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. 

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Roger Nouveau – the modern fan of the Premier league era

 

There was a time when the football season ended in May and certainly in the odd year when there wasn’t a World Cup or European championship then that would be that until August.  Granted there would be a little bit of transfer speculation but it felt like a proper break away from football that come late August you would embrace it like a glass of cold water after hiking across the Sahara desert.

Now the coverage is constant that you almost wonder if the season has ever really ended.  Every day during the summer months there is the endless constant speculation of who is moving where that at times it matches the political intrigue of Macbeth.

That though is the circus that is the Premier league.  It needs to feed the hype and speculation in order to keep selling its product which is how it and let’s be honest football clubs see supporters as customers.

The money that is not only being pumped into football through television deals but spent on players is mind-blowing.  With the average player going for thirty million pounds the sense of any true value has been lost.  For Sky the billions spent on securing the rights to screening Premier league football is not just about securing the survival of the channel but about the clubs spending big so that supporters world-wide will continue to watch.  Hence the continuation of subscriptions and now in the age of streaming the reliance on overseas television rights.

Consequently it is important to keep generating the speculation about talks of Bale going to Manchester United for example or Ronaldo returning back to the UK.  With huge sums of money being spent it is meant to convince people that the Premier league is the one to watch and that Sky can provide this exclusive access.

The drama of deadline day is now something that is part of football.  At times it represents as though it is a life changing moment such as the Berlin wall coming down.  If it was watched twenty-five years ago people would wonder if it was a spoof as the coverage at times resembled Chris’ Morris’s Day to Day.  Who for example could forget the hapless reporter who had a purple dildo waved in his ear outside Everton’s Finch farm?

Football now is about marketing and rather than being a fan of the sport is more about being seen at the event.  It is more about construing an image rather than participating as a supporter.   Everything now is all about presentation so that for example Liverpool v Burnley on a cold February afternoon is a unique game to remember.  From the naff Premier league anthem, the presentation tops that both sides wear as they shake hands to the referee picking the ball up from the podium.  Gone are the days when both teams ran out and prior to kick off a firm hand shake from both Captains before tossing a coin to decide who would kick off from which half.  Half and half scarves which are wrong on so many levels are now souvenirs for the tourist who visits and will most likely not return again.

Packages are sold for tourists to sample ‘the real passionate white-hot heat of the Kop,’ that has helped Liverpool win major games over the years.  Ironically those type of supporters who are used for the posters have been priced out.  For those that have remained they are now well into middle-age and less inclined to be noisy as they once were in their youth.

The sound of seats clanking up as Crystal Palace took the lead against Liverpool in the last ten minutes was louder than the cries of encouragement than Liverpool fans as a large majority slunked off.  Previously there would be a stunned pause and a loud roar, snarling, and willing Liverpool to equalise and even grab a winner.  Now those type of supporters who throw in the towel are the first into their cars to moan about how Klopp doesn’t know what he is doing whilst incredibly questioning the players passion.

Radio phone ins and social media keep the interest and drama of the product alive.  Everybody can be an expert and whereas a similar incident from thirty years ago would barely generate a headline now a dodgy penalty is given the coverage of JFK being shot.  A soundbite or controversial comment from the manager is used to keep the hysteria and if a club is having a bad run of results well then the hysteria hits meltdown.  Rumours of losing the dressing room and the dreaded vote of confidence are mooted.

This of course encourages the expert fan who never goes the game but watches from his armchair who gets on the blower to say something incredibly stupid.  Once on the air they will preach their ignorance which of course ignites another load of angry calls which feeds the frenzy rather than any genuine debate and discussion about the game.   In other words its click bait with newspaper distributing articles or tweets knowing full well they will get hits and replies.

Part of the hype has brought a sense of entitlement amongst this new elite of supporters.  Unless their team is two-nil up within ten minutes they are screaming and slamming their prized hampers with frustration.  Of course nobody likes to get beat or drop points in vital games but if the players have given everything then at least accept they have done everything.  Besides moaning is not going to help and only makes the players more nervous.

The problem in this Sky era of football is that it has made supporters accountants who believe the Premier league is the be all and end all.  It is a remarkable achievement by Sky and the Premier league that a season of mediocrity is more acceptable than getting to a Cup final.

Getting into the top four is seen as a trophy with the money that a spot in the Champions league generates.  The money though doesn’t go into the pocket of supporters and nor does it mean extra money to bolster that squad.  A budget has been set regardless and players although ambitious will move where the money is regardless of whether the team is in the Champions league or not.  Yet supporters believe this spin that has been spun and would put a top four finish above winning the FA cup and a trip to Wembley.

Football is now increasingly about the hype and making as much money as possible from this new world-wide fan base.  That’s why clubs fly over to Australia, the far east, even the USA because there is money to be made and not because it will help pre-season training.

The International Champions cup which is currently a pre-season tournament can be seen as a future replacement or rival with the UEFA champions league.  With the money that it generated (incredibly ticket prices for the Madrid v Barcelona game in Miami  went for $5,500) it wouldn’t be a surprise if this happened.

Of course this would be by invitation only and not by earning a place.  After all despite AC Milan being a pale shadow of the team that they once were they have a global appeal and therefore can sell.  These games would not be played in the home cities but various stadiums across the globe to generate more cash and global appeal.  In turn these clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and AC Milan would in effect be the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globe Trotters.

This is why the controversial thirty-nine Premier league game was mooted.  Forget about upsetting the balance of fairness of the competition there is more money to be had from sales abroad and the television deals that would be made as a result.  Although dropped the idea still lurks like Jaws stalking Amity Island.

The £198 million deal for Neymar wasn’t just about signing a top player or even a signal of intent of winning the Champions league but about putting PSG as a major force in the global market.  Of course it is an intent to win the major honours but the price gets publicity, courts new supporters from across the world, and therefore increases the television deals.  Added to which is the marketing appeal that Neymar brings not just in terms of shirt sales but other promotions in the interest of PSG.

Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and any other big names spend big simply to boost their global appeal as well as improving the team.  Signing the top players keeps that interest and makes supporters excited that the latest big name has joined their club.

Increasingly football is moving away from its community and identity that clubs had.  Slogans such as ‘more than a club,’ ‘you’ll never walk alone,’ are increasingly sounding more like a brand rather than ‘the real thing,’ that it once had.  Even St. Pauli who view themselves as very much to the left in their ideals find that the skull and bones flag once flown as a symbol of defiance, has now been marketed.  Indeed you could argue that St. Pauli has now been sold as a ‘kult club,’ for people wanting something different.

Football is far removed from the working class game that it once was.  Certainly amongst the big clubs they are a brand that can be consumed as easily as a can of coke.  Hype and money keeps it ticking over with the global fan base proving ever more lucrative.  Just don’t surprised when the only connection that a football club has with its community is the name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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