Liverpool in the 90’s – The Spice boy era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Why the Coutinho transfer saga is more about Liverpool’s poor recruitment strategy.

With a pocketful of cash from the Neymar deal and Barcelona needing to re-build it was slightly inevitable that the Catalan club would be linked with Liverpool’s Coutinho.  It has been a move that has been mooted for the past year especially as Barcelona are re-building and require an attacking midfielder.

Of course there is the argument that the majority of teams are selling clubs, especially when Barcelona and Real Madrid come a knocking but regardless of whether you think it is good business or not, it has shone an awkward spotlight on the transfer and scouting under the Fenway group.

The problem has now been exasperated as Coutinho has now put in a transfer request.  This has led to a few believing that he should be sold for the highest price possible.

However the quality of the Liverpool squad is not up to scratch especially as it needs to improve despite finishing fourth and qualifying for a Champions league play-off spot. There are still problems with the defence with the lack of quality of the bench very much apparent last season as there were no options when Liverpool struggled to break down defensive teams.  There were no player who you felt could change the game or change the formation to test the opposition.

From a footballing point of view it does not make sense to sell Coutinho no matter the fee offered.  I imagine there might be a few people scoffing at that notion, after all every player has his price.  However Liverpool do not have the time to get an adequate replacement and will be to the detriment of the club’s progress this season.

It is a team that needs building for Liverpool to be challenging for the major honours.  Losing your best players is going to make that harder as well as questioning the ambition of the club.  After all it has been five years since Liverpool won a major trophy and even then that was the league club.

Although the years have been lean Liverpool due to its history and large support still has some stature in the footballing world.  It needs more than ever to start proving that the last few years have temporary or very soon be just a famous name from the past.

Liverpool’s first game of the new season away to Watford which ended 3-3 has shown the same old problems of the last year.  A poor defence and the inability to hold onto a winning lead with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.  The club is great in attack but there is always the sense that they are only a moment away from a mistake in defence which will wilt so easily.

These are problems that should have been rectified prior to the season beginning but swift action is needed otherwise it will be a groundhog season for 2017-18.  Regarding the transfer request from Coutinho it would probably be better if Liverpool could reach an agreement that they will let him go next season. This though would be on the proviso that the fee is acceptable and that Liverpool find a suitable replacement.

A club can only be successful if its recruitment and scouting is good.  Take Atletico Madrid for example.  They have consistently obtained quality players for decent fees and have been consistent challengers in La Liga and European football which has seen them win major honours.

Fenway appear to have a business strategy with regards as to how Liverpool sign players.  Namely signing young potential players who they hope will live up to their reputation and then selling them on for a vast profit whilst bringing in a new batch to keep Liverpool competitive.  The only problem with that is that you have to ensure that you have the right recruitment and scouting in place.  If that was the case then there would be no real resistance to Coutinho being sold to Barcelona.  The quality in the squad would already be there to cope with a loss.  Added to which there would be the confidence the scouting system would provide a more than adequate replacement.

Unfortunately the reality has been very different to the business theory of the Fenway group.  The likes of Downing, Carroll, Charlie Adam, Coates, Borini, Markovic, and Balotelli to name but a few have failed to live up to expectations and have been poor.  Even the likes of Jordan Henderson, Lovren, and Mignolet have been average and not been good enough to take Liverpool up to the next level.

The successes can be counted on one hand with only Suarez, Mane, and Coutinho being the players who have shown the quality required if you wish to compete at the highest level.  Fenway’s money has been spent on mediocrity.    It could be argued that when non-footballing individuals or people with self-interest are involved then problems are going to arise which has been the case with Liverpool.

It seems that the problem isn’t so much about Coutinho being sold to Barcelona it really is about Fenway’s scouting and recruitment strategy for Liverpool and the next direction that they take. 

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?

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.

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.

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

 

 

The 1990-91 season. Liverpool’s fall from the top

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Anfield was still basking in the afterglow after claiming their eighteenth league championship as they beat Nottingham Forest 2-0 on a late warm August evening.   The week previously Liverpool had beaten Sheffield United at Bramall lane 3-1 and it was deemed business as usual as the reds started the 1990-91 campaign in the quest to not just retain the title but win a nineteenth league championship.  There were to be twist, turns, and shocks but not always on the pitch and it was to be a season that it could be argued the demise of Liverpool’s dominance of the game began.

With Liverpool winning their first eight games on the trot there was nothing to suggest that the reds would not retain their title.  One of the games had included a 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United courtesy of a Peter Beardsley hat-trick.   It had been a lesson of speed, precision of moving and passing the ball as well as a master class in cold finishing.  Manchester United who were constantly expected and failing to match Busby’s team of the fifties and sixties in winning a league title since 1967 were it seemed still light years behind from the level required to win the league.

Nevertheless there were still concerns about this Liverpool team and looking back retrospectively it was clear that the cracks were starting to appear.  For starters the defence which was known to be as miserly as Scrooge was beginning to look vulnerable.

This was evident at the 1990 FA semi-final against Crystal Palace at Villa Park as Liverpool lost 4-3 mainly due to their inability to defend from set-pieces.  Many saw the semi-final defeat as the beginning of the end but it was one of many cracks that had appeared which would result in the reds falling apart during the events of the 1990/91 season.

Liverpool fans knew that the club could not keep on relying on their stalwart centre half Alan Hansen who was part of the spine of the team from the 1970s that had given the club so much success.  That season Hansen was injured and would eventually retire in March 1991 due to his on going knee problems.

Another problem was the lack of any notable signings since 1987 when Kenny Dalglish had obtained the services of John Aldridge, Ray Houghton, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley.

It had led to one of the most exciting Liverpool teams with Tom Finney describing the 5-0 win against Nottingham Forest as “the finest exhibition that I’ve seen.  You couldn’t see it bettered anywhere not even Brazil.”  Liverpool had ran away with the title going twenty nine games unbeaten although they were surprisingly subdued in the Cup final against Wimbledon as they lost 1-0 courtesy of a Sanchez header.

Ian Rush had returned from Juventus in 1988 but it was hardly the Liverpool way of phasing players out just as they were starting to decline and continuing a smooth transition that many supporters scarcely noticed.

It was a lesson that Bill Shankly and the bootroom had learnt after a 1970 third round FA Cup tie defeat against Watford that sentiment and allowing the team to age without adequate replacements was not a recipe for continued success.  Since then Shankly, Paisley and Fagan had always ensured that there was a regular supply of young talent coming in with those having reached their peak quietly moved on.  It was done so subtly that many didn’t even realise the changes immediately.

The squad for the 1990-91 season had a bulk of players who were approaching or already over thirty years old.  No new signings had been made at the start of the 1990-91 season to rectify this problem.  The only deal that was done was making Ronny Rosenthal’s loan move permanent after his crucial goals during the title run in had helped Liverpool reclaim the league from Arsenal.  Even the season before the only addition had been the twenty nine (soon to become thirty) Swedish international Glenn Hysen who turned down Manchester United in favour of the reds.

With hindsight Liverpool should really have turned their attention to a young Gary Pallister who was playing for Middlesbrough which was what United did after failing to sign Hysen.  It could be argued that Shankly, Paisley, and Fagan would not have considered signing a player hitting his thirties and believed signing young players was more beneficial in the long run especially after a stint in the reserves which would teach them the Liverpool way.

As the honeymoon glow of the 1989/90 title success faded like the autumn leaves something didn’t seem quite right within Liverpool.  Manchester City were unlucky not to win at the end of November as Rush equalised in the 82nd minute at Anfield to salvage a point.

The following week with Liverpool still six points clear of Arsenal (who had two points deducted due to a mass brawl at Old Trafford in October against Man Utd) were to travel to Highbury.  Dalglish decided to play a more defensive team with six defenders on the pitch despite Arsenal getting battered 6-1 by Manchester United in the league cup.  Houghton, McMahon, and Beardsley were dropped for the game with the latter not even making the bench.  Liverpool were unable to get into their stride as Arsenal won the game easily 3-0 with World Soccer declaring that Dalglish ‘had backed the wrong horse,’ with regards to his team selection.

Two home wins against Sheffield United and Southampton followed after the defeat but the football did not appear to be slick as previously.  This was particularly so as the Christmas period drew scant rewards with a draw away to QPR and a defeat at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace.  Although a convincing 3-0 win against Leeds United on New Years day at home the second half of the season was to bring more erratic results.

In January Liverpool completed the signings of Jimmy Carter and David Speedie hoping that they would provide an extra boost in the challenge for the title.  Even back then the two transfers had raised eyebrows.  Although a decent player for Millwall, Carter didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary whilst the purchase of the thirty one year old Speedie from Coventry would have made more sense a few years back.

The concerns over the defence had still not been addressed and as the season progressed there was continued bemusement over the non selection of Peter Beardsley in the starting XI.

Liverpool’s began the FA Cup with a third round tie against Blackburn Rovers with Liverpool making hard work of it as they needed a replay to beat the Second division side.  It was the same in the following round as the reds needed a replay were they beat Brighton at the Goldstone 3-2 to face Everton at Anfield in the fifth round.

It was to be a key defining moment in Liverpool’s history which caused a shock throughout the football world when Kenny Dalglish dramatically resigned as manager.

Nobody was aware that Kenny Dalglish was contemplating leaving Liverpool never mind that one of Liverpool’s greatest player’s and manager had decided to resign.  After drawing 0-0 at Anfield (which was only notable for Steve McMahon having to come off injured and join Ronnie Whelan who had been injured in the Derby the week previously in the league) Dalglish had decided for the sake of his sanity that he had to step down for his health.  Regardless of whether Liverpool won or not, Dalglish had decided that he would inform the Chairman Noel White and the Chief Executive Peter Robinson at the annual meeting which was scheduled for the next day.

The Hillsborough disaster two years previously had played a major impact on Dalglish’s health.  He had provided much support to the families and supporters as well as acting as a figurehead for the club.  In the summer of 1990 Dalglish had ‘wanted a break, there and then,’ but felt that he owed the club a debt.  ‘Liverpool had been so good to me and my family,’ he stated in his autobiography ‘I felt obliged to carry on.’

From a footballing point of view it may have had an impact on Dalglish’s decisions with regards to the team and tactics.  This was something that may have had some substance as Dalglish later admitted again in his autobiography that he was starting to second guess himself on decisions.  Even on the night of the 4-4 draw he had allowed himself to be talked out of making a positional change by wanting to move Molby to sweeper when leading 4-3.  Retrospectively Dalglish believed that had he been one hundred percent he would have made that decision.

Either way Dalglish decided that for once he had to make a decision for himself rather than Liverpool handed in his resignation.  The aftermath and shock was on a par when Bill Shankly had suddenly resigned in the summer of 1974.  Even the grim pained body language of both Shankly and Dalglish looked familiar as a stone faced Chairman read out the resignation statement.  Nobody could quite believe that Dalglish had decided to leave such was his affinity and respect that Liverpool supporter’s had for their manager.

As the ripples of the aftershock continued to reverberate, Ronnie Moran was put in temporary charge whilst the club looked to find an adequate replacement for Dalglish.  The league was still a realistic prize and with a second FA cup replay against Everton at Goodison it was important to try and get back some stability.

The wheels though had already started to skid as Liverpool entered 1991 and they would now start to come off the road.  A 3-1 away defeat to Luton Town on their plastic pitch followed after Dalglish’s resignation as well as going out of the Cup to Everton 1-0 in the replay.  Up next was Arsenal at Anfield.  Both teams had played twenty four games with Liverpool three points ahead.  Consequently whoever won the game would take a huge advantage.  As it was Liverpool lost to a Paul Merson goal who secured the three points for the Gunners.

Liverpool picked up three wins afterwards against Manchester City, Sunderland, and a 7-1 demolition of Derby County at the Baseball ground.  It was to be a short lived revival with the season now hitting a crucial time as the games were running out Liverpool were outplayed and well beaten by QPR 3-1 at Anfield.  The ascendancy was now with Arsenal as Liverpool slipped again away to Southampton 1-0 then drew 1-1 against Coventry as they then beat Leeds United 5-4 in a thriller at Elland road.

With Dalglish resigning the priority for the club was to find a replacement.  Much has been discussed since on whether the club should have waited until the summer before making a decision.  Dalglish himself stated that he might have returned to Liverpool in the summer.

Ronnie Moran had made it clear that he did not want the pressure of the hot seat and would only act as the caretaker manager until a permanent replacement was found.  The club it seemed wanted stability as soon as possible began the hunt.

John Toshack a former red seemed high on the list especially as he was an experienced manager who had won the league with Real Madrid the year before.  Alan Hansen was also touted as a possible replacement but the job went to Graeme Souness who had enjoyed much success as his time as a Liverpool player.

There wasn’t any disapproval to the appointment of Souness.  He had brought success back to Glasgow Rangers since taking charge in 1986.  Furthermore there was a link to Liverpool during his time as a player who would understand the Liverpool way.

A 3-0 win against Norwich at Anfield brought a good start to Souness’s career with another 3-0 win against Crystal Palace ensured that Liverpool would be at least be playing in the UEFA Cup after serving a extra year ban following when English clubs had been allowed to compete in Europe after Heysel.

Liverpool though did not push Arsenal and after two away defeats to Chelsea and Nottingham Forest, Arsenal won their tenth league title.

Graeme Souness in his match day notes in the final home game against Spurs expressed his disappointment at not making it as hard as possible for Arsenal whilst questioning the desire of his players by stating “I think some have fallen into the habit of losing and accept that far too readily.  The history of this Club is one of fighting to the very end and we did not do it this season.”

Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-0 courtesy of goals from Rush and Speedie in the final game of the season.  All eyes were on the future with many fans knowing that there would be no quick fix to an ageing team that needed re-building.  Much talk was on the need to sign a quality centre-half and to start the process of phasing out the faded player’s who had brought much success to the club.

The 1990/91 season was a pivotal one for Liverpool when it started to unravel.  The lack of quality signings especially in defence, the stress and pressure of managing Liverpool that led to Kenny Dalglish resigning all strongly shone a large beacon light on the problems Liverpool faced.

For the following year Liverpool needed a steady hand to sail the club through what was going to be very stormy waters.  Instead Souness tried to change things too soon and signing too many inferior players who were simply not good enough to wear the red shirt.  The likes of Paul Stewart, Julian Dicks, and Istvan Kozma with the latter nicknamed ‘Lord Lucan’ due to the lack of first team starts highlighted the poor quality of signings made by Souness.

With the dawn of the Premier league and the money that it brought Liverpool still allowed itself to fall behind Manchester United not just on the pitch but off it.  United had realised its market potential and was subsequently cashing in on that whilst Liverpool stood still.

It was a challenge despite the emerging talent of Mcmanaman, Fowler, Redknapp, and Rob Jones that the following managers of Souness, Evans, Houllier, and onwards were unable to meet.  At times and certainly with the former the club lurched ever backwards that even now they are no closer to matching the dominant success that Liverpool enjoyed in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

 

Brian Benjamin