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?

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The end of Paradise – Will Liverpool ever reclaim the title?

 

Nobody envisaged that when Alan Hansen held aloft the league championship in May 1990 that so far he would be the last Liverpool Captain to do so.  On that warm evening after beating Derby County 1-0  it was presumed to be business as normal.  After all Liverpool had been the dominant force over the past twenty years who prior to the ban on English teams competing in European club competitions had also dominated Europe.

Nobody even after the shock resignation of Kenny Dalglish as manager   in 1991  envisaged that Liverpool would fall down the pecking order.  Nor did they expect that the clock is still ticking twenty-seven years on when Liverpool could declare themselves the Champions of England.

There is still much debate as to how and why it happened.  Graeme Souness is largely held responsible for the dramatic decline with his inferior signings and brash manner.  However it is not as simple as this as was an ageing Liverpool team.  Previously players would be shipped on and replaced as soon as they hit the thirty mark. Hindsight though is a wonderful thing.

Here is a brief summary of each manager and of the problems they faced and how they left the club.

Graeme Souness

With Liverpool still in a state of shock after the sudden resignation of Kenny Dalglish the club turned to its former Captain and current Glasgow Rangers Manager Graeme Souness in April 1991.  Being a former player he would know the Liverpool way and in Scotland had turned around the fortunes of a stagnant Rangers into being the dominant force once more.

Souness was also a born winner who would not tolerate second best.  Something that he alluded to in his programme notes in the final game of the season against Spurs.

It was widely expected that Souness had a re-building job on his hands and that it might take a couple of years possibly three to bed in a new team.  Nobody though expected it be a traumatic three years of turmoil that saw the club going backwards rather than forward.

The major problem which was something that Souness later admitted was that he tried to change things too quickly.  There was also the added conflict with the senior players and former teammates over how he wanted to change the team.  Souness cited that even little things such as moving to drinking a lighter lager or banning fish and chips after a match was met with resistance.

The likes of Peter Beardsley, Ray Houghton, and Steve McMahon were allowed to go too soon with the replacements such as Mark Walters, Dean Saunders, and the notorious Istvan Kozma who earned the nickname ‘Lord Lucan,’ were simply not good enough.

Liverpool still continued to spend big money during that period in the desperate hope of getting it right.  The majority of it was not spent wisely with the likes of Paul Stewart, Julian Dicks and Neil Ruddock not having the ability that was normally required to play for Liverpool.  Nigel Clough was a flop with many believing that he would fit into Liverpool effortlessly with Souness even boldly declaring him as the next Kenny Dalglish.  The only similarities that Clough had was that they both wore the number seven shirt.

Not that it was all bad under Souness who allowed youngsters like McManaman, Fowler, and Redknapp the opportunity to make their mark for Liverpool.  Signings like Mark Wright and Michael Thomas gave fans a glimmer of hope that if they could get quality experienced players with the mix of youth players coming through that the future may not be as bleak.  Rob Jones incidentally signed from Crewe promised to be a steal due to his ability as a right back.

The FA cup was also won in Souness’s first full season in 1992 with goals from Rush and Thomas enough to beat Second division Sunderland.  However the incident with the Sun newspaper reviled on Merseyside due to its lies and notorious disgusting headlines about the Hillsborough disaster was to damage the relationship between the fans and Souness.  After the semi-final win against Portsmouth and with Souness recovering from a heart-bypass he allowed himself to be pictured in his hospital bed with an interview also published in the Sun.  With the anniversary of Hillsbrough it was a foolish and insensitive thing to do and Souness should really have been forced to resign.

With the conflict with players and the fans it wasn’t long before Souness announced his resignation in January 1994 after Liverpool were knocked out by Bristol City then in the second tier.

It certainly wasn’t the tenure that Souness wanted to be remembered for with the team seeming to be going backwards despite the money that had been spent. The club was starting to drift away from being the major force of the game when the club turned to Roy Evans a member of the fabled bootroom.

Roy Evans

After the disastrous Souness regime the Liverpool board went back to basics by appointing Roy Evans who along with coach Ronnie Moran were the last of the bootroom boys.

It was seen as a safe and a reassuring move for the Liverpool board and fans alike.  Here was someone who was tutored in the bootroom and would mend bridges with the senior players still left at Liverpool.

Unfortunately Roy Evans did not have the steel or ability to install the discipline a manager needs to ensure his players know who is in charge.  Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan may have looked and acted like the genial Uncle with their flat caps and comfy cardigans but when required had the ruthlessness to match a Mafia Don.

During Evans tenure in charge there were numerous stories of ill discipline from players making prank calls whilst Evans was being interviewed, players making a game of stealing his car park space, and Collymore alleging that Robbie Fowler got his manager in an arm lock and ruffled his head in jest.

In part it was to lead to the hated nickname of the Liverpool players the ‘spice boys,’ which inferred that the players were more interested in image than playing.  The notorious white suit cup final of 1996 emphasised this more than anything especially as they lost 1-0 to rivals Manchester United.

Evans certainly in his early days did bring back stability and nobody could deny that he brought about swashbuckling football.  Added to which during his time at Liverpool the club always finished within the top four.

Tactically Evans showed that he wasn’t adverse to changing things as Liverpool played with three at the back with wing backs.  It produced the type of football that resulted in two 4-3 wins against Newcastle United both of which were won in dramatic circumstances.

Liverpool also had the emergence of young talent with local youth team products Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman with other young players such as Jamie Redknapp, David James, and Rob Jones.  All of which provided their best football under Evans.

It was the basis of a good mix with the experience of John Barnes and Ian Rush before they moved on.  At this point Liverpool were in a good position to start making up ground on Manchester United who were now the top team of English football.  The hardest part was getting the right players and ensuring they had the right attitude.  Evans though was not to get this right.

A clear out was always going to be needed with the likes of Julian Dicks and Torben Piechnik quickly being sold it could be argued that Neil Ruddock should also have been one of the first players to be shown the door.

Would the likes of Shankly, Paisley, and Fagan tolerated the unprofessional and lack of fitness that Neil Ruddock showed?  Never mind that he wasn’t up to the standard of required of a top-level defender.  The pass the pound game as told by Ruddock with the loser left holding the coin at the end of the game having to buy the first round of drinks at the bar summed up the attitude that was wrong within the club.

Despite his ability as a player Stan Collymore was another signing that probably wouldn’t have been made by Evans former bootroom colleagues.  There were already issues that had been highlighted during his time at Forest, Southend, and Palace that may have made them wary.  Collymore of course mentioned about his depression and it would have needed a manager that had the ability to show the support needed.  Unfortunately Evans was not that man.

The signings of Phil Babb, Jason McAteer, Leonhardsen to name but a few failed to reach the level required.  Roy Evans four years in charge was to be part frustration that the team had promise but fell just short.  Even when they challenged for the 1996-97 Premier league title they managed to finish fourth in what was deemed a two-horse race between Liverpool and Manchester United.

Crucially Liverpool didn’t show that resilience required to win league titles.  The ability that Ferguson’s United and indeed Liverpool teams of the past that would never give up no matter how bad they were playing.  Somehow they would always manage to get a result even against all odds.  Evans Liverpool team just couldn’t do that and faltered when they were required to get a result to stay ahead.

Evans only major honour was the league cup in 1995 which in that year was progress fresh from the debacle of the Souness years previously.  After being beaten in the Cup final by Man Utd a year later the 1996-97 season was the one Liverpool had to show that they had mettle to win the big titles.  Instead a year later Liverpool were regressing.  The defence was seen as weak with the team appearing to fall further behind Manchester United with Arsenal under their new French manager Arsene Wenger their main rivals.

Liverpool fans became frustrated at the lack of progress and feared that the eight years since they last won the title would continue for longer under Evans.  Many felt that he had given his best but didn’t have the ability or discipline to get Liverpool back on top.

Not for the first time the then club chairman David Moores and the board were unable or unwilling to make the tough decision.  Rather than asking Evans to resign and appoint a new manager or show that they had faith with Evans by telling fans that he was staying they went with a fudge by appointing Gerard Houllier as joint-manager.

With Ronnie Moran retiring in the summer of 1998 many fans felt that the Houllier was taking over as Evans number two.  Instead they realised that Liverpool now had two managers.

Roy Evans a loyal Liverpool man to the last went against his better judgment when the idea was to put to him.  If it was for the best of the club then he was prepared to go with it.  Sadly Evans was in a no win situation.  If Liverpool were to step up and win titles then Gerard Houllier would gain the plaudits.  Equally if things went wrong which they did during that 1998-99 season then it would be Evans who would take the blame and lose his job.

A defeat in November 1998 against Tottenham in the league cup saw Evans deciding that he had to walk away stating ‘if it’s not working then it would be a bigger mistake to stay.’

Gerard Houllier

The only link that Gerard Houllier had with Liverpool prior to his appointment as manager was as a school teacher during his previous time in the City.  Liverpool felt that a fresh approach was required and since French was in vogue following Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal won the double and France winning the World Cup hired Houllier.

The joint manager scheme by the Liverpool board appeared to be done in the vain hope of a losing gambler throwing his last fiver on a 30/1 outsider.  Inevitably it was to fail and in November Gerard Houllier was now solely in charge of Liverpool.

One of the first things that Houllier sought to improve besides the discipline within the club was to improve the defence that was soft and nervous.  It was to see a more organised and disciplined approach with the players associated with unprofessionalism shown the door.  The football though was to become more dour and cautious with conflict between the Kop’s favourite player Robbie Fowler and Houllier.

The disruptive influences of the likes of Neil Ruddock and Phil Babb were quickly shown the door with Steve McManaman deciding to take up the challenge of playing abroad and signing for Real Madrid.  It was a move that irked some Liverpool fans as due to McManaman’s contract expiring he was able to leave on a free transfer.  That though was the club’s fault for allowing the situation to progress as it did.

With the dawn of a new millennium it was also hoped to be the start of the glory days for Liverpool.  Three trophies within the 90’s was a drought as far as Liverpool football club were concerned.

Houllier strengthened the defence with Sami Hyppia and Stephane Henchoz being signed.  David James whose confidence appeared to be shattered after some high-profile clangers was sold to Aston Villa with Sander Westerveld becoming the new number one.  Didi Hamann was also signed from Newcastle and the talented Czech Vladimir Smicer joining his compatriot Patrik Berger.  Titi Camara was also signed as a forward.

The changes in the team could be seen instantly in that they looked more resilient and solid in defence.  However it was not to be as attacking as Evans Liverpool with caution now being the motif.  Houllier was of the ilk that the team did not need to have the ball to control the game and believed it was about taking that one big chance in the game.

Nevertheless there was still first class talent with Michael Owen being given his chance by Roy Evans looking to prove his potential.  All the signs were good especially as he scored a wonder goal against Argentina in the 1998 World cup.  David Thompson was regarded as the next big thing but it was to be a young kid from Huyton Steven Gerrard who would become the next idol of the Kop.

The gap between Liverpool taking their place at the top was widening and it was now vitally important that the club got the appointment right.  Under Houllier who appointed Phil Thompson as his number two the club despite early promise failed to do so.

Although Houllier’s first full season failed to produce any trophies with Liverpool failing to claim a Champions league place it was the 2000-01 season that brought success.  With Emile Heskey signed in March 2000 and the experienced Gary McAllister that helped the club win the treble of FA cup, League and UEFA cup.  Houllier also managed to ensure that Liverpool finished third to qualify for the Champions league.

It should have been the catalyst to spur Liverpool on to take that big step and be genuine contenders for the league.  Instead the club was to stumble and with some poor signings after finishing second in the 2001-02 season the club was to go backwards yet again.

Why Houllier had decided to spend £10 million on El Hadji Diouf rather than making the loan signing of Nicolas Anelka permanent is still puzzling.  Aside from Diouf’s attitude he was a player that would not fit with the way Houllier set his team up.  Diouf was not a centre-forward to play in a 4-4-2 formation and indeed he was more of an attacking midfielder.  Either way it was a gamble that was not to pay off.  The likes of his compatriot Salif Diao who was average at best.  Then of course there was Bruno Cheyrou who was dubbed the ‘next Zidane,’ by Houllier but the only similarity he had was as a doppleganger.

Although Manchester United were beaten 2-0 for Liverpool to win the Worthington league cup it was to be a poor season for Liverpool who managed to finish fifth.

Harry Kewell was signed from Leeds to bring that extra bit of guile that the critics felt was required but Houllier was on borrowed time for the 2003-04 season.  With the football poor on the eye to watch and results not up to the requirements it was no surprise that in 2004 Houllier parted ways with Liverpool.

Was Houllier’s stint in charge of the reds a success?  Well he would certainly argue that he won trophies but never ever got close to winning what is now the holy grail which is the league title.  Supporters of Houllier would also say that he brought in the much needed discipline in the club, helped develop Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher who eventually found his position in defence.

Liverpool needed someone with the quality to bridge the ever increasing gap between their rivals.  Despite making ground they stumbled and fell behind.  Signings after 2001 were poor and Houllier was mocked when he kept talking about turning a corner after winning after a bad run only to get beat the following week.

Another problem that Houllier had was the quality of football that watching was like being on mogadon.  If results are going your way then you can get away with it but when it is producing poor results then fans are not going to accept it.

There was also the added problem that despite the UEFA cup win that Houllier was tactically outwitted on the continent.  Barcelona in November 2001 outplayed Liverpool as they won 3-1 at Anfield whilst Valencia cut Liverpool apart in 2002 with the 1-0 score line not as close as indicated.

Houllier in the same year had a chance of making the semi-finals against Manchester United and were drawing 1-1 in the second leg after winning 1-0 at Anfield.  For reasons unknown and with thirty minutes still on the clock Houllier took off Hamann for Smicer and upset the balance of the team.  Leverkusen took advantage and won 4-2 which was enough to take them through to the semi’s.

Sadly though Houllier was not the manager that the Liverpool board thought they were getting.  The impression was that he would be similiar to Wenger especially as he was noted for recruiting young talent.  Instead of signing the likes of Henry, Viera, and Pires Houllier signed Le Tallec, Pongolle, and Cheyrou.  Liverpool now turned their eyes to Spain and were impressed with a young coach who had recently won La Liga and the UEFA cup.  Rafael Benitez.

Rafael Benitez

After falling out with the Valencia board over the lack of say over signings Rafael Benitez took up the offer of replacing Gerard Houllier.  It was again to be another rebuilding job but this time Liverpool had a manager with winning credentials.  To win two La liga titles over the giants that are Barcelona and Real Madrid was one hell of an achievement.  The hope was that Benitez coaching ability would see Liverpool leapfrog Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea who had also appointed Jose Mourinho.

Benitez may not have delivered the title but he did come close in the 2008-09 season with Liverpool finishing second on eighty six points.  This incidentally was more than when they last won the league.  Nevertheless Benitez had made Liverpool a force to be reckoned with in Europe.  That Champions league win in Istanbul was one of the most surreal, dream like, and dramatic final as Liverpool came back from 3-0 down at half time against Milan to win on penalties after scoring three in six mad minutes.

The signings of Alonso and Garcia proved to be excellent signings with the likes of Torres and Mascherano also joining the club during Benitez’s time in charge.  There was to be another dramatic final against West Ham as Steven Gerrard once again rescued the club with a last-minute free kick to make it three all and after extra time it went to penalties with Liverpool again proving their cool to win the shoot out.

Another European cup final beckoned in 2007 but Milan gained revenge as they beat the reds 2-1.  This though was where Liverpool were expected to kick on and make a serious challenge for the title.  The 2008-09 season was really the season Liverpool should have won the title.

That second half of the season Benitez seemed to let the shackles off with Liverpool blitzing teams.  Real Madrid were thrashed 4-0 at Anfield.  Another highlight of course putting four past Manchester United at Old Trafford.  Torres with his blistering accelerating pace was scoring goals for fun with Alonso and Gerrard running the midfield.  Yet Manchester United witheld under pressure to win another title.

Looking at the fixtures there are three home games from late November to December against Fulham, West Ham, and Hull that Liverpool could only draw.  If Liverpool had lost one of them but won the other two would have won on goal difference.  However ifs do not win things.

With David Moores selling the club to Hicks and Gillett it was to be a downturn for Liverpool as the two cowboys saddled the club with a massive debt in order to purchase the club.  As a result Liverpool were in a mess with Benitez frustrated in his plans to obtain the players required.

In his last season in charge Liverpool were off the pace and with Benitez at odds with the owners left by mutal consent in 2010.

Again it was to be a case of much promise and optimism but falling short of winning that nineteenth league title.  Benitez had brought back the respect for Liverpool as during his tenure they were one of the leading sides in Europe.  Furthermore Benitez was responsible for not just the memories of Istanbul but the European runs.  Gerrard scoring a dramatic winner against Olympiacos to take Liverpool into the knock out stage and the noise, passion, belief and simply wanting Liverpool to be in the final that sucked in Garcia’s goal against Chelsea in the semi to take Liverpool to their sixth European cup final.

Hicks and Gillette certainly had a major impact on Liverpool regressing yet again but it could be argued that Liverpool had become too defensive.  The players also seemed to have lost belief with the frustration on Gerrard’s face after Torres was substituted against Birmingham in April 2010 which Liverpool needed to win but could only draw 1-1.

Liverpool were in a world of uncertainty with morale low amongst the Liverpool support who were worried what Hicks and Gillette were taking the club.  It was in some respects about to get worse.

Roy Hodgson

There was a look of disbelief amongst Liverpool fans when Roy Hodgson was announced as Benitez’s replacement.  He had managed abroad for Malmo, Inter Milan, and the Swiss national side.  Hodgson had been sacked by Blackburn in 1998 before returning back to England in 2006 to manage Fulham and leading them to a Europa cup final.

From the off the majority of fans were against him who wanted the return of Kenny Dalglish.  The only time Hodgson’s name was chanted was in sarcasm with ‘Hodgson for England.’  Results though were not to turn fans around.  Instead Liverpool were to plunge further.

In some ways you sometimes realise how hard it is to compete at the highest level.  Hodgson looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights at Man City as the Mancunians ran riot whilst Hodgson looked on bewildered and unsure what to do.  His signing Paul Konchesky summed up Hodgson who was so far out of his depth for Liverpool that at times it was like watching a player drowning openly on the pitch.

Consequently it came as no surprise after Liverpool were eventually sold to the Fenway sports group and Kenny Dalglish came back to bring back much needed stability.

Kenny Dalglish (the return)

Some people advise never to look back or allow sentiment get in the way of making decisions in football but for the Fenway group who were now in charge of Liverpool it made sense after dismissing Hodgson.

With Dalglish in charge he smoothed the waters and provided the stability the club needed.  His second stint was not as successful as it was when he first took charge in 1985-91 but for the Liverpool supporters he could do no wrong.

The question was whether Damien Comoli had too much say in the players that Liverpool signed.  Apart from Suarez the likes of Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, and Charlie Adam were not up to the level required to compete at the top.  Consequently it was no surprise he was dismissed in April 2012.

Although Dalglish was given a three year deal and helped guide Liverpool to a league cup win against Cardiff and runner’s up to Chelsea in the 2012 FA cup final he too was dismissed due to Liverpool finishing eighth.

It is hard to judge Dalglish on his second return as it seemed it was always going to be short term and was more about bringing stability to the club.

Brendan Rodgers

After guiding Swansea to the Premier league and winning praise for the Welsh club’s first season in the top flight Liverpool decided to take a chance on a young promising manager.

There were a few frowns as fans felt Liverpool should have appointed someone with more experience but were prepared to give Rodgers the chance.  Besides the tika taka posession game was pretty much in vogue and Rodgers was an advocate of the posession game.

By now Liverpool had slipped further down and were no longer regulars in the Champions league with their last stint in the competition coming in the 2009-10 season.  Rodgers task was to build stability and get Liverpool back amongst the top four.

It was to be a distinctly average first season with no European football but the following season 2013-14 was to see Liverpool almost claim the title.  The football was very attacking with Suarez leading the line.  In some respects Rodgers team were of the mind of if you score one, we’ll score one more than you.  A defeat against Chelsea at Anfield left it wide open and despite being 3-0 up away to Crystal Palace continued to surge forward in the attempt to boost their goal difference.  Instead Liverpool collapsed with Palace scoring three goals with only eleven minutes left on the clock to grab a dramatic draw.  Despite beating Newcastle at home it was to be Manchester City who sneaked in to win the league.

With Luis Suarez sold to Barcelona and the signings especially Balotelli not proving to be successful Liverpool failed to push and finished outside of the top four.  Their return to the Champions league was to be an embarrasment as despite a group that contained Ludogorets and Basle failed to qualify.  Real Madrid were the only genuine contenders but Liverpool were weakly submissive as they were beaten 3-0 at Anfield and 1-0 at the Bernabeu.  Rodgers had also put up the white flag with the latter fixture as he made seven changes with notably Gerrard, Sterling, and Henderson dropped and put on the bench.

Liverpool seemed to lose that strength of imposing themselves on their opponents and with an ageing Gerrard he was unable to take the game by the scruff of the neck as he used to do.  The calamatious 2-1 semi-final defeat against Villa in the FA cup with Liverpool wilting  despite Coutinho giving the reds the lead meant that Rodgers was on borrowed time.

This was certainly true for the 2015-16 season as Rodgers was intent on Liverpool keeping within the top four.  Indeed it seemed as though he was told to ensure that he had to obtain a certain amount of points.  A draw against Everton was his last game in charge with the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp taking charge.

Rodgers promised so much but failed to deliver at the crucial times.  In europe he was naive and outwitted with the panic appearing to set in when Liverpool needed a win against Basle at Anfield but played a very defensive line up.  Consequently it was no surprise that it ended 1-1.

The being Liverpool documentary didn’t help matters as Rodgers came across as David Brent.  At times he also seemed to tie himself up in knots with tactics with players looking unsure as to what they were meant to be doing as he changed the formation during games.

Rodgers signings were also questionable and it seemed as if he had no say in who Liverpool signed with the transfer committee having a final say.  This was particularly evident when Balotelli was announced with Rodgers seemingly unconvinced.  In the end as hard as it sounds Rodgers just simply wasn’t up to the task.

Jurgen Klopp

Only time will tell whether Klopp will bring back the success to Liverpool.  Undoubtedly due to his success at Dortmund he is one of the best coaches in Europe.  Last season he got Liverpool to the league and Europa cup final with the latter against all odds considering the quality of teams that they played.

Added to which the likes of Lallana, Firmino, and even Mignolet have all improved under the tutelege of Klopp.

One thing for sure is that Klopp is charasmatic  and wants to bring back fun to Anfield.  Furthermore he wants everyone from the tea ladies, the fans, coaches, and players to all work together and to enjoy the ride.  The hardest thing of course is getting the right signings.

Conclusion

It is hard to blame one particular individual for the fall of Liverpool from the top.  Souness tried to change things too quickly and signed inferior players.  Evans was unable to install the required discipline with his teams unable to show the resilence and desire to grind out results against all odds.  Again the signings and particular the defence was poor.

Eight years after Liverpool last won the title was when Liverpool really needed to get it right.  The team had the nuculeas of a young team containing the likes of Fowler, McManaman, Redknapp, Owen, Carragher, and a up and coming Gerrard.  Instead they appointed Gerard Houllier whose career was pretty mediocre before joining Liverpool.

Despite the hype Houllier was no Arsene Wenger not just in terms of the football provided but despite the promise of his contacts was unable to find the young talent that Wenger did in his early years at Arsenal.  Indeed the majority of his signings were poor and the football was dour, defensive, and  predictable.  Instead of Liverpool taking that step forward they took a step back.

David Moores also has to take responsibility in terms of not making the tough decisions and allowing sentiment to get in the way of making the tough decisions.

The joint manager scheme with Evans and Houllier was weak and wasted a season.  Moores should have made a decision rather than hoping against hope it would work.

Selling to Hicks and Gillette was a disaster which very nearly took the club under.  This incidentally was at a time when the money was being pumped into Chelsea and Man City who now overtook Liverpool

Nostalgia also played its part with one eye always on the past that in some respects it has been a anchor around the club’s neck.  Ironically the Liverpool way was always to look forward and never to let sentiment to get in the way of making decisions for the good of the club.  It was always about keeping one step ahead, moving players on at the right time, and ensuring the replacements were of the same quality if not better.  Too much it could be argued is spent reminiscing about the past.

Liverpool under the Fenway group are trying to run the club more efficiently and do not have the inclination or ability to throw big money on superstars.It doesn’t mean that Liverpool can’t challenge at the top in the near future.  They certainly have the manager who can get the best out of his players which is Klopp.  Atletico Madrid have shown that if you get the recruitment right that it can be done.

The fact is that whilst the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, and Man City are at the top table, Liverpool are just below.  Nothing stands still and Liverpool at present have been overtaken.  That’s not to say that it can’t change but it just may take time and patience.