and he isn't going anywhere". That sounded to me like the dreaded "vote of confidence" which usually starts the stopwatch ....
JR: But if he says nothing, they'll (the press) say "he wouldn't comment on the managerial issue", if he says something they'll say exactly what you said. So it's a no-win issue.
JB: You have a point. I don't know the Chairman, you do, but I can't believe that you are under any pressure from him.
JR: No, the Chairman's fine. The Chairman's a very sensible man. He runs a multi-million pound business. When we beat Derby on December 16th, we were then being seen as Championship contenders and now we're talking about five weeks later and we're down and out and the manager's going to go. Football - there's no other business like it, but I know that; you know that when you go into it.
JB: This season .... I hear a lot about we've lost the plot or we've been derailed. Do you feel that we have been derailed in the last six games?
JR: I think we have. It started with a horrendous injury list. Again if you don't mention it people don't see the truth and if you do mention it people see it as an excuse. But quite seriously we've missed key players. That couldn't be said of Saturday because we had near enough a full strength side out, but we've not lost the plot we've lost players.
JB: I personally think that the loss of Andy Hinchcliffe, which is almost where it started, was massive.
JR: England international.
JB: Exactly, the high ranking Italian official who said he "gives the England team shape" was spot on in my opinion. The only game I'd seen this season before the Arsenal game was the Nottingham Forest away and although it wasn't a great game ....
JR: But we were solid.
JB: We were solid and I could see why he was selected by Glenn Hoddle.
JR: Well you miss good players, but people don't have that time. Particularly in a town like this which is an aggressive town, views are held by everybody on everything. Quite seriously the pressure of Liverpool, people want success yesterday and success isn't seen as staying up. Success is winning things.
JB: Of the games we've played this season the 7-1 victory of Southampton stands out because of the scoreline, but I thought the Liverpool game was the best one because we out played and out passed the passing side. What would you say was our best game?
JR: I think we played very well at Anfield. We certainly did. We passed the ball very well. We were high on confidence and we felt unlucky not to win the game. We were outstanding against Southampton equally, but we just haven't done that consistently. We've had other games when we've been solid but not spectacular. We were spectacular in those two games and fairly solid, but for whatever reason it's not a matter of having lost the plot we haven't been consistent. But we're still two years away from three years struggling and it takes a long time. People don't want to hear about time and patience. Newcastle have spent 70 million in four years and they still haven't won a thing.
JB: The timing of this interview is not brilliant, not just because of Saturday, but because the temptation is always to look at the immediate past and I wanted to focus on the entire picture of the year since we met, but where do we go from here?
JR: We've got to win games. Quite seriously we've got to start winning again and very quickly because we don't want to be looking over our shoulder at the sides below us, we want to be looking ahead of us and try and catch the eight sides who are better off than us at the moment. We are in a bad run, but it is nothing more than that. There is no lack of spirit. There is no "we've lost the plot." We've not got a bunch of bad players all of a sudden, because six games ago we were ten games unbeaten.
JB: When I saw the names of the players come up on the big screen at Highbury announcing our team, it struck me once again that on paper we've got a good side.
JR: Good side and good players. A bit over balanced with forward players, but what we might have to do is get right back down to basics to grind out one or two results. The problem has been changing from an aggressive all action side which was functional to, shall we say, a more easy-on-the-eye side who can go on and win things. There have been problems in the change-over. It's looked good against Southampton, it's looked good against Liverpool. We've looked not so good when we played Sunderland and Leeds at home. So there is a fine line but everybody wants success yesterday.
JB: Anders Limpar. Is there a story there that you will tell when you retire?
JB: It will happen then, so it won't happen today?
JB: Has Vinnie Samways gone?
JR: He's gone to Tenerife.
JB: Has he been sold?
JR: Yes, we got 700,000 for him.
JB: Everton transfers always seem so tortuous. I've read that even making Duncan permanent here wasn't that easy. Could you tell me what your role was in that? Again, I read somewhere that you gave him a personal tour of the gallery of Everton centre-forwards or something like that.
JR: Duncan really wanted to stay here. As soon as I came I had a chat with him about things and he thought he'd come down for a loan period and nothing more, but when I asked him would he seriously consider staying here he looked at what was happening and he wanted to stay and be a part of it. It wasn't hard to convince Duncan, you know, the way we were going at the time.
JB: OK. Coming back to Saturday, I remember after the Port Vale game you said something along the lines of "all the players are up for sale."
JR: I said that I saw that game as a watershed and it was used against me in the local press at a later date. What I actually meant was decisions were made that night that were going to go on no matter what happened the rest of the season. I felt that certain players had reached as far as they could with Everton and needed to move on.
JB: What did you say to them after the game on Saturday?
JR: We sat down and had a chat. I asked them if they had anything to say, anything to complain about me or Willy (Donachie). It would have been too easy to rant and rave and shout aimless things. I wanted to know how they saw it and why they saw that we were struggling with the players that we have. We had a good open chat about things.
JB: But did our season end on Saturday? (with the FA Cup loss to Bradford City)
JR: The season doesn't end. There's 15 games to go. As I say we want to finish as high as we can. It is still not impossible for us to run on for a European place as we did last year, and we don't also to be looking over our shoulder. So we need to start winning as soon as possible.
JB: How do you relax outside the game. There is so much pressure on you.
JR: Well it just goes on and on. I have two Labradors that I take to the woods or the beach. I have a very understanding wife and boys who have been home this weekend to support after the bad result. It was like relations turning up after a death in the family. (Both of us laugh at this line.)
JB: Do any of your boys play?
JR: One of them plays non-League standard, but he's never played higher than that. He's played at Altrincham which was decent.
JB: A lot of players and even managers are known for their fondness of alcohol ....
JR: I'm not teetotal, but I'm not a drinker.
JB: My question wasn't going to be about you, but rather the amount of drink that there is in football. An Olympic athlete probably doesn't touch alcohol at all and yet in professional football you read about Paul Gascoigne saying that the difference between Italy and here is that when they go out they sit down to eat, where as we sit down to drink. There were also the colourful stories of Duncan in the papers. Do we as a club have any say in what our players do with regard to drinking and eating, because what they eat is also very important?
JR: Well there has always been a club rule that players aren't seen out in licensed premises after the Wednesday before a game. In other words 48 hours before a game. But we don't really have a problem here with drink despite all the publicity about Duncan, who seldom goes out. If he did drink a lot he certainly doesn't now. We have players who will have a drink after a game, that's for sure, but I don't think there's a drink problem. However, I know what you are saying, there does seem to have been a mentality in football to 'win or lose have a booze'. But the paradox to that is that English players never suffer from fitness. They are strong mentally, strong physically and when English players are beaten it's usually by technique rather than by fitness.
JB: You know I started by saying that I was a die-hard Everton fan and an unabashed Joe Royle fan and I am. It's not going to happen, but I would be looking for the Everton score first thing Sunday morning even if we were relegated to the Northern Premier League ....
JR: Well me too. The thing that people forget is that I wear the hat of a fan as well. So I'm not just here as a manager. I know what's required and I know what we want to be, but you do need time, it doesn't change overnight.
JB: Absolutely, as Kermit in Seattle said, Joe Royle is the biggest Everton fan of all.
JR: I mean I know what is required here. I never said we were going to win the League six games ago, and I certainly don't think that after the six games we've had that we're going to go down either. There has to be a happy medium.
JB: Well, keep the balance and don't let the dogs get at you.
JR: Well they're waiting downstairs now and they'll be angling their questions for the answers they want with their stories already written.
JB: Are they coming up here?
JR: No, I'll see them downstairs. I don't let them up here.
JB: Would it be possible to sit in on that?
JR: Sure. Just give me five minutes to see Nick Barmby and I'll be down there.
JB: Well once again, thanks. It seems such a small word for something that means a great deal to me personally and quite a lot to others as well.
JR: You're welcome Joe. Come and see us whenever you're over.
© Copyright Joe Banerjee 1997 Not to be reproduced without permission