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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 


 

 

Sergio Ramos – The art of defending

In the dying minutes of normal time in the 2014 UEFA Champions league final, Real’s Modric whipped in a cross with Ramos rising high up to connect to head the ball firmly into the back of Atletico Madrid’s goal to take the game into extra time.   Although it was a cruel blow for their city rivals it was Real who eventually won the game 4-1 in extra time to claim La Decima.

Like many winners Sergio Ramos showed that dogged determination to keep persevering no matter how difficult or lost the situation appeared to be to snatch victory at the death.

There is a lot more to Ramos than simply showing heart and having to consistently be playing at his best to get through the game.  He is an accomplished defender with pace, awareness, organisation, and leadership.  Furthermore Ramos is comfortable at full back, centre half and even midfield when called upon.

Real Madrid might be obsessed with signing Galacticos as they certainly were in 2005 but the twenty-seven million euros that they paid Sevilla for Ramos who had come through the youth team was money well spent.  So much so that after Casillas left for Porto he was made Captain.

Starting at right back for Real Madrid and now as centre-half Ramos shows the tactical awareness and confidence required in your defenders.  Whether it’s defending the flanks and bursting forward as required of modern full backs or having the positional and physical presence of a centre half Ramos has shown that he can do the job.

Watching Ramos in any game and you can see that he does the simple things.  There are seldom any lapses of concentration with Ramos knowing where he should be.  Communication and leadership are other qualities as Ramos will order his teammates to either track or snuff out a potential attack.  As a result it is very seldom that someone will get the better of Ramos and it might also be this awareness that contributes to his scoring rate as a defender.  After all the 2014 Champions league final was not the first time or the last as Ramos recently grabbed Real a point at the Camp Nou to ensure that Madrid still held a six point advantage.

Being comfortable on the ball means that Ramos is always an option to his team mates to who they can pass to get out of trouble.  The technique and control on the ball certainly makes him one of the most accomplished defenders of his era.  He can carry the ball easily and rarely gives the ball away in dangerous areas.

Nobody is allowed to drop their standards with Ramos on the pitch or risk a severe bollocking.  At times during a match and certainly when things are going wrong players heads can go down.  This is where Ramos comes into his own as he shows the drive and leadership to install the belief that the game can be won.

It may not sound much but it can be the difference between inspiring others to step up to the plate or collapsing like a pack of cards.  With everyone digging in deep and refusing to give in are how points are won and in essence is what makes champions.

Defending like any other position is a specialised area.  It is not about making last-ditch tackles, hoofing balls to the better players, or heading away from set pieces.  Intelligence is required in terms of being able to read the play and anticipate where the danger is.  Awareness is another attribute especially of rival players who will exploit the slightest bit of space available.  Plus there is also the ability of organisation and communication that is vital to any settled defence.  Knowing where each other is on the pitch and to keep the line and shape of the team.

This is something that Ramos has in abundance.  With a defender like Ramos you can minimise the opposition’s space on the pitch and have the ability to break up their play.  Added to which Ramos is excellent on the ball.  When he receives the ball there is almost a nonchalant response as though the football is part of his body.  Again this talent can not only help you break up your opponents attack but put them on the back foot by setting up a counter-attack.

Of course the Achilles heel of Sergio Ramos is his disciplinary record.  He holds the undistinguished record of having been the most sent off player for Real Madrid having been dismissed from the pitch twenty-one times.  Admittedly some of them have been for rash challenges and second bookable offences that could easily be avoided. However there is a cynicism that secretly supporters want.  That is fouling players as a last resort to prevent the opposition from breaking forward and scoring.

It may be a little nudge or even a trip to knock a player off-balance but Ramos doesn’t deliberately go out to injure a fellow professional even if he is wearing a rival shirt.  Some may show open outrage at such gamesmanship but for some it is the ruthlessness of a winner who wants to win at all costs.

Back in November 2010 it was believed by sceptics that Ramos deliberately earned a second yellow card for time-wasting with Real already 4-0 up.  With the remaining game a dead rubber as Real Madrid had already qualified and Ramos a booking away from a suspension some believed Ramos had looked for the sending off in order to start with a clean slate in the next round.

With the recent Spanish national side one of the best and indeed one of the most successful it speaks for itself that Ramos is a regular for the national side.  He has seldom let the side down and has scored ten goals for Spain.

Sergio Ramos is a defender who every team would want in their side.  Not only can he play but there is that determination and ruthlessness of wanting to win.  These type of players are if the truth be told are not bothered if it is Garston park or the Bernabeu they want to win.  Furthermore they expect and will make it be known that they expect their team mates to step up to the plate when necessary.  No slacking or heads going down are tolerated.

Of course there is the added bonus that Ramos is one of the best defenders of his generation.  Something that Carlo Ancelotti declared as he declared “There are defenders with extraordinary technical quality, others have unique defensive qualities – like Cannavaro – who was brilliant at marking. Others, like Baresi, can command a back line while others influence with their strong personalities. But factoring everything together to evaluate a defender then Sergio Ramos is the most complete. He’s got a little bit of everything: technical quality, strength, personality and leadership.”

This is why the likes of Real Madrid are happy to spend big money on players like Ramos as they bring success and trophies.  He is also a defender that will bring stability and organisation that makes teammates and fans alike confident that the defence will not be breached.

Brian Benjamin

 

 

 

 

Joe Fagan – the quiet champion

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The demeanour and actions of Joe Fagan was of a modest man who would give his time to anyone.  No job was beneath him and to have passed him in the street as he made the short walk from his house to Anfield you might not have looked twice.

However he was no ‘ordinary Joe,’ but contributed to the success Liverpool enjoyed through the 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Not only did Fagan help Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley literally re-build Liverpool from scratch he also managed Liverpool to their most successful season by claiming a treble.

Achievements like these would normally guarantee you a place amongst the pantheon of football manager greats.  Winning a league championship over a marathon season, a league cup when it was taken just as seriously as the FA cup, and beating a Roma side in the European cup final in their own backyard is the stuff of legends.  Even the following season which would be his final year as manager saw Fagan guide Liverpool to a runner’s up spot in the league and European cup final.  Yet his achievements in football have been strangely forgotten.

Not that Joe Fagan would have liked to have been referred to as a legend.  He was a man who didn’t seek any platitudes or have an ego.  Instead Joe Fagan was happy to get on with his job and above all loved his football.

There are some critics who will try to state that the team that Fagan inherited was still in its prime and just needed a steady hand to keep things ticking over.  This though is not only ignorant but sloppily glosses over the talents of a man who was not only a top coach but also contributed to the success Liverpool enjoyed.

Besides as David Moyes, Wilf McGuinness, and Brian Clough found out to their cost it is hard to follow after one legend never mind two which was the case with Fagan.  His predecessors were Bob Paisley and the man responsible from dragging Liverpool from the doldrums to conquering Europe the enigmatic Bill Shankly.

For the Liverpool board it seemed a relatively easy decision to make after Bob Paisley had announced that he wished to retire from football after the 1982-83 season.  After all Joe Fagan was an original member of the boot room.  He was just as much responsible for the evolving changes in tactics as well as being liked and respected by fellow coaches and supporters.

It was something that Fagan wasn’t too sure about as he stated ‘my first reaction at the time was that I wouldn’t take it,’ ‘but I thought about it carefully and realised someone else might come in and upset the whole rhythm.  I finally decided to take it and keep the continuity going for a little longer.’

At sixty-two Fagan was one of the oldest managers of the league and was only a couple of years younger than Paisley.  Even so with the experience and with his fellow boot room colleagues Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans were on hand to assist.

Fagan despite being born in Liverpool started his career as a defender for Manchester City and although there was not much success did Captain the team.  After that there were early coaching stints as a player-manager at Nelson, assistant manager at Rochdale before taking up the offer of a coaching role at Liverpool by the then manager Phil Taylor.

With the departure of Phil Taylor after Liverpool failed to gain promotion there was of course much uncertainty of whether the new manager Bill Shankly would bring in his own staff.  It was to be one of the best decisions that Shankly made as he made no changes to the coaching set up.  Indeed his first words to Fagan were ‘You must have been a good player, Joe, because I tried to sign you.’

The foundations of Shankly’s Liverpool were helped by Paisley, Fagan, Moran, Bennett, and Saunders who helped turn a dilapidated club with poor training facilities kicking and screaming into a first-rate club that became the bastion of invincibility that Shankly wanted.

Although Fagan had been given the job as reserve team manager he was still to have an influential part to play in helping establishing Liverpool to be a major force.  No job was seen to be beneath anyone with everyone expected to muck in for the common good.  Whether it was helping clear the rocks from the battered Melwood training pitch and making it a surface suitable for a top club or painting the barriers and what not at the ground Fagan like Paisley and Shankly was quite willing to pitch in.

Part of the success of Liverpool was that nobody was allowed to get any airs or graces.  Shankly, Paisley, and Fagan were from a generation rife with poverty and as soon as they were old enough were expected to graft and earn for the family.  It was a philosophy that certainly influenced their outlook on life and if a player wasn’t giving their all then they were shown the door.

Tommy Smith recalls the time that Joe Fagan would not allow for any illusions of grandeur.  After two years on the ground staff Smith had been offered a professional contract.  Prior to signing the contract his ground staff mates asked if he would help sweep the home dressing room in order to finish quickly.

Smith scoffed at such a suggestion now that he was to be a professional and let them know that his days of skivvying were behind him.  Unbeknown to Smith, Joe Fagan had watching all of this in the background and with the sigh of an Uncle telling off a petulant nephew said “Tommy, pick up the brush, son.”   No more needed to be said as an embarrassed Smith picked up the brush and helped his mates.

One of Fagan’s strengths was his ability to listen to players and offer advice when needs be.  Roger Hunt had signed amateur forms whilst doing his national service which in turn restricted him playing.  As a result Hunt found himself struggling with his fitness.  So much so that after being selected to play Preston for the reserves his performance deteriorated so badly that midway through the second half Fagan pushed his Captain John Nicholson up front with Hunt dropping back in defence.

It was what was said after the game that even now sticks in Hunt’s mind.  Fagan quietly told him that he was not attempting to make a show of him but advised him what he needed to do if Hunt wanted to make it as a professional footballer.  Hunt recalls “I decided to get even much fitter, work harder, and at least if I didn’t make it at least I had given it everything.  I always remember that part of it because Joe was solely responsible.”  The advice worked with Hunt not just breaking into the first team but became an Anfield goal scoring legend.

One of the most difficult tasks of being a reserve team manager is how to deal with the senior professionals who had been dropped from the first team.  After the defeat against Watford in a third round away tie, Shankly had realised that the team needed rebuilding and that he had perhaps allowed players to stay way past their prime.

Ian St. John was one of the senior pro’s to be part of the cull and Fagan was aware that he had to ensure that not only would St. John do his best on the pitch, but not cause disruption like many a disgruntled former first teamer do in football.

Man management though was part of Fagan’s strengths as he ensured that he would ask St. John’s opinion in front of his teammates as well as making him Captain.  Through Fagan’s tactful diplomacy he made what was a rough part of St. John’s career a bit more smoother as well as ensuring that he also performed on the pitch even if it was only for the second string.

Again with up and coming youngsters who were impatient at wanting to get in the first team like Ray Clemence or newcomers like Brian Hall, Tommy Smith, Ian Callaghan, Joe Fagan would show the patience and tutoring required that would help these player’s eventually make the step up to the first team.  Brian Hall said about his time under Fagan “His thinking was always football-orientated, but above that he was a real people’s person.”

As a result the reserves for example only lost fourteen of their one hundred and twenty-six Central league fixtures.  This of course resulted in three consecutive Central league championships from 1969-1971.

That was not to say that Fagan wasn’t averse to laying down the law verbally.  Souness recalls that Joe’s way would be “a quiet word or even a single look would say it all.  He could be hard and I remember on a number of occasions that he would say something really harsh to one of the lads, but he’d do it ever so quietly and that was his way of emphasising the point.”

Fagan knew when it was appropriate to put an arm around a player, to offer practical advice, and when to give a bollocking.   Mark Lawrenson recalls that a telling off from Joe Fagan felt like the end of the world.

The most famous example of this was Liverpool’s poor start to the 1981-82 season.  After a poor defeat against Manchester City at home and with the reds slumping to twelfth nine points adrift of the leaders Swansea City it was the final straw for Paisley and his coaching staff.  On the following Monday with the players getting ready for training Fagan let rip at every single player as he made it very clear that their performances were not only unacceptable but that it was time for them to start pulling their weight.

Lawrenson states that it had the required affect.  “It had a far bigger effect than anyone else at the club doing it – even Bob Paisley or Kenny Dalglish afterwards.”

The next game was a third round cup tie against Swansea with Liverpool winning emphatically 4-0.  In the league Liverpool went on a run that included eleven consecutive league wins to claim the league title with the League Cup retained after beating Spurs 3-1 after extra time.

In many ways Shankly, Paisley, and Fagan were a holy trinity with their own individual skills and talents coming together that helped make Liverpool so successful.  The fabled boot room is now talked about in mythical terms.  It was as the name suggests where the boots were kept but became a base for the backroom staff and manager to have a chat and discussion over the football or issues affecting the club.

Joe Fagan indirectly was responsible for creating the boot room.  As a favour to his friend Paul Orr who was then manager of the local amateur side Guinness Exports, Fagan would do a spot of coaching and arranged for injured Export players to be treated at Anfield.  As a thank you Orr would regularly send supplies of Guinness and other ales for Joe.

The only problem was where to store the ale with Joe finding that the boot room was a handy place.  With a ready supply of ale it became the go to place for the coaching staff to meet.  Paisley commented “It’s just like popping down the local.  We have a full and frank exchange of views in there in a leisurely atmosphere every Sunday morning.”

Shankly might have been quoted that “football was a simple game, based on the giving and receiving of passes,” a view that Paisley and Joe Fagan also shared but that underplayed the hard work and thought that went into their preparations.

For starters when Shankly took over at Liverpool he instantly changed the training philosophy that was geared towards physical endurance with the actual work with the football regarded as a second thought.  In some quarters the lack of work with the ball made them believe that it made the players hungrier come Saturday.

The new regime wanted training to replicate a match which meant working with the football.  ‘Pass it to the nearest red shirt,’ or ‘pass and move,’ became the mantra.  Everything was all based towards improving the technique, control, and reacting quickly to what would happen during a match.  Three, four, and five aside matches became established with players becoming more involved with the ball and in tighter situations.

There was of course the infamous sweat box with four boards, placed on each side of a twenty yard rectangle against which a player would play the ball, play it, and play it.  A minute in there was more than enough for most players as it improved technique and concentration.

Fitness was a key issue but not only did the player’s enjoy it but the level of fitness was improved to such an extent that the opposition would wilt in the final third of matches but Liverpool being generally fitter would take advantage.

Whereas Shankly as manager would have to take step back Fagan was involved where he enjoyed it the most which was working with the players.  Like Paisley and Bennett, Fagan would report back to Shankly if there was anything of note from training.

Joe Fagan like the other coaches was also responsible in meticulously logging each day’s schedule.  It was done so that in times of trouble it could be something that the coaching staff could refer to which may resolve any problems that may arise.  These books were also referred to as the ‘anfield bibles,’ that were meant to contain the secret of Liverpool’s success.  In truth it was a reference book that the coaching staff would refer to.

It was also in the boot room that Liverpool would discuss players and tactics.  Lessons would be learnt from key games such as the mist game against Ajax in 65 and Crvena Zvezda in 1973 that saw Liverpool change their style to a patient passing style.  The likes of Emlyn Hughes and Phil Thompson who were good on the ball were drafted in to play this new style which would take them to new levels.  Joe Fagan of course would have been involved and would have voiced his opinion that would influence Liverpool’s way of playing.

The hard work was to be worth it as Liverpool changed from club muddling along in the second division into a team that dominated England in Europe as the trophies continually kept being filled in the cabinet.

In 1979 Joe Fagan became the assistant manager it was a job that he had been doing anyway but was now made official.   He had of course helped Paisley to steady the ship and take Liverpool to even greater heights after the shock resignation of Shankly in 1974.

So when Paisley announced that he would retire after the 1982-83 season it wasn’t really a surprise that Fagan would take charge as it seemed a natural transition.  Something that Liverpool back then prided themselves on doing it well that it would hardly be noticed.

Joe Fagan certainly had the respect of the players and it was certainly a case of business as usual.  For Fagan though there was a slight difference that he now had to take a step back.  However any worries that he wasn’t up to the task of making the hard decisions were quickly put to bed.  They might be decisions that Joe Fagan didn’t want to make but he knew that the success of the club relied on not allowing sentiment to cloud your judgement.

A pre-season tour to Belfast and Rotterdam meant Fagan had to select a fourteen man squad.  With Hansen and Lawrenson now the established centre-backs and Gary Gillespie being Fagan’s first signing it meant no place for the respected veteran Phil Thompson.  Joe Fagan admitted that it was his first unpleasant decision but did it because it was in the best interest of the team.

For the start of the 1983-84 season there were understandably nerves Joe Fagan worried that the season might be similar to Bob Paisley’s first year when Liverpool finished the season trophyless.  There were injury worries with Ronnie Whelan being sidelined for the beginning of the season and the failure to capture Michael Laudrup and Charlie Nicholas as signings.

It was to become a memorable season as Liverpool won a historic treble.  With Liverpool chasing a third successive title the stakes was high especially as the media mused that the reds dominance might be on the wane.

These were worries that Joe Fagan kept to himself although he did highlight the concerns in his diaries.  After one defeat Fagan questioned whether the players still had the hunger to win although these fears were to be disproved during the course of the season.

There were doubts about some of his signings such as Michael Robinson whilst Craig Johnston was causing much consternation with one of Fagan’s entries declaring about Johnston “he sounds as if he plays for Roy of the Rovers and has to grow up.”

Despite all this Fagan kept a positive air with no indication of any worries or concerns about the up and coming season.  It was to be justified after Liverpool thrashed Luton Town 6-0 at home in October with Rush scoring five to send the reds top of the league.  It was a position that Liverpool rarely slipped away from with the only real challenge coming from Manchester United.  A 4-0 reverse after going unbeaten for fifteen games away to Coventry City saw Fagan give his team a rollicking but Liverpool consistently got the wins as United failed to take the initiative when the reds dropped points.

Highlights of the 1983-84 season was a Rush hat-trick for the TV cameras as Liverpool came back from 1-0 down away to Villa to win 3-1, a 3-0 win against Everton and the 5-0 thrashing of Coventry City that virtually guaranteed Liverpool the title.  A 0-0 draw away to Notts County secured Liverpool their fifteenth title and become the first team since Arsenal to win three consecutive league championships.

The League cup or Milk Cup as it was known had been won earlier as Fagan felt the relief of claiming his first trophy.  Everton had been beaten 1-0 at Maine road following a drab 0-0 draw at Wembley.  A superb strike by Souness winning Liverpool the Milk Cup.

Europe though was where Liverpool looked especially impressive.  Athletic Bilbao were beaten in a solid display after winning 1-0 away in the second leg with the Basque side having only lost once in thirty-one European ties at home prior to being beaten by Liverpool.

Benfica were up next after winning 1-0 at home the Portuguese side were thrashed 4-1.  Then came a volatile match against Dinamo Bucharest with a Sammy Lee goal winning the first leg.  However it was Souness breaking the jaw of Moliva after the Romanian’s side cynical fouling that saw the Scotsman retaliate but luckily was not caught by the referee or officials.

It turned the return leg into a volatile and hostile match with even airport officials giving threatening gestures as the team went through customs.  The reds though soared above the hostility to win 2-1 and win a place in the final to play the Italian Champions AS Roma which was to be played at their ground the Stadio Olimpico.

It was a stadium that brought good memories for Liverpool as it was Rome where the reds won their first European cup in 1977.  Although they were literally in the Wolves back yard and with Roma boasting the likes of Falcao and Conti it was the Italians that were favourites.  This though was where Joe Fagan showed his mettle in terms of his man management skills by putting his players at ease.

Whilst Roma were placed in a training camp and kept to themselves Liverpool went to Israel not only because the temperature would be similar to Rome but with the intention for the player’s to relax after a hard season.

Despite Fagan’s casual appearance everything was meticulously planned.  From toning down the training as he felt the player’s were pushing themselves at the wrong time and peaking too soon.  Fagan also ensured that they arrived in Rome not too early so as to ensure the players didn’t dwell or get bored.

For Fagan it was about ensuring that the player’s were relaxed and feeling confident and that the pressure was on Roma who had to get the better of Liverpool.  Even delivering the UEFA instruction about player’s not running to the crowd if a goal was scored was changed by Fagan to “when we score a goal.”  In turn it gave Liverpool the confidence that they would score in a very intimidating arena.

It certainly had the required effect with the player’s so much relaxed that after casually lapping up the atmosphere they returned back to the tunnel and started to sing Chris Rea’s song ‘I don’t know what it is (But I love it)’ which became the unofficial song for the squad.

Nils Liedholm the Roma manager saw the colour on his player’s face drain as they heard the Liverpool players in full voice that he knew that they were in trouble.

Although the Liverpool way was to let the opposition worry about them Fagan still gave brief instructions that close tabs had to be kept on Falcao and Conti.  However the main instruction was for Liverpool to play their natural game.

Phil Neal had given Liverpool the lead and despite dominating the first half Pruzzo had equalised for Roma just before the end of the half.  No goals came in the second half or the extra time that was played which meant that the European Cup final would be decided on penalties for the first time.

During the period whilst deciding who would take penalties Fagan told his players that he was proud of them.  The onus was on Roma to win the game on their own patch and Liverpool had prevented them from doing so.  Grobbelaar remembers Fagan easing some of the pressure off him by telling him that he had done his job and that nobody would blame him if he couldn’t stop a ball from twelve yards.

Steve Nicol blasted Liverpool’s first penalty over the bar with Roma taking the lead.  Neal pulled one back but with the words of Fagan advising Grobbelaar to “put them off,’ and decided to in his own words do ‘the crossover legs routine,’ with Conti missing.  Souness scored from the spot with Righetti levelling.  Then came Ian Rush who put Liverpool back in the lead.  Then came the spaghetti legs from Bruce Grobbelaar with the nerves getting to Graziani who hit the crossbar.  The mathematics was now clear.  If Liverpool scored they would be the European Champions for the fourth time.  Up stepped Alan Kennedy who shot to the goalkeeper’s right, with the ball hitting the back of the net as a jubilant Alan Kennedy sprinted away in triumph.

For Fagan it capped an unbelievable first season as Liverpool manager as they won a historic treble that no other English club had managed to do.  Although Joe Fagan had a beaming smile his interviews were quietly understated as he also commiserated Roma in their defeat.

The celebrations continued well into the night and there is the iconic picture of a relaxed Joe Fagan lounging casually in a deck chair by the pool with the European cup as two Carabinieri stand guard.  In many ways the image summed up Joe Fagan.  He might have given the casual laid back air but underneath there was a steel of determination who was as hard as nails when it came down to it.

Parties broke out across Liverpool as the reds were welcomed home in an open bus tour.  It was a welcome that the team and Joe Fagan thoroughly deserved especially as many had questioned whether Fagan had the mettle to succeed Bob Paisley.

Anything after that magnificent year the followin season was always going to be an anti-climax and with Souness going to Sampdoria it was equally going to be harder after losing their influential skipper.

Jan Molby and Paul Walsh had been signed but Liverpool got off to a terrible start to the season and at one point in the season went seven games without a win.  Joe Fagan equally showed that there was no sentiment or player’s being picked purely on reputation as Kenny Dalglish was dropped for the first time away to Spurs.  Although Liverpool lost 1-0 it showed that Fagan had the ruthlessness if he felt it necessary to drop a player.

Liverpool had crashed out of the league cup early against Spurs whilst being knocked out in the semi-final stage against Manchester United in the FA cup.  Although Liverpool had managed to put on enough of a run to claim second place to the Champions Everton, it was the European cup that looked like Liverpool’s best chance of success.  Comprehensive wins against Benfica and the demolishing of Panathinaikos 5-0 aggregate win in the semi-final saw Liverpool face the Italian champions Juventus in the final.

Contrary to what some people believe Joe Fagan after two seasons in charge had decided to step down at the end of the season prior to the European cup final.  The plan had been that Joe would manage for two or three seasons with either Phil Neal or Kenny Dalglish to take charge.  It was of course the latter who was to succeed Fagan who hoped to bow out in style with a fifth European cup win.

Sadly that was not to be with the horrific events of Heysel after Liverpool fans charged at Juventus fans in the alleged “neutral area,” there was a crush prior to the collapsing of the wall which led to thirty-nine deaths.  A riot broke out between the two sets of fans with numerous appeals from both sides including Joe Fagan appealing to the fans to stop.

Much has been written about the causes and those responsible for what happened at Heysel.  The final should never have been played at a dilapidated stadium with some of the Police and authorities also held culpable and subsequently charged.

Despite the violence the match was still played with Liverpool beaten after Platini scored a penalty.  However the result had no real meaning after the loss of lives at what was meant to be a football match.

The image of a broken Joe Fagan being supported by Roy Evans after Liverpool had touched down at Speke airport spoke volumes on how it had affected him.  It was something that he couldn’t comprehend and was to be a sad end to an illustrious career.

After all the years of loyal service to Liverpool it should not be the lasting image of Joe Fagan nor should his achievements be forgotten.  It isn’t just about winning an incredible treble in his first season in charge of Liverpool but his overall contribution to the reds.

Joe Fagan with Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley did the most difficult thing in football by not just constantly adapting to the changes in the game but consistently staying one step ahead.  Their philosophy that football never really changes with the fundamentals being consistent are true but their actions of recording every minute detail of training, injuries, and ensuring the players warmed down properly for example showed that they were ahead of their time.

Equally true is the fact that training was more ball based with it mirroring the actions of a football match showed the thought process that went into making Liverpool one of the greats.

Paisley in his cardigan and Fagan in his flat cap may have looked and even acted like your favourite Uncle but were as hard as nails if you was silly enough to cross them.  They knew the ins and outs of the various personalities of footballers and as a result knew how to deal with players.

Playing under either of the three you were expected to take personal responsibility and to give your all no matter what job you were given.  Failure to do so would see you being shown the door.  Reputations or egos didn’t come into it.  If you didn’t do the job then you were no good to them.  Sentimentality didn’t come into either with the decision made for what was best for the team.

That was not to say it was easy at times.  In many ways it may have been one of the reasons why Fagan had decided to step down as manager after two seasons.  From reading the diary extracts of the authorised biography by his son Andrew Fagan and Mark Platt there does appear to be a sense of frustration at not being at the ground floor which he loved best by working with the players in training.  An extract from his second day as manager reads ‘I have been here since 9.15am.  The time now is 10.15am and there is no sign of anyone or anything happening!  I am also dressed up in collar and tie.  It is not my normal gear – but it becomes me!’

Despite the success in the short space of time that Joe Fagan was in charge of Liverpool he seems largely forgotten outside of the club.  Not that it would have bothered Joe Fagan.  He had no airs or graces and viewed it as only doing a job.  Indeed he couldn’t understand why people would still stop him in the street to chat football long after his retirement.  Fagan even kept an eye on supporter’s cars after being surprised to see the ex Liverpool manager opening the door when they had knocked  to seek permission to park outside his house.

There is no doubt that Joe Fagan was a down to earth man with many of those speaking of what a nice guy he was.  There is the story of him brushing the away changing rooms at Notts County just after Liverpool had won the title in 1984 or of helping supporters get tickets for big games.

What should never be forgotten though is not just winning the treble in the 1983-84 season, but Joe Fagan’s contribution to Liverpool.  He was just as much an integral part as Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley were in making Liverpool the best.  It is only right that equally Joe Fagan should be remembered as being one of the top coaches in the game.

 

Brian Benjamin