Is it time to ditch the away goal rule?

Back in the early days of European competition when it was virtually stepping into the unknown, UEFA introduced the concept of the away goal from 1965-66.  The rationale behind this was to try to introduce a fairer means of deciding which team could progress if both teams drew both legs.  Previously matches had been decided at a neutral venue or even by the toss of a coin.

Liverpool in 1965 had famously progressed at the expense of Cologne to the semi-final of the European cup after two draws and a 2-2 draw at Feyenoord’s ground still couldn’t decide the tie.  Even then it took a second toss of the coin as it landed on its side in a divot on the pitch.


Due to the obvious unfairness of deciding a tie on the toss of a coin, plus the difficulties of arranging a replay match at a neutral venue, the idea of the away goal was introduced.

Another reason was that the consensus amongst most teams was to be more defensive away from home with the logic that the home tie would be the best position to win the tie.  Consequently the away goal was seen as a method to encourage the away team to be more attacking.

It was first used in a cup winners cup tie in the 1965-66 season when Budapest Honvéd beat Dukla Prague on away goals in the second round.  The following season it was introduced in the Fairs cup and after being applied in the early rounds in 1967-68 and 1968-69 was introduced for all rounds from 1970-71 in the European cup as well as the Cup winners cup and UEFA cup.

Back in those days, European football was like stepping into the unknown.  Travelling was arduous and there wasn’t much information in terms of the opposition.  Crowds could be volatile with all sorts of intimidation tactics being used such as camping outside the hotel and making as much noise as possible.

Added to which the pitches were not always immaculate, getting a result away from home was pretty decent as the home leg was always the one (especially if it was the second leg) were it was felt that you had an advantage.  The consensus back then was to weather the storm and finish the job at home or to hold out if you were away for the second leg.

One of the big European giants Benfica became the first team to benefit from the away goal rule in the European cup and saved their blushes in the prospect.  After drawing 0-0 against Northern Ireland champions Glentoran at home in the second leg it was Eusebio’s equaliser in Belfast that saw the Portuguese side go through on the away goal.  Incidentally Glentoran were four minutes away from a famous victory until Eusebio scored.  As it was Benfica reached the final only to be beaten Matt Busby’s Manchester United 4-1 in extra time to claim the European cup for the first time in their history.

It was a system that seemed to work quite well and was deemed to try to encourage the away side to score.  There were a few instances were winning by the away goal was highly celebrated.  After drawing 0-0 at Anfield, Liverpool put on a professional job drawing 1-1 away at Bayern Munich in the 1981 European cup semi-final.  Ray Kennedy’s goal enough to win see them through were another Kennedy (Alan) scored the winner against Real Madrid in the final.

As recent as 2009 a fantastic strike and equaliser by Iniesta at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea was enough to Barcelona to go through on the away goal.  The Catalan club would then go on to beat Manchester United 2-0 in Rome to complete a treble.

The question now is whether the away goal rule is still pertinent.  In some respects it could even be argued that playing the second leg away now means you have an advantage even if you draw the home leg 0-0.  For example if the away team scores then the home team has to score twice in whatever is left of the ninety minutes.  As Jonathan Wilson author the football pyramid states should a goal carry more worth than another?

Like everything else football has evolved.  There are no new frontiers with no significant secrets about teams or how they play.  Preparation is a lot more better and comfortable than it previously was where teams just wanted to get in and out.  Even a one or two nil loss wouldn’t be seen as too bad away in the first leg.  A lot of teams were confident that it could be overturned in the home leg.

Tactics have also changed were certain teams and coaches are reactive even if they are at home.  Consequently with better pitches compared to some of the mud baths that teams had to endure it can be more about overcoming a teams tactics over two legs.

It could also be said that if a reactive team gets a 1-1 draw away in the first leg then rather than trying to be more open will be as defensive as possible, knowing that even a 0-0 draw would see you through.  There is also the fact that even if the game goes into extra time then the away team has the advantage of knowing that the away goal rule will still count.  Something that the home team did not have the luxury of in the first leg.

The question being now is whether the away goal still has a relevance and is a fair away to decide a tie.  In some respects it could be argued that the rule does need to be reviewed.  No goal should be worth more especially as tactics and the game as a result have changed.

Of course the problem is what to replace the away goal with in European competition.  There are some options that spring to mind.  You could still keep the away goal but like the English league cup only counts after extra time. Others have suggested that if the away goals should only count if the away side has scored two or more. Alternatively the rule could be completely scrapped with extra time and penalties to decide the tie.  The latter would probably be the only way to go if the away goal is deemed to be unfair.

Times have changed and perhaps it may be worth UEFA reviewing the away goal.  Of course it is a fairer way than the toss of a coin and arranging a replay is not feasible.  Nevertheless should a goal be worth more than another and that is the nub of the matter.












The conundrum of Klopp’s Liverpool

Over the years various managers from Roy Evans, Rafa Benitez, and even Brendan Rodgers have got close to winning Liverpool’s nineteenth league title but just couldn’t make it past the post.  Ironically the latter two  finished with more points than the 1989-90 team that last won the league.  Even Gerard Houllier in 2001-02 finished on 80 pts as the reds finished runners-up.

Jurgen Klopp is now the latest coach who has to deal with the history of expectation whilst having to handle Liverpool’s current standing in the current climate.

Liverpool under his tutelage are one of the most entertaining teams around but equally they also have supporters pulling their hair out in frustration.  Brilliant one week and the next looking woeful.  Equally there have been instances where Liverpool can be three up, but end up hanging on near the end, like a punch drunk boxer after conceding soft goals to let the opposition back into the game.

Klopp has certainly got the best out of the current crop of players and undoubtedly is still one of the best coaches around.  Under him Liverpool press the opposition using pace and aggression.  This system brought Klopp two back to back Bundesliga titles and the German cup.  It was a remarkable achievement considering the financial mess Dortmund were in when Klopp took charge.

As a result Klopp implemented an aggressive pressing system with Liverpool encouraged to press and work the opposition hard.  It is a system were even the forwards are expected to put in a shift by constantly hassling the back line and equally being the first form of defence when losing the ball.

It certainly brought Liverpool big wins on the pitch especially against teams who like to play a bit more expansive.  In Klopp’s first full season in charge they literally blew teams away who didn’t know how to cope with the speedy aggressive play that was unleashed.

Reaction to Liverpool’s pressing tactics

With teams being smashed like a door by a battering ram due to Liverpool’s aggressive and skilful forward play, some have changed their tactics in order to obtain a positive result.  Knowing that if they attempt to try to outplay Liverpool they will get overrun they play deep instead.

Although Liverpool may have the quality players and certainly in Salah, Mane, and Firmino they have a trio that would test the best of defences it is hard to get behind an organised defence.

Depending on your football philosophy you don’t necessarily have to possess the ball in order to control the game.  If you have your players restricting space and knowing where to move in order to restrict Liverpool’s movement and opportunities to split the defence.


This has seen many teams adopting this tactic especially as it has frustrated Liverpool and won points.  Recently Swansea used it to good effect and even took their opportunities to win the game despite Liverpool obtaining possession for the majority of the match.

As stated by some critics it is what you do with the possession and how you unlock the defences in front of you.  Midfield is an area that is quite crucial in that respect and where Liverpool can let themselves down.  Sometimes the midfielders have been too slow or lack the guile and imagination to get between the lines.

For example against Everton in the 1-1 draw, Henderson received the ball with a gap in the Toffee’s midfield.  Mane was free but the pass needed to be hit straight away for him to make that run.  Instead Henderson took that extra touch and although it was only a few seconds the Everton players were quickly able to get back into position to pick up the ball.

It’s not just Henderson who at times slows the midfield but Wijnaldum, Milner and Can.  When teams are defending deep it is a case of trying to stretch the opposition and to try to use a bit of vision to open up gaps.  That’s why Lallana has been a major miss this season as he has the ability to thread the ball through tight channels for teammates to exploit.

Defence has been an issue for Liverpool for the last few years.  Klopp has been trying to rectify this enigma with set-pieces also causing problems for Liverpool.  The idea of pressing when losing the ball is to defend from the front to retain the ball by restricting space and closing down avenues in order to obtain the ball and hit quickly on the break.

Liverpool for some reason appear to wilt under the slightest pressure.  The two goals Rodriguez scored for West Brom that helped knock Liverpool saw the middle of Liverpool’s defence break away too easily.

Composure is what is required when defending and although easier said than done due to the amount of energy required to press, it is vital to restrict space and look to regain the ball as quickly as possible.  In Honigstein’s book ‘Klopp bring the noise,’ coaching assistant and chief scout Peter Krawietz states that winning the ball back from the opposition is when they are at the most vulnerable.  The idea being that they may be slightly out of position ready to attack and therefore you can exploit that bit of space if everybody presses forward to gain the advantage.

The frustration can be seen on Klopp’s face as the team no doubt are put through their paces in training to eradicate these mistakes.  Yet under the pressure of a proper match Liverpool struggle to do what is required.

It doesn’t help that the goalkeeper is still a major issue for Liverpool.  Neither Karius or Mignolet appear to be the answer.  Positioning, decision-making, and distribution are something lacking.  The defence do not appear to trust the keeper which in turn has a domino affect as it causes nervousness amongst the back four.

Expectation and the history of the club weighs heavily on each manager to deliver what is now the holy grail of Liverpool becoming league champions for the nineteenth time.  Trophies have been won in that period although the last time Liverpool lifted any silverware was the league cup in 2012.

Klopp is the latest manager to deal with the pressure of the past and at the same time compete in the current climate against sides who have bigger resources.  Matters are not helped by some fans who expect instant success.

Liverpool are still competing for a top four finish and are in the last sixteen of the champions league.  The latter of course could still see Liverpool produce high drama such as the Europa cup run in 2016.  For Klopp it is all about the adventure and enjoying the roller-coaster ride.

Yet progress still has to be seen in making that step towards challenging for the league.  Van Dijk has been signed for a record fee of £75 million with Keita set to join in July from Leipzig.  There will probably be more signings especially if players such as Can and Sturridge leave.

The question then will be whether they have the ability required to make Liverpool more organised when defending as well as having the intelligence to break teams down.  All of this is easier said than done and there have been too many times of trying to get the right  jigsaw piece only for it not to fit.

Jürgen Klopp despite the debates and opinions is the one who has the final say and only time will tell if he can successfully bridge that gap so many others have faltered.

Liverpool in the 90’s – The Spice boy era

Wembley on a bright May day prior to the FA cup final can be a glorious sight.  Much was expected in the Cup final of 1996 as Liverpool took on Manchester United in what many hoped would be a classic final.

That though was marginally fractured when the Liverpool squad strolled out onto the lush green Wembley pitch in  flash Armani white suits.  It had to be said that the suits looked ridiculous with the team looking a bunch of ice cream sellers.  However the image and the nickname of ‘Spice boys,’ stuck and was seen to epitomise what was wrong with Roy Evans Liverpool.  It was a team that was perceived as all image and no substance.  More interested in partying with football coming a poor second.

Time is always a chance to put things in perspective and the criticism aimed at Roy Evans can be seen to be harsh.  Liverpool were consistently in the top four and played some of the best football around of that particular era.

Unfortunately for Roy Evans, Liverpool’s dominance was still recent when he took charge in 1994.  After all their last title was in 1990 and prior to that had plundered so many trophies from the 1960’s to 1990 that it would put a Viking haul to shame.  With detested rivals Manchester United the dominant force, the pressure was instantly on Roy Evans to put Liverpool back on its perch.

After the sacking of Graeme Souness whose two and a half years in charge were turbulent.  Due to poor signings, unrest in the dressing room, and trying to change things too quickly, time was called on Souness’s reign as manager.

The problem Liverpool had, was of who to appoint to make Liverpool the dominant force once more.  Looking at the possible candidates at that time there are none that particularly stick out.

Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing to say that Liverpool should have looked further afield to foreign shores.  It is easy to say that Liverpool could have beaten Arsenal to the punch by appointing Arsene Wenger two years before he agreed to join the Gunners.  At that time English football was insular with the possibility that someone like Wenger would have had problems getting his ideas across.  Like the Czech Jozef Venglos whose stint at Aston Villa in 1990 was short-lived there could have been a good chance that the players didn’t take to him.  Furthermore Wenger inherited a strong defence at Arsenal which would not have been the case at Liverpool.  Either way it would have been a brave move for Liverpool to have taken a chance looking at that particular period in time.

Closer to home the only names that could be considered was John Toshack.  Success at Real Madrid and Sociedad as well as having played for Liverpool would make him a serious contender.  As it was Toshack had allegedly missed his chance after turning down the job down in 1991.

Although hypothetical there could have been a chance of trying to bring Kenny Dalglish back to Anfield.  This might have been hard considering that he was building a Blackburn Rovers team that would eventually win the title for the 94/95 season.

That left the bootroom and as Roy Evans was literally the last man standing, was seen as the man to steady the ship and ensure that the traditions of Liverpool were kept.  Ronnie Moran another Anfield stalwart would ensure that his experience and knowledge would also be used.

Football at that particular time was at the crossroads between the old world and the new world of the Premier league.  Not just in terms of the money that was being splashed around but in terms of professionalism.  The acceptable wisdom that a few beers was okay was eventually eradicated to a regime more similar to a high-profile athlete.  Evans had to deal with that as well as re-building a football team that had high expectations from its supporters.

Added to which Evans was used to a world of where players like Souness, Dalglish, Hansen, and Case would take personal responsibility.  Being professional and having the desire to win even if that meant ruffling feathers in the changing room if teammates were not pulling their weight.

This new Liverpool did not have those characters who didn’t care whether it was the European cup final or a Sunday league match.  Winning was what it was all about and the likes of Souness, Dalglish, Case, St. John, and Smith epitomises this during their time at playing at Anfield.

Bill Shankly was certainly a tough character who stood no messing and made sure that his players knew of the high standards that he expected.  Despite looking like your favourite Uncle’s in their comfortable cardigan and flat cap, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan were as hard as nails who ruled like a Mafia Don when required.  Roy Evans though didn’t have that steel and ability of when to knock a player into line and when to shown him the door.

Ultimately it is about having respect and sadly Evans could not command that from his team.  Part of the job is knowing when to rid the club of bad influences and players who lacked professionalism.  For example Neil Ruddock should have been one of the first to be shown the door.  Aside from the pass the pound game that he was alleged to have instigated (a pound coin would be passed throughout the match and the last person with the coin after the final whistle had to buy the first round) and loud mouthed slogan ‘win, lose, or draw, first to the bar,’ Ruddock hardly looked after himself.

There were also instances of players competing to steal his car park space, not showing up for training, and general ill discipline that led to supporters that the players were not at all that serious about winning.

Some ex-players dispute the lack of discipline and state that Evans could be strict.  After all Don Hutchinson had been bombed out over a drunken indiscretion and Stan Collymore after proving too much of a disruptive influence.  The truth as they say is somewhere in the middle but it has to be said that discipline was not Evans strong point.

Despite having being tasked with re-building a team going backwards there was a nucleus of good youngsters coming through.  McManaman and Fowler through the ranks with Redknapp, Jones, and James the other youth players cited to have the potential to be top players.

Evans was shown to be a coach who wasn’t afraid to change things.  He did introduce three at the back in an attempt to not just stabilise the defence but with the two wing backs added to support the attack.  There was also the nous in the sense of pushing John Barnes into a central role after his losing his pace.  Barnes experience and passing helped keep the midfield ticking over.

Yet there was the sense that Liverpool were falling behind their rivals not just tactically but on how they trained and approached games.  The Liverpool way was always about not showing any sentiment and ensuring that they always stayed one step ahead of the opposition.

Matches and high-profile defeats such as the mist game against Ajax, Red Star Belgrade, and Watford were all instrumental in how Liverpool changed their approach and tactics.  For example the Belgrade game taught the importance of retaining the ball and led to the centre-halves being expected to be comfortable in bringing the ball out.

Liverpool in the mid nineties were still using the old and trusted methods of the past.  John Scales the former centre half talks in Simon Hughes Men in white suits ‘The wooden target boards were still used and they were rotting away. There was no tactical or technical analysis.  There were so many bad habits.’

Ironically Liverpool who had previously always prided themselves in being ahead of the game had allowed themselves to stagnate by continually sticking to old and trusted habits.  Previously the bootroom had been more than aware that the game continually evolved.

There was also complaints that Evans was too simplistic in his views.  That he didn’t have the ability to be able to change things when it wasn’t working or instructing his players what he wanted out of them.  Again times had changed and the mantra of instructing players to ‘play your own game,’ may have worked previously when the team was a well-functioning machine with players signed to play that position but not a team that was being built.

Despite all this the football was highly entertaining with some eye-catching attacking football.  With Robbie Fowler banging in the goals it seemed that if Liverpool could iron out the problems at the back and a view at the time adding a bit more steel in the midfield then Liverpool would end their wait for a nineteenth league title.

As it was Roy Evans signings fell way short of backing up the potential that was already at the club.  Players such as Phil Babb, Jason McAteer, Kennedy, Scales, Leonhardsen, Friedel, and Kvarme to name but a few failed to deliver.  Paul Ince may have been seen as being the steel Liverpool needed but he was not the player that previously excelled in the Manchester United field.

Stan Collymore was Evans high-profile signing from Nottingham Forest for £8.5 million.  Despite his talents he was still a risk after being a disruptive influence at Forest and his previous clubs Southend.

In Collymore’s first season he was productive with him and Fowler terrorising defenders and scoring goals in abundance.  Yet the problems that had dogged his career re-surfaced at Liverpool.  Collymore failed to turn up to training regularly and lacked the professionalism required.  It is only now that we know of Collymore’s battle with mental illness.  Evans unfortunately didn’t have the capacity to recognise this or the ability to deal with the issues as a result.

Success and certainly at a club like Liverpool is what a manager is judged on and Evans fell short.  There was of course optimism when Liverpool beat Bolton to win the league cup in 1995 but that was to be the only bit of silverware that Evans won in his tenure as manager.

Roy Evans despite finishing no lower than fourth in the league failed in delivering the league title.  The nearest that he came to it was in the 1996/97 season when Liverpool finished fourth in a two horse race.  During the run in when the pressure is high it is about delivering results and keeping that nerve.  Liverpool could not take advantage and despite getting themselves in a good position after beating Arsenal at Highbury they messed up by losing at home against Coventry.  As it was a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday saw Liverpool finish fourth rather than nabbing even a champions league spot.

The harsh reality as cited by Fowler and other ex-reds of that period is that the team simply were not good enough.  None of Evans signings made a lasting impression and it would be fair to say that Patrik Berger and Danny Murphy were probably his only real success.

Fowler in his autobiography believes that Liverpool were not that far behind and not in as bad a state as Gerard Houllier made out.  That is a fair point but at that stage the pressure was taking its toll on Roy Evans.  In his interviews during Evans final full season in charge looked tired and unwell as he seemed to be buckling under the pressure.  The summer of 1998 the Liverpool board should have either continued to back Evans or cut ties.  As it was David Moores fudged the issue and went with a joint manager venture of Evans and Houllier which didn’t work.  After defeat to Tottenham in the league cup in November 1998, Evans called time with Houllier now solely in charge.

The legacy of Roy Evans Liverpool is one of a team that played swashbuckling, cavalier football.  Nobody will forget the two 4-3’s against Newcastle that seemed to sum up both teams attitude at the time.

There is also the negative image of the partying, up for a laugh, not really caring, and lack of professionalism that hogged the headlines of some of the Liverpool players.  Indeed it could be argued that whilst Manchester United had Roy Keane, Liverpool had Neil Ruddock and that crucially is the difference in terms of attitudes installed in the team.

Even now some of Evans ex-players do cite a lack of discipline and leniency.  Jason McAteer says of his former manager ‘I think he found it hard to drop or discipline players.  We were all his boys.  We had some big characters there, and he found it difficult to deal with the Collymores and Ruddocks.’  Maybe Evans expected his players to be more adult and take responsibility but a manager has to quickly stamp out any indiscipline and make an instant mark.  Evans failed to do so.

Of course if some of the signings had been real quality and if they had got players like Thuram or Desailly then things might have been different.  As it was Liverpool were great in attack but brittle at the back.

Thrown into the mix was that Liverpool’s methods were still stuck too much in the past.  What had worked previously didn’t mean it still did.  In terms of tactics, training, and diet it all needed a fresh approach.  Something that ironically Liverpool had never been afraid to do in the past.

It could be argued that Evans was unlucky with injuries with Rob Jones finishing his career early and a serious injury to Redknapp whilst playing for England meant he never got the best out of some that young potential.

Evans Liverpool despite its frustrations still provides some fond memories.  The football was fun and at the beginning with the likes of Fowler and McManaman the future did seem bright.  Yet the team fell short and unfortunately it was to be the white suits and not trophies for what Evans Liverpool will be remembered for.



When the player-manager was in vogue

The 1980’s invokes images of big hair, shoulder pads, crap but catchy pop tunes, blockbuster movies that were original and a time when there was only four TV channels to choose from.  It was also the period that the player manager became fashionable after Liverpool led the trend by appointing Kenny Dalglish as player manager who promptly led the reds to the double in his first season in charge.

Prior to 1985 the view was pretty much the same as now.  A manager needed to be experienced to manage at the top-level.  Furthermore a manager needed to take a detached view to assess the play and make changes when required.  Being on the pitch would limit that opportunity whilst also making the relationship with players slightly difficult.  The role of manager also means responsibilities off the pitch such as contracts, scouting, discussions with the coaching staff, and media work.  Something which can distract from concentrating on your game.

The only time that a player became a coach was either in a moment of instability such as the manager being dismissed.  In other circumstances it would be due to a lack of numbers such as when Don Revie had to name himself as a player when he first took charge of Leeds.  A player manager was never intended to be a long-term prospect.  That of course belonged to the comic pages of Roy of the Rovers.

One of the greatest players in the club’s illustrious history Kenny Dalglish could quite easily have hung up his boots and still have been a Liverpool legend.  As it was Kenny Dalglish was to become an icon for his achievements and statesman like support for the city.

There are no specific reasons as to why the Liverpool board decided to appoint Dalglish as manager.  With Fagan being the last of the original boot room staff perhaps they felt it was time for a new generation to lead Liverpool forward.  They may also have felt with the likes of Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans as part of the backroom staff it would make the transition easier whilst Dalglish learned the ropes.  For extra support Bob Paisley was to provide assistance and advice when required.

With the aftermath of Heysel which led to English clubs being banned from Europe after Liverpool fans were responsible for the death of thirty-nine mainly Juventus supporters it was in some respects a season of uncertainty for the 1985-86 season.

Everton were very much in the ascendency whilst Manchester United’s ten straight wins to the season saw them viewed as genuine title contenders.  It seemed that this was to be a season of transition as Dalglish got to grips with management.  Alan Hansen would later complain to his friend and manager that it was the worst Liverpool team that he had played in.

That was something else that Kenny Dalglish had to get to grips with and that was the relationship between being a player and now being their boss.  It meant distancing himself away from his teammates and not allowing himself to be involved with the jokes of the changing room.  Now it was his responsibility not just to install discipline but ensure that there was no favouritism.  Players would have to be dropped even sold whilst Dalglish picked what he thought would be his best eleven. That incidentally also meant dropping himself if appropiate.

Despite all these problems Liverpool still managed to keep themselves within distance as Manchester United faltered.  However a 2-0 defeat at home against Merseyside rivals Everton in February saw many believing that the title would be staying at Goodison.

This though was when it started to resemble a story from Roy of the Rovers as Liverpool went on a twelve game unbeaten run gaining thirty-four points.  The turning point had been when Everton had unexpectedly lost 1-0 away to Oxford whilst Liverpool beat Leicester at Filbert street.  It meant that the title was no longer in Everton’s hands with Liverpool needing to beat Chelsea to clinch their sixteenth championship.

It was to be a spectacular goal from the player manager Kenny Dalglish as he carefully chested the ball with his upper body before rifling the ball into the Chelsea net.  No manager had single-handedly won the title but that goal by Dalglish did.


A week later Liverpool had the chance of becoming only the fifth club to win the ‘Double.’  Standing in Liverpool’s way was Everton who had narrowly missed out on winning the title.

Once again the story of the match resembled something out of the pages of Roy of the Rovers.  Everton started off well and took the lead courtesy of a Gary Lineker goal as they led at half-time.

The second half was to be Liverpool although a bust up between Bruce Grobbelaar and Jim Beglin after a mix seemed to galvanise the team.  It was to be the finger tip save over the bar from Grobbelaar from a Graham Sharp header that was to be turning point.

By now Jan Molby was running the midfield and played the ball through for Everton’s kryptonite Ian Rush to equalise.  It was Molby again who set up Craig Johnston before Rush secured the cup and broke the camera as it hit the back of the net.

Image result for kenny dalglish 1986 cup final;

Wearing a large red hat and a beaming smile Kenny Dalglish had led Liverpool to an unexpected double.  Both on and off the pitch he had been influential in adding a new chapter of continued success for Liverpool.

The next season was to see Liverpool end the season empty-handed finishing runner-up to Everton in the league and being beaten by Arsenal 2-1 in the Littlewoods league cup final.

Although Dalglish had tried to restrict his presence on the pitch Liverpool still missed his influence.  Conscious that the team couldn’t rely on his presence on the pitch forever he aimed at bringing in players to remedy this concern.  Spending some of the money as Ian Rush had been sold to Juventus it was to lead to one of the most exciting Liverpool teams as Dalglish signed John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, and Ray Houghton.

For the 1987-88 season Dalglish’s influence was now from the dug out as the reds ran away with the title going twenty nine games unbeaten.  A FA cup win the following season followed although that season would be remembered for the ninety-six lives lost at the semi-final at Hillsborough through the gross negligence of the Police and authorities responsible for hosting the venue.  Kenny Dalglish was to be a statesman and support for the club and the city of Liverpool during this traumatic time.

The club retained the title in 1990 with Kenny Dalglish to make his final bow as a player coming on as a substitute against Derby County on the 5th May when Liverpool had clinched their eighteenth league title.  A year later Kenny Dalglish had left Liverpool after the 4-4 all draw against Everton in the FA cup final.  The pressure and Hillsborough had caused a massive strain on Dalglish who for the sake of his health stepped down.

Due to the success of Kenny Dalglish there was a spate of player-managers.  Glasgow Rangers had decided to follow Liverpool’s lead and appointed Dalglish’s former team-mate Graeme Souness in 1986.  Prior to taking charge, Rangers had last won the league in 1978 with the only recent success coming in the Scottish league cup.  Aberdeen under Alex Ferguson prior to taking charge of Manchester United had knocked Rangers into the shade to become the dominant force in Scottish football.  With Celtic winning the title in 1986 Rangers felt that swift action was required to ensure that they did not stagnate further.


As a player Souness was a proven winner as he won numerous league championships and European cups with Liverpool.  Sampdoria had also brought success with a Coppa Italia and he was still very much a formidable player at thirty-three.  With money to spend Souness signed the top stars of the English game.  The likes of Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, and Graham Roberts were signed.  Other English stars to follow were  Mark Walters, Gary Stevens, Trevor Stevens Ray Wilkins, and Trevor Francis.

It was to have an instant impact even though Graeme Souness was to mark his tenure on his debut by being sent off in the 34th minute for two straight yellows against Hibernian.  The second yellow could quite easily have been a red for what was a nasty challenge on George McCluskey.  Despite this Rangers won the Scottish Premier league and league cup beating Celtic in the final of Souness’s first season in charge.

During his time in Scotland Souness was constantly at loggerheads with the SFA with Souness admitting years later that he ‘was obnoxious and difficult to deal with.’  One touch-line ban saw Souness provocatively get round it by naming himself as a substitute.

Some viewed Souness’s time as manager of Rangers as a revolution and he certainly built the foundations for the Gers dominance and nine in a row Premier league titles.  Souness also has to be given credit for ending the club’s sectarian view on not signing Catholic players.  Of course there was controversy when Souness signed Mo Johnston in the summer of 1989.  To add fuel to the fire Johnston had reneged on agreeing to re-join his former club Celtic meaning he received from both sides.

Souness was unperturbed and simply stated that he signed players purely on their footballing ability and not the religion of the footballer.

Following Dalglish’s shock resignation from Liverpool it was Souness who promptly accepted the offer to join his former club in April 1991.  That though was not to be successful.  Apart from an FA cup, Souness was unable to bring the success that Liverpool had become accustomed to.

Other clubs seeing the success that Dalglish and Souness had brought to Liverpool and Rangers felt it was the way forward.  One of the reasons was that a big name could attract the best players.  Seeing a renowned player manager gave the impression that the club had ambition.  Furthermore it also meant having an experienced head on the field and with the likes of Glenn Hoddle who was in the autumn of his career could still be influential on the pitch for Swindon Town and Chelsea respectively.

Hoddle became the second-player manager to lead Chelsea to the FA cup final against Manchester United.  Naming himself as a substitute and coming on in the sixty-eighth minute for Craig Burley there was no inspired come back as Chelsea were soundly thrashed by Manchester United to claim their first double.

The former Everton star midfielder Peter Reid became Player-Manager of Manchester City after Howard Kendall returned to his former love and club Everton in November 1990.  It didn’t bring Manchester City any silverware but brought stability and whilst Reid was in charge a hope that they were building towards something long-term.

After Lennie Lawrence had failed to get Middlesbrough promoted straight back to the Premier League the club’s chairman Steve Gibson turned to Manchester United’s Bryan Robson who became player manager in the summer of 1994.  It was seen as a mutual arrangement for both parties.  For Bryan Robson it was a chance to cut his teeth in management away from the harsh glare of Old Trafford as well as a chance to keep on playing.  Of course Robson saw it is a learning curve with the ambition at the time to replace Alex Ferguson when he decided to retire or to take the England job.  With Middlesbrough promising the financial backing it was a job that Robson felt was hard to refuse.

For the Teessiders it was a signal of intent and that the club were ambitious in not just getting back into the Premier league but to be a footballing force.  With a shiny new stadium far removed from the dilapidated and tired Ayresome park it meant that with Bryan Robson in charge that they could show how serious the club was in trying to attract the best talent.

It certainly worked with Robson leading Boro to promotion to the Premier league as Champions.  This was to be an exciting period for Middlesbrough with the club living up to its ambitions.  Juninho was in many respects a shock signing as Robson signed the Brazilian from São Paulo for £4.75 million in October 1995.  Seen as one of the best young Brazilian prospects not many expected Juninho to sign for a newly promoted club that had been in many respects been a yo-yo club between the divisions.

Image result for bryan robson and juninho

The signings didn’t stop there with Ravanelli and Emerson also purchased in the summer of 1996.  It was a season in some respects to rival Sky’s football soap Dream Team that also began in that year.  Middlesbrough suffered a three-point deduction for not fulfilling a league game against Blackburn Rovers.  Robson cited a bug that had hit the squad but the FA felt that it was too late notice and that Boro could have fielded a team hence the points deduction.  Ironically the three points was the difference between staying in the Premier league and were relegated as a result.

However the drama didn’t stop there as Middlesbrough reached two cup finals for the first time in their history.  Both were to end unhappily as Boro lost to Leicester in a league cup final replay 1-0 after drawing the first game at Wembley 1-1.  The FA cup final was to end in defeat as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.  Ironically Chelsea’s manager Ruud Gullit was also a player as was Gianluca Vialli when Chelsea again beat Boro 2-0 in the 1998 league cup final.  Neither Robson who had played his last game as a footballer in January 1997 against Arsenal or Gullit would play in the respective final.

That though was to be the height of Robson’s managerial career.  Although they won promotion back to the flight at the first attempt that was about as good as it got.  Middlesbrough still signed the top stars such Boksic, Ince, and Karembeu but Robson was unable to win the club silverware.  He resigned as manager in 2001 with his replacement Steve McClaren winning Boro’s first trophy the league cup after beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at Cardiff’s Millennium stadium.

Chelsea seemed to think that the player-manager was still in vogue with Ruud Gullit being appointed player-manager.  Although sacked nine months later after winning the FA cup he would later describe his time at Chelsea as the ‘happiest time in his career.’

Gianluca Vialli was Gullit’s replacement and again he was also player-manager in 1998.  This though was to be the last time time that a player-manager would be appointed full time with a top flight club.

Success also came Vialli’s way as he led and played in the 1998 Cup Winners Cup final with Chelsea beating Stuttgart 1-0 courtesy of a Zola goal.  Vialli also played the full ninety minutes of the final although did not start or name himself for the League cup final when Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.


That though was to be the Indian summer for the player-manager as the big clubs gravitated back to the experienced coaches.  Now the criteria was a manager’s past success and whether he was tactically astute.  A footballing legend as player-manager is no longer a pull of ambition to attract the top stars.

Of course there are other reasons why the player-manager has fallen by the wayside.  As previously stated the role has become much bigger in terms of dealing with off the pitch activities expected of a manager.  This can vary from dealing with contracts, agents, scout players and the opposition as well as having to constantly deal with media demands.  Managing full time can be a tough and lonely job without the added worry of your current form as a player to contend with.

A Premier league manager is now expected to hold a UEFA pro licence which again means a player finding the time to complete and pass prior to a football club offering a manager’s job.

There still has been player-managers in recent years but these have been more of an emergency due to the manager being sacked.  Garry Monk for example was interim manager after Brian Laudrup was sacked in 2014, whilst Ryan Giggs was an interim manager for Manchester United in 2014 after David Moyes was dismissed.

With expectations and the pressure to succeed so high football clubs are now reluctant to take a chance with a young player manager.  There is also less job security as a football manager with clubs getting itchy as soon as the team hits a bad patch of form.  Consequently most clubs would rather now go for experience believing it to have a higher chance of success rather than pitching into the unknown.

Nevertheless there is a certain bit of magic and drama of having a player-manager in charge of your football club especially if he scores the winner that clinches the league title.    After all isn’t that part of the charm of football that it brings unreal magic and stories that would make the editor of Roy of the Rovers think twice as a story line?

The quiet Don – Revie’s legacy to football

‘When Eddie Gray plays on snow, he doesn’t leave any footprints,’ Don Revie once declared of his Leeds winger.  In some respects and with hindsight he could have been talking about how his achievements in football have been criminally overlooked.

 Despite the years passing there are still books, articles, and documentaries that fondly wax lyrically about the success and legacy of Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Jock Stein, and Brian Clough.

Yet despite the success of Leeds and being the man who put the Yorkshire club on the map Revie’s achievements are now in the shadows.  Even when Revie’s name is mentioned it has negative connotations that gloss over his talents.

When Don Revie took charge as player-manager in March 1961 of a struggling Leeds United side there was no indication or apparent ambition for the success that was to come.  Rugby league and even cricket were the main sports of West Yorkshire with football not even coming into the equation.  By the end of the decade this was to change with Leeds becoming one of the most feared and dominant sides of English football.

Don Revie was born in Middlesbrough although his playing career came with  Leicester City with stints at Hull City, Manchester City, and Sunderland.  He was by all accounts a gifted footballer with his successful years at Manchester City winning the FA cup in 1956 against Birmingham City.  Revie’s performance earned him the man of the match whilst the year before he was named the football writers of the year award.

It was Bill Lambton the then Leeds Manager in 1958 that signed Revie but under the new manager Jack Taylor was part of the side that was relegated in 1960.  A year later the job was offered to Revie.  Not because they had seen something special with Revie simply because nobody was attracted to the job due to the financial problems of the club.  Furthermore Don Revie was cheap although if Bournemouth had been prepared to pay the £6000 to sign Revie as player-manager then the history of Leeds could quite easily have been different.

One of the first things that Revie brought about was to bring about a family spirit with everyone from the cleaners to the club directors all pulling together.  He personally ensured that he knew everybody’s name whilst having a daily chat.

The referee Jack Taylor once noted that Revie gave money to the cleaners to put on the horses.  If they won they were twice as happy and even if they lost they were still happy at the gesture.  It was something that Revie succeeded at as it made everybody feel part and proud of the club.  Furthermore it brought a sense of togetherness and for Revie it was to bring about a family feeling to the place.

Another change that Revie instigated was that all players be it the first team, reserves, or B sides would all play the same system.  Revie told the Yorkshire Post that ‘any players moving from one team to another will know just what is wanted.’

Bill Shankly’s Liverpool and Guardiola’s Barcelona operated a similar system in the belief it would be easy for players to step up when required.

Revie was left with a very poor side and a club that was in financial difficulties.  Most of the side was compromised of journeymen footballers with the only players of exception being Billy Bremner who at seventeen had just broke into the first team, John McCole whose goals were important to Leeds and Jack Charlton.  The latter was seen as more trouble than he was worth whose surliness and open objection to anything that annoyed him made supporters wonder if he would be the first to go.

The only other notable legacy from Jack Taylor’s time as manager was his backroom staff of Syd Owens and Les Cocker.  Under Revie they would help Leeds to become one of the fittest teams in the league as well as analysing young players and helping them to improve.  Both were hard task masters but the likes of Bremner and Eddie Gray would later appreciate their efforts.

Revie that year managed to keep Leeds up but it was still going to be another two tough years before the Yorkshire club would start to make any improvement.  Even Revie admitted that towards the end of his first full season in charge that he half expected to be sacked.

With funds limited Revie was restricted with the players that he could bring in.  Two of the most notable signings was Bobby Collins from Everton for £25,000 and Albert Johannsen.  The latter was signed on the recommendation of a South African school teacher with Revie only having to pay his fare from Johannesburg.

Although Johannsen was to be inconsistent during his time at Leeds he did bring a touch of glamour and skill in those early days.  Bobby Collins though was to be very influential.  His dogged determination in never giving up or accepting second best seeped amongst Collins younger more impressionable teammates.  It was to be this determination that would become part of Revie’s Leeds DNA.

There was no instant Midas touch with Revie even experimenting by using Jack Charlton as a centre-forward.  It was more a case of hoping lightning would strike twice as the club legend John Charles had swapped defence for attack which had led to him being one of the most feared forwards in Europe.  However Charlton was no Charles and although he scored twelve goals in twenty games he was quietly put back in defence by Christmas 1961.  Most of the goals came from set-pieces but more importantly Charlton was like a fish out of water and didn’t know what he was doing.

One of the influences on Revie was Matt Busby who had advised that if possible to give youth a chance.  It wasn’t just because coming through the ranks that they would show more loyalty and affinity (especially if they were from the local area) but that at a young age they would be more impressionable.  Unlike seasoned pro’s they would be willing to listen, less likely to question, and not pick up bad habits from previous clubs.

The likes of Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, Norman Hunter, Gary Sprake,  Rod Johnson, and Paul Reaney to name but a few all came through the ranks and all were to play a major part in the future for Leeds.  With Johnny Giles signed from Manchester United for £33,000 Leeds United were to become quite formidable.

Don Revie brought about another subtle difference to Leeds United by throwing a pre-season party with directors, staff, players, and wives.  Aware of his wife Elsie’s and his own isolation as a player he sought again to bring everyone together and made them feel involved.  Above all he wanted a family feeling about the place as he spoke of their importance to the club.  Revie was aware that domestic harmony could help a player feel more settled and not disrupt his form if his house was an unhappy one.

Over the years Don Revie would in some respects become a Father figure.  He would even make visits, give birthday and Christmas cards, flowers presents to the wives and children.  All of this was appreciated and as they too were made to feel part of the club their devotion to Revie also grew.  In many ways he was like the Godfather’s Vito Corleone.  A man who showed and expected loyalty but equally be tough if required.

To show that this was a new Leeds United and one that would be very much moulded in Don Revie’s image he decided to ditch the yellow and blue strip with Leeds to play in an all white strip.  That there was no dissent from supporters or the board about the change of colours showed the lack of interest within the West Yorkshire area.  Nevertheless it was the start of Revie building Leeds to what we know now.

Although Leeds might have looked similar to Real Madrid that was as close as they got to the Spanish giants in Revie’s first two full seasons in charge.  Slowly though things started to change especially as the youngsters like Bremner, Gray, Lorimer, and Norman Hunter started to shine.  Also the 1963-64 season that they clinched promotion the signing of Manchester United Johnny Giles gave them that edge with the brutal determination of Bobby Collins.

There was also a different to approach with how Revie selected youngsters.  Unlike other managers the size of a player did not bother him.  So long as they had the ability, desire, and willingness to work then they would be given a chance.

Revie also had an eye to get the best out of players by changing their positions.  Terry Cooper was converted from a winger to a left back, Eddie Gray from central midfielder to winger, with Bremner and Giles converting from wingers to central midfielders.

It was now a different Leeds in terms of talent, attitude, professionalism, and desire to be the best.  Johnny Giles observed in Eamon Dunphy’s ‘A strange kind of glory,’ that ‘people were consciously thinking about the game, small things like throw-ins, free-kicks, and corner-kicks were discussed and planned.  People were intent on doing something.  Nothing was ever left to chance.’

Critics at the time may have derided and even mocked the infamous dossiers that Revie had drawn up about the opposition but he was ahead of his time.  The reports drawn by Cocker, Owen, and Lindley were so meticulous that they would observe whether the goalkeeper was a flapper or a catcher or whether the right half could accurately pass the ball across his body to the left-wing whilst running right.

On the Friday the reserves would copy the style and formation of the opposition that Leeds were due to play on the Saturday.  By the end of the session the selected XI would know by heart the movement and as a result be able to anticipate the moves of the opposition for real on match day.

In football today that is nothing new with the endless stats and coaching geared towards dealing with the opposition at the weekend that it would be expected at any professional club.  Back in the 60’s it was more about putting out your XI and letting your rival worry about you.

The work on Leeds fitness was to also have an impact especially as Revie had them playing a high tempo pressing game.  In the ‘Unforgiven,’ by Bagchi and Rogerson they quote Bremner saying how Collins would dictate the game by making ‘them go like bombs for a ten minute spell.  Then he would tell them to tighten up again before going at them again.’

With teams not as fit and being unable to cope it was no surprise that Revie had managed to ensure that Leeds finally gained promotion in the 1963-64 season.  As the good work started to pay dividends it was to be start of the glory years for Leeds United.

Leeds first season in the top flight unerringly summed up the Revie era in terms of being so close but yet so far.  The West Yorkshire side almost won what would have been an incredible double but lost out to Manchester United who won the league due to having a superior goal difference to Leeds.  A week later they lost 2-1 in extra time to Bill Shankly’s Liverpool who won the FA cup for the first time in their history.  Nevertheless it was a fantastic season for a team that had spent most of its history in the doldrums.

It was though a season that Leeds started to earn their reputation as being ‘cynical cheats,’ who fouled, harassed the referee, and looked to gain any advantage by hook or by crook.  George Best recalled walking down the tunnel at Old Trafford ‘I felt a terrific pain in my right calf as someone kicked me with brute force.  I turned.  It was Bobby Collins.  ‘And that’s just for starters Bestie.’  He snarled.

Earlier that season brutal challenges by the likes of Giles and Hunter caused outrage at Goodison that led to the Everton crowd making a pitch invasion.  The crowd was cleared with Leeds winning 1-0 which later led to the Yorkshire Post’s Ian Guild description of the match as ‘a disgrace to football.’

The question and indeed suspicion was on whether Don Revie instructed his players to try to win at any cost even it meant fouling or cheating.  There probably is some truth that Leeds pushed the rules with Johnny Giles admitting ‘I have certainly done things on the football pitch that I am embarrassed about now.’  But as he then stated ‘one has to put them into the football climate that existed then.’

Certainly in that period in the 1960s and 1970s it was a more brutal game.  Going in hard and trying to intimidate your opponent was seen as fair game.  Nearly every team had an enforcer whether it was Manchester United’s Nobby Stiles, Anfield Iron’s Tommy Smith who threatened to ‘break player’s backs,’ or Chelsea’s Ron ‘Chopper,’ Harris.

Despite the notoriety of these players they in many ways gained cult and legendary status of when football ‘was a man’s game.’  Yet with Norman ‘bites yer legs,’ Hunter and Leeds they were viewed as the villains of football.

In some respects there was always a suspicion that Don Revie embraced the dark arts a bit too much.  That he was like a grand wizard who became bad in his pursuit of glory.  From hiring a gypsy to eradicate an alleged curse that had been placed on Elland road to wearing his blue suit that became so threadbare that his underwear could be seen in bright light.

Revie himself openly admitted to being superstitious and following a routine that involved the ‘same lucky tie, one or two lucky charms in my pocket. I walk to the traffic lights every morning, turn round and walk back to the hotel.’

There was of course the famous bird phobia that saw Revie remove the club’s owl badge to the familiar LUFC, having three puffs on a cigar,  before sucking on a mint for one minute, and then chewing gum for ten.

Again superstition although ridiculous is very much part of football.  Being an unpredictable game it gives the person a feeling of control that by following a certain ritual that they will gain some good luck which may win the game.

However the dark shadow or the smearing of Revie’s achievements is that he was alleged to have offered bribes for teams to go easy.  Bob Stokoe who managed Sunderland to a FA cup shock in 1973 against Leeds told the Daily Mirror that during his time as Bury manager in 1962 that Revie had offered him £500 to throw the match.

None of this has ever been proven and as Bagchi and Rogerson point out in the ‘Unforgiven,’ how did Revie on £38 a week with a club that was struggling financially find that amount?  Furthermore why did Stokoe wait fourteen years to tell his story and then for the princely sum of £14,000?

The accusations didn’t stop there with Wolves Mike O’Grady claiming that he had been paid as a fixer in 1973 to offer his teammates £1000 a man to throw their game against Leeds and ensure that they won the title.  Again none of this was substantiated with Revie being cleared by the Police and Bremner winning a libel case when accused of offering the bribes.

Again it all added to the media trying to paint Revie as some kind of super villain.  Leeds achievements would be tarnished because of this despite being one of the best footballing sides in the mid-seventies.

Maybe it was because Leeds were insular with Revie encouraging ‘us against the world,’ mentality.  This was no different to the tactics that Alex Ferguson encouraged at Manchester United.  It brought a sense of unity and loyalty as well as a determination to knock their critic’s noses out of joint and enjoy the discomfort of the critics having to acknowledge that they were the best.  Yet whereas Ferguson is lauded it is seen as another stick to beat Leeds with.

Revie’s man management was also second to none.  He knew when to put an arm around a player and when they needed a proverbial kick up the backside.  Nothing was left to chance as Revie ensured that he knew the character of all his players.  Furthermore he only wanted players who would fit into the work ethic of the club.

Europe was another learning curve for Revie who quickly realised that discipline and organisation was a key to being successful.  During the Inter Cities Fairs cup Leeds used their strength to hit teams on the break and in turn to be able to absorb the pressure.  Their mental strength was also second to none with the Italian press admiring their character and not letting the awful leg break of Bobby Collins by Torino’s Poletti to affect them by seeing the game through and winning the tie.

Breaking your duck in winning your first trophy is always the hardest but despite a turgid match Leeds beat Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley to win the League cup.  In a sense it gave Leeds a taste of victory and the belief that they could achieve more.  Revie was more than aware of this as he showed a rare expression of delight by joining his celebrating team on the pitch.

More success was to come as Leeds went a step further by clinching the Inter City Fairs cup by beating the Hungarian Ferencvaros 1-0 over two legs.  There was a significant delay due to the Warsaw pact invasion of Czechoslovakia with the possibility of the game being called off.  Again the professionalism and organisation was enough to see Leeds through against a team whom Shankly and Busby viewed as one of the best teams in Europe.

The league championship with its long, arduous season that decided the best team in England now sauntered into view for Leeds.  They had finished runners-up to Liverpool in the 1965-66 season but wanted to go that one step further.  By now Leeds had firmly established themselves as a difficult team but needed a title to show that they were not pretenders.

It was to the 1968-69 season when Revie’s Leeds would clinch the clubs first championship in their history.   The team was now maturing with the average age of the squad being around twenty-five.  Besides which Leeds with the two cup wins now had a taste for trophies.  Something that Revie wanted to encourage.

Billy Bremner recalls how Don Revie ensured that the desire and fire to keep winning trophies and not to rest on their laurels was to continually set new challenges.  That was to win the league.  ‘When you haven’t won anything, you’re delighted to win something; but as soon as a new challenge is offered, you have to climb higher.  And so we climbed that bit higher in going for the league.’

It was to be a culmination of Leeds gaining experience and knowing how each other played.  There was in some respects a communal style to Leeds play.  For example Hunter, Cooper, and Gray formed the left side, working the ball in triangles and quadrilaterals between them before seizing on any space given to initiate an attack.  Charlton, Reaney, Bremner, and O’Grady replicated this on the right.

Bremner and Giles having the ability to hit the killer pass once the opposition had committed themselves too far forward.

All season Leeds had stretched the opposition and with their superior fitness that the West Yorkshire side were easily the best side in the league that season.

The title was clinched at Anfield after a 0-0 draw against Liverpool.  It was to be a night were Leeds also felt that they had finally achieved the recognition that they deserved.

Revie had instructed his team that if they won the league on the night then they were to go forward and acknowledge the Kop.  Bremner was unsure but duly led his players towards the goal with the crowd becoming silent.  There was a slight pause before the crowd chanted ‘Champions,’ and applauded the Leeds team for their achievements for that season.

With Shankly declaring them worthy champions it felt for Leeds that they were finally being recognised for their footballing abilities.  After so many years of being branded villains they were now being hailed for their football.

The following season Leeds didn’t let their laurels slip as Leeds chased a unique treble of the league, European, and FA cup.  Bagchi and Rogerson in ‘the unforgiven,’ believe fixture congestion and the lack of help from the league authorities in terms of re-arranging fixtures meant that Revie had to prioritize which trophies they wanted to go for.

In what seems strange in this Premier league obsessed era, Leeds had made winning the European and FA cup more of a priority as these were not only trophies that they had never won but were also equally prestigious.

Leeds with seven games remaining was top of the league but decided that in order to boost their chances of success had to rest players.  For the remaining six games the Leeds team were a mixture of reserves and experienced players which earned the club a five thousand pound fine from the football league.

Sadly for the West Yorkshire club they were to fall short.  It didn’t help that it took three games to beat Manchester United to reach the 1970 FA cup final in order to play Chelsea.  The semi-final against Celtic was to see Leeds comprehensively beaten 3-0 over two legs with the Glaswegian side to later lose 2-1 to Feyenoord in extra time in the final.

That was to be a fate that Leeds would suffer in a replay at Old Trafford as Webb snatched the winner to lift the cup for Chelsea.  It was to be a final remembered for two things.  A poor pitch due to allowing the horse of the year show prior to the final and the brutal tackling and fouling from both sides.

Due to picking up only three points from the final six games the league had duly been surrendered to Everton who were proclaimed the football league champions for the 1969-70 season.

It was a disappointing season but Leeds maturity and confidence in their own abilities as Revie allowed the shackles off showed that Leeds were one of the top footballing sides who would be favourites for all the major honours in the years to come.

Yet they would become more known for choking at the crucial moments.  Some of it was down to appalling decisions made against Leeds whilst other times the West Yorkshire failed to play to their ability.

A fifth round tie away to fourth division Colchester should have not really posed any problems for Leeds.  Instead they found themselves three-nil down and despite pulling two goals were unable to snatch an equaliser.  Sprake was held responsible for the three goals and indeed was seen as the weak link of the team.

Despite the shock cup exit the league was still on.  However another infamous game against West Bromwich Albion with the referee Ray Tinkler’s poor performance to have repercussions’ on Leeds title challenge.  Albion’s Colin Suggett was quite clearly offside with Brown looking for the decision only to continue and square the ball to Astle who put the ball into the back of the net and winning the two points for West Brom.

Barry Davies the match of the day commentator was incredulous and declared that ‘Leeds will go mad and they have every right to be.’  It provoked a reaction from the Leeds players which also ignited crowd trouble who were outraged at the decision.

Arsenal would go on to clinch the league by one point with Ray Kennedy netting the winner against Spurs at White Hart lane.  Again Leeds would be the bridesmaid in terms of the league although they didn’t end that season empty ended as they won the Inter Cities fairs cup on away goals after drawing 3-3 on aggregate but crucially drew 2-2 away in Turin.

It was becoming a familiar occurrence as Leeds once again blew the chance of winning the double in the 71-72 season.  They played some scintillating that year with the highlight being Leeds torturing Southampton with keep ball after being 7-0 up.  As Barry Davies said in admiration it was ‘cruel,’ but at the same time it was breath-taking football with the flicks and back heels as Leeds played a match version of ‘piggy in the middle,’ by keeping hold of the ball.

Leeds it seemed was head and shoulders above everyone else.  The FA cup was lifted for the first time in their history as they beat Arsenal 1-0 who hoped to retain the trophy.  The double it seemed was a certainty as Leeds only needed a point away to Wolves.  However two days after the cup final Leeds were to be denied and frustrated by the referee yet again.  There were three penalty shouts with a blatant handball to deny Allan Clarke.  Wolves won the game 2-1 and with Liverpool failing to beat Arsenal at Highbury with a Toshack goal ruled out for offside, Brian Clough’s Derby County won the league whilst on the beach in Majorca.

Heartache seemed to be the Leeds way and the 1972-73 season was to be no different.  Although they were not in any contention to win the league that season Leeds again reached the FA cup final against second division Sunderland and the European Cup Winners Cup against AC Milan.

Critics assumed that Sunderland had no chance and that Leeds would triumph over the North East side.  It was a case of how many would Leeds would win by.  Instead Leeds failed to deal with the corner with Porterfield gaining legendary status by striking the ball into the back of the net.

Leeds would put the pressure on Sunderland with Cherry’s diving header which was parried away by Montgomery straight to Lorimer who almost equalised only to be thwarted by Montgomery who parried it against the crossbar.  Yet again it was not be Leeds day and to be remembered for all the wrong reasons as David beat the unpopular Goliath.

A 1-0 defeat to AC Milan in the Cup Winners Cup final meant that Leeds ended the season empty-handed.  There was a feeling that Leeds had been cheated following the Greek referee Christos Michas being suspended by UEFA and his own federation due to some dubious decisions against Leeds.

There are numerous theories as to why Leeds United kept falling short at the crucial moments.  Some cited poor refereeing decisions and Hardaker of the football league who was believed to have disliked Leeds due to their reputation.  With fixtures piling up due to replays or poor weather and the football league refused to accommodate or assist Leeds in order to give them enough recovery time between games.

At times with the matches piling up there were key players who were injured and in the case of the Wolves game both Clarke and Giles had pain killing injections certainly couldn’t have helped.  With so many irons in the fire so to speak it meant that the Leeds players were on their last legs and just couldn’t carry themselves over the line when required.

Some even questioned whether Revie thought too much about the opposition and whether that anxiety transmitted to the players.  Dave Watson the Sunderland centre-half stated that he thought the Leeds players were very subdued in their interviews prior to the Cup final.  It could also be said that at times Revie brought the squad for big matches too early and rather than be distracted by every day life were left to brood on the game.

Perhaps it was a mix of all and more than likely being involved in so many big competitions stretched the squad to their limit.  Revie certainly knew his players and he had managed to channel that comradeship amongst the team and supporters.

The 1973-74 season was to be Revie’s last as he left Leeds to take the job of England manager.  However Leeds ended it as champions after going twenty-nine games unbeaten.

Some wondered if Revie took the England job on as he couldn’t bear to break up his ageing Leeds team.  The fact of the matter is that Revie had already got itchy feet and had got caught going for possible talks to become the Everton manager in 1973 when he had got lost and had to ask directions.  Money was another insecurity of Revie with the attraction of more money at Everton whetting his initial interest before deciding to stay at Leeds.

The England job was not to be a success as he was unable to replicate the team and family spirit that he harnessed at Leeds United.  Some players mocked his carpet bowls and ideas.  Revie himself seemed uncomfortable in dealing with the politics of International football and seemed to miss the day-to-day coaching that club football brought.

With England performing poorly and unlikely to qualify for the world cup qualifiers Don Revie decided to quit the job and took up a post offered by the UAE.  Despite the FA having approached Bobby Robson in order to replace Revie they suspended him for ten years.  Although Revie won on a Court appeal he was never to work in English football again with only coaching stints at other middle-east countries.

Due to the manner of Revie’s England resignation and the money being offered to manage the UAE national side he was branded a mercenary with his reputation never Don_Revie_and_Billy_Bremnerrecovering.

Leeds too was never to be the same side that they were under Revie.  In what was a bizarre decision they appointed Revie’s arch critic and nemesis Brian Clough to re-build the team.  With Clough’s brash manner and telling the players ‘to put all their medals in the bin as they had won them through cheating,’ it was never going to end well.  After forty-four days in charge Brian Clough was sacked as manager.

It was to be an end of an era despite reaching the European cup final in 1975 and losing to Bayern Munich.  Again there was to be much controversy and crowd trouble after the referee disallowed a Lorimer goal after initially pointing to the centre circle to indicate that a goal had been given.

As the years go by the achievements of Don Revie seem to fade into the background.  Nothing is mentioned of Don Revie physically building the Leeds United that we all know of now even if the past ten years or so have seen them back in the second tier.  It was Revie with hardly any resources that dragged and moulded Leeds United to be one of the most feared teams in English football.  Prior to his appointment Leeds were seen as a joke and in the shadow of rugby league.  Even Leeds current all white strip is down to Revie who decided to change the colours.

In terms of coaching and preparation Don Revie was ahead of his peers.  In today’s game in-depth analysis and preparation is all part of the game.  Revie in his dossiers and gearing training towards the opposition was so way ahead that at the time it was mocked by others within the English game.

Ironically in this day and age of mass marketing Revie was to be a pioneer by agreeing that Leeds became commercially involved with Paul Trevillion an illustrator more known for you are the ref.  There were track suits with player’s names, sock tags, and the Leeds wave as the players ran out two minutes early before kickoff and wave to each part of the ground who would shower them in applause and cheers.

Revie also encouraged youth and brought a collective spirit right throughout the club.  Everybody was part of this inner family that in turn brought about that resilience required to dig in and snatch a result no matter how badly they were playing.  In short everybody looked after each other.

Of course there was the cynicism and the intimidation that Revie’s Leeds did dish out.  There is no question that they rubbed up the opposition but other teams could just be as physical.  Leeds did push it to extremes and cynicism can be seen in the game today from the little clip, dive, time-wasting or harassing the referee.  Not that it makes it right but from a professional point of view it is about testing the boundaries in order to gain an advantage.

Maybe it’s because Revie didn’t have the statesman like aura of Matt Busby and Jock Stein or the charisma of Bill Shankly.  Neither did he have the soundbites of Brian Clough that the media lapped up.

In front of the cameras Revie always looked uneasy and seemingly shifty.  With the physical approach of Leeds it was easy to throw mud at Leeds with the unsubstantiated claims by Stokoe of offering bribes to go easy casting more dirt.  Revie with his superstition was all too easily cast as dabbling in the black arts of football.

It could be argued that there was an element of snobbery with Leeds not having the glamour of a London team or a charismatic star like Manchester United’s George Best.  They also equally refused to be in awe of anyone’s reputation and gave as good as they got.  Revie certainly showed this from a story given in the Unforgiven.  At an official FA dinner in 1976 Revie objected to the pompous Sir Harold Thompson referring to him by his surname.  Thompson haughtily replied ‘when I get to know you better Revie, I shall you call Don.  Quick as a flash Revie’s response was ‘when I get to know you better Thompson, I shall call you Sir Harold.’

Despite all the knocks and whether you think Don Revie’s reputation is deserved or not Revie’s Leeds United played attractive football.  Yes they could dish it out but they could play with aggression, skill, and pace which many teams of the time couldn’t cope with.  It was Revie who installed that discipline and ideas onto his team in the belief that it would get results.

Don Revie made and was Leeds United that even now his legacy still exists.  Furthermore he was also a pioneer and forward thinker who knew how to build and get the best out of his team.  It is for these reasons that Don Revie should be remembered alongside the greats of Shankly, Stein, and Busby.


Liverpool v C. Palace and why top four is still up for grabs

P170423-039-Liverpool_Crystal_Palace-e1492967314296Credit where its due even if it is through gritted teeth, Allardyce got his tactics spot on last Sunday as Palace beat Liverpool for the third year running at Anfield.  It was a game that was always going to be difficult given the erratic performances and results against the so-called lesser lights.  Even so with the finishing line and a top four spot in sight it was a home game that Liverpool needed to make it count.

Palace though were well organised and it was a yellow wall as they played deep and ensured that any space in the middle of the park was restricted.  With Mane unavailable due to injury there was no one to test the Palace defence with skill and pace.   Coutinho and Firmino may have  the guile and skill they were unable to find a way through the brickwall that was Palace’s defence.  Granted Origi is a player who has pace but he too found it hard to get into space.

It meant that the only options to Liverpool was to go wide but with the lack of height and a mass of yellow shirts, Palace were easily able to defend from set-pieces as you would expect from a Sam Allardyce side.

Despite this Liverpool managed to take the lead from a fantastic free kick from Coutinho.  This should have been the catalyst for Liverpool to kick on or at the very least hold onto the goal lead.  Palace would need to push further up the pitch and  leave more space for Liverpool to take hold of the game.

The Liverpool defence this season has been fragile and at times resembles a punch drunk boxer attempting to last the final round.  With only three minutes before half time Liverpool should have had the nous to keep it tight and simple.  Instead Lovren failed to react quickly to the ball as Cabaye gained posession as he raced down the right to play a ball for Benteke to score and equalise for Palace.

Once again there was frustration at Liverpool’s inability to defend and not tightening their hold on the match to ensure they got the result required.

The second half was reverting back to type for Palace who again ensured that Liverpool were not given any space to cause problems.  Another lapse at a set piece from a corner saw Benteke grab his second with a diving header.  With the lack of options on the bench Liverpool were unable to put anyone who could change the game.  Alexander-Arnold, Grujic, and Moreno were thrown on but it was more in the hope of fresh legs rather than any tactical acumen.

Liverpool didn’t look capable of breaking down Palace and despite the six minutes of injury time were unable to snatch a point.  It was a disappointing result following the two excellent away wins against Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion.

There have been a few moans that Liverpool have blown it especially with Man Utd winning 2-0 away to Burnley.  At present that is simply not the case.  Yes Liverpool have made it difficult for themselves but with Manchester United due to play Manchester City this Thursday at the Etihad they also have games against Tottenham and Arsenal.  City themselves also have to play Palace.

Looking at those fixtures there are still difficult games that United could drop points.  Added to which they have injuries to major players such as Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Herrera, Mata, and Smalling.  With the distraction of the Europa cup semi-final against Celta Vigo it is not a given that United will not drop points in their remaining games.

Of course Liverpool themselves are now walking a tight rope and cannot afford to drop any more points.  The remaining games though are not as bad compared to other teams.

There also has to be a dose of realism regarding the situation for Liverpool at the moment.  The squad is light which isn’t helped with major injuries to key players.  Consequently there are not many options that Klopp can turn to.  Liverpool have the fifth highest paid squad in the Premier league and it could be argued are roughly where you expect them to be.

The crowd itself also needs to help in times  of when things are not going well.  Without sounding all ‘member berry,’ (This refers to South Park and its take on nostalgia)

there was a time when following a stunned silence at the opposition somehow managing to score that there would be a roar encouraging the team to get back into the game.  Instead the only noise you can hear are the sounds of seats as the mass exodus starts.

That is more or less waving the white flag rather than screaming encouragement for Liverpool to push forward and salvage something.  It is amazing what the players can do with the support urging them forward that at the very least they can make it as uncomfortable for Palace in the dying minutes.

Jurgen Klopp talked about everyone from the cleaners, coaches, players, fans and anyone associated with the club to be all pulling together and doing their bit.  Which is what some Liverpool fans need to do rather than making the early dart.

There is still a big job ahead for Klopp no matter whether they finish top four or not.  Defensively they need improving not just in terms of buying defenders but in terms of defending as a team.  All season they have looked shaky but just as it is important to attack as a team it is equally the same when defending.  All the good teams know how to take the sting out of the game and show the resilience in coping with any pressure.  Liverpool do not have that ability at present.

Added to which the depth of the squad needs improving especially if they qualify for the Champions league.  Looking at the bench this season shows how limited Liverpool are on who they can bring on to help change the game.

All said and done though the race for the remaining top four places (Chelsea and Tottenham are nailed on for first and second) is pretty much on.  City and United have been inconsistent this season even if the latter have been on a good run of form.  Liverpool despite the setbacks and problems they have faced this season still have a good chance of finishing within the top four and claiming a Champions league spot.  There does though need to be a dose of reality with what Klopp has to work with and the fact that some teams at present are ahead of Liverpool.

Is this the decline of Barcelona?

The demise of Barcelona has been greatly exaggerated over the years.  It has if anything since the 2004/05 season been one of their most successful periods in Barcelona’s history.  Four European cups, eight la liga titles, four Copa Del Rey, and three FIFA club world cups.  They have played football that at times seems to have been from another planet with the likes of football greats Ronaldinho and Messi mesmerizing fans and opposition alike.

They have of course been at the crossroads before in 2008 with critics deeming that the club had hit its peak after winning the European cup for a second time in 2006.  Rather than building on their success Rijkaard lost the discipline of the changing room with Ronaldinho and Deco to name but a few losing their hunger and seemed more intent on partying than playing football.  The joke being that Ronaldinho was in the gym was a euphuism that he was sleeping off a hangover.

Rumours abound that Jose Mourinho was to take over after Rijkaard had lost his job and that Barcelona needed an experienced winner to turn things around.  The club though probably made one of the best decisions since the club was formed by appointing former player and then current B team manager Pep Guardiola.  Eyebrows were raised as to whether he had the experience but with the aid of his assistant Tito Vilanova took the club to another level.  That team is now remembered alongside the great teams of Liverpool, AC Milan, Ajax, and their arch rivals Real Madrid who had dominated Europe.  Winning it for the fifth time in 2015 acknowledged that fact.  

Although Guardiola was unproven he knew the DNA and expectations of the club.  Furthermore he was a club legend who would be given time but more importantly he was single-minded, determined, and ruthless when needed.  It was not as some people view with hindsight an easy job.  The team had been floundering and the wrong decisions could quite easily have taken Barcelona back.  Added to which the intense pressure from the fans and media alike who scrutinised every decision from tactics to team selections only added to the pressure.

One of the first steps that Guardiola did was bring back the discipline that was sorely lacking.  Training was expected to start at the stated time with any latecomer suffering a  fine as well as a slow handclap by his teammates when he did appear on the training pitch.

Guardiola was also instrumental in bringing a sense of togetherness and working hard for the team.  Anyone who didn’t was shown the door.  Nobody could question his ruthlessness as Ronaldinho and Deco were the first to be shown the door.  The former was a signal of real intent considering he was one of the most talented players at the time despite his unprofessionalism towards the end.  Furthermore they didn’t want Ronaldinho’s behaviour to have a bad influence on a young Messi.

It was also to see a change in the tactics with Guardiola taking full advantage of the quality of his players at his disposal.  Play was to start from the back with the goalkeeper Valdes expected to be also good with his feet.  More importantly though was the intense pressing game that Guardiola wanted his team to play.

Possession was not only important but it was what you did with it that counted.  Losing the ball would see Guardiola wanting his team to put the opposition under intense pressure to regain the ball.  Preferably they would force the opposition towards the sidelines where the passing angle would be halved to increase their chances of regaining control.  Small indeed triangular groups would hound the opposition player and look to cut off their space and options in order to win back the ball.

Defence would now become attack and the Barca players were expected to move quickly and provide an option for their teammate who had the ball.  A lot of the time it would be two or three touches as they buzzed around quickly and menacingly ready to receive the ball at a moments notice.  Indeed the tempo of the game that Barcelona played and the movement was akin to a five a side match.

Every Barca player was expected to work hard and your contribution was to be for the benefit of the team rather than an individual.  With the team well-balanced from defence to attack it was no wonder that they put many teams to the sword and won plaudits for their entertaining play.

Incidentally it was to be the season that Xavi and Iniesta finally started to get the recognition that they deserved.  They suited the style perfectly and under Guardiola shone brightly.  Although Puyol may not go down as a Maldini he was an organiser and vocal leader who ensured that the defence retained its shape.

Guardiola also brought together a sense of unity as well as installing loyalty and belief in his methods.  Of course he would listen to ideas but Guardiola had a manner that is very much required in a modern coach of players not only understanding what he required but the reason why.

The season went off to a slow start in the league with a 1-0 away defeat to Numancia and drawing 1-1 in Barcelona’s first home game of the season against Racing Santander.  Many wondered if the team was still going to show the same inconsistencies that had plagued them for the last two.  However everything clicked into place after beating Sporting Gijon 6-1 away from home and won nine games in a row.

Slowly everybody started to take notice of this fast pressing game or what was termed ‘tiki taka.’  It was spell binding and enjoyable to watch for football fans.  At times Barcelona seemed to be from a different world as they raced away in the league.

In May 2009 Real Madrid the defending champions and needing a result to stay in realistic contention of retaining the title were humiliated with Barcelona thrashing Real 6-2 at the Bernabeu.  A few days later a last-minute well placed goal against Chelsea by Iniesta was enough to put Barcelona into the final against Manchester United.

Talk of a of a historic treble was now openly talked about with Barcelona winning the Copa Del Rey 4-1 against Bilbao.  With the league secured it was the chance of a third European cup title against the reigning champions Manchester United at Rome.

Despite a ropey start Barcelona asserted control after Eto’o had given Barca the lead after a well placed pass by Iniesta who hit a precision pass to Eto’o who raced on the right and put the ball past Van Der Saar.  After that there was only going to be one winner as Barcelona gave the Manchester club a footballing lesson.  A Messi header to make it two in the second half capped a fantastic season.  Indeed 2009 would see them win six titles which included the world club cup.

The following seasons saw Barcelona retain their league title (in what was to turn into the equivalent heavyweight clash of Ali V Frazier) with Real Madrid matching pound for pound but falling short by three points despite finishing the league on ninety-six points.

Inter Milan who would go on to win the European cup that year under Jose Mourinho had knocked out Barcelona in the semi-final 3-2 on aggregate.  Their defensive tactics holding well against the Catalans.

2010-11 season was to be seen as the pinnacle of Guardiola’s tenure in charge.  The pressure though was starting to show which wasn’t helped by Mourinho who Real Madrid had turned to in the hope of hauling in their nemesis Barcelona.

With the Catalan and Madrid clubs going toe to toe in every competition it was to be brutal mentally and competitively.  Mourinho’s aggressive mind games were pushed to the extreme to distract Barca but despite beating Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey it was to be the Catalan’s who would win the plaudits for winning the bigger prizes.  The league was retained for a third season in a row whilst beating Real Madrid 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final of the Champions league.

Manchester United were comprehensively beaten 3-1 in the final of the champions leagu with Alex Ferguson describing Barcelona as the best side that he had ever faced.  With the plaudits raining down on the Catalans it particularly grated Real Madrid who considered themselves as the footballing equivalent of the Harlem globetrotter’s in terms of being renowned entertainers.

The question now was how long could Barcelona sustain this high quality football and the success it brought.  2011-12 was to be Guardiola’s last season in charge as he took a well-earned break after the pressure that came with managing Barcelona.  Madrid would wrest the league back with Barcelona having to be content with the World club cup and Copa Del Rey.

Guardiola’s successor was to be his assistant Vilanova with Barcelona hoping that they too would have a bootroom legacy like Liverpool.  Some critics even described Vilanova as Bob Paisley to Guardiola being Shankly.

Although Vilanova led Barcelona to the league title with one hundred points there was the feeling that the team was on the wane.  Losing to Madrid in the Copa Del Rey was bad enough but the footballing lesson given to them by Bayern Munich in the semi-final of the champions league rubbed salt in the wounds.  Thrashed 4-0 at the Allianz Arena and soundly beaten at the Nou Camp 3-0.  Questions were being asked especially as the club became more reliant on Lionel Messi.

Vilanova had to step down due to his cancer returning and sadly passed away in April 2014.  In his place the Argentinean Tata Martino was to take charge.  It was not to be a successful season in charge with the club not winning any trophies and blowing the chance to retain the league as they failed to beat Atletico Madrid who in turn won the title on the final day.  This was despite the fact that Neymar had been signed (incidentally his signing would cause all matter of scandal regarding the manner of the transfer deal).

Luis Enrique took charge with Luis Suarez being signed from Liverpool to provide Barcelona with a very potent attack.  It was to bring rich rewards as Barcelona won the treble yet again.  Juventus being beaten 3-1 in Berlin to be Champions of Europe for the fifth time.

Yet despite the trophy haul there had been criticism daft as it may seem directed at Luis Enrique and his team.  Indeed there were questions as to whether he would last longer than the season.  The quality of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez who scored one hundred and twenty-two goals between them though ensured that Barcelona continued to collect the trophies.

Last season saw Barcelona retain the league and Copa Del Rey but this season seem to be jaded and way off the pace.  After the first leg humiliation at the Parc des Princes as Paris St Germain put four past Barcelona questions are being asked and again whether this is the end of the line for Enrique.

It is inevitable that a team no matter how successful they have been will hit a dip.  The players that brought the success get old and either move on or retire.  When Puyol finally called it a day due to injury there was not just a defensive gap missing but that all important leader and organiser.  He was the one who ensured that everybody was in position or urging them to push themselves.

Despite the need of a centre half Barcelona seemed to be happy with Mascherano playing in that position.  Although he has done a good job and certainly does the job required of carrying the ball the Barcelona defence is not as strong as it should be.

Xavi is another big miss as he was part of the heartbeat of the team along with Iniesta.  They brought balance to the team, could move quickly but were ruthless with their passing even in the tightest of spaces.  Iniesta now is coming towards the end and the squad from the Guardiola era is getting less and less.

At present Barcelona do have the best attack in Europe with Suarez, Neymar, and Messi.  Indeed any time that has the latter is always going to be formidable but there is not that symmetry of the past where the team attacked and defended as a unit.

When Guardiola took charge there was a player that was suited to every position and in some respects were the best players in that position.  Add a few tweaks tactically that took teams by surprise it was a formidable team.

Although Messi was always seen to be the main man the team over time became more reliant on the Argentinean.  To the point that a couple of seasons ago when Barcelona played PSG they done everything to get a patched up Messi on the pitch whose presence managed to get them through.  Rewind a few years and although Messi missing would be a blow the team would cope quite comfortably now it is more reliant on Messi than ever.

Tactics is also another matter.  It is always hard to stay one step ahead and teams have learnt to play against Barcelona by restricting space and if possible forcing them further up the pitch.

The Barcelona team now is more direct than Guardiola’s and that is a case of trying to keep ahead of their rivals.  Furthermore each new coach that arrived had their own ideas and influences that they felt would get the best results for the club.  In that respect it could be argued that they have continually delivered the trophies that Barcelona fans demand and are becoming accustomed to.

No team though can keep that level of play or success up forever.  Barcelona will find the next few years tougher as their main players who helped bring them success retire.  When Messi which is a good few years away retires or moves then Barcelona will find themselves back to earth with a bump.  As it is they are now entering the earth’s atmosphere and it will be a bumpy ride when they have to start all over again.  Trophies will be hard to come by whilst their rivals could well be the ones that are ahead.  That though is the nature of football.


Brian Benjamin