“I’m going to knock them off their perch”. These were the exact words which were uttered by Sir Alex Fergusson upon taking the reigns at Manchester United in 1986. 6 years it took for Sir Alex to win a trophy which was the FA Cup final in a replay against Crystal Palace. Liverpool had just won the league title in 1990 under the leadership of Kenny Dalglish and never did seem like the Reds would go through a spell of 30 years without the trophy Liverpool have coveted so much. Trophies have been won during that time such as the Champions League and numerous other cup competitions, but winning the league in the words of the iconic Bill Shankley, “it’s our bread and butter.”
A cultural shift was happening 30 miles down the road, which would change the landscape of football as a global brand. If you ever wanted to change the fortunes of a team in any sport, it is necessary to avoid clinging to that past. This is something which Liverpool failed to do for so many years. Graeme Souness and Roy Evans were both parts of the club’s proud history with the former being one of the leaders through a period of absolute dominance.
Great players very rarely make great managers. Why? Sometimes it can be the lack of patience when developing young players and possessing an inadequate amount of man-management skills. Other reasons can be for poor recruitment in the transfer market which can ultimately come down to those working behind the scenes for the club.
Everyone remembers the class of 92 and the effect they had on Manchester United. But the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Beckham and the Neville brothers elevating their game during that period took more than just their ability. It becomes an obsession where every single day is an opportunity to prove yourself to the manager. Sir Alex had the biggest impact on these players not just in terms of their development as footballers, but as being that father figure at times when the pressure became all too much.
How I wish Liverpool had a manager whose people skills matched those of Sir Alex Ferguson. Confident, charismatic and man-management skills which were second to no one. The Liverpool side at the time were talented in their natural football ability, but being branded “the spice boys” at the time was a sly dig at their lifestyle outside of football. Going out with the lads as it’s called in the UK was putting it mildly, particularly when you take into account these were professional footballers. Forget ability or talent. If you are going out on the town 2-3 times a week in any profession, it severely impacts your ability to do your job at a high level.
1999 brought forward a Frenchman to Liverpool by the name of Gerard Houllier whose discipline among the playing group was something which was so desperately needed for the club. The further emergence of young players like Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Dominic Matteo and the introduction of a skinny kid from Huyton by the name of Steven Gerrard who would go down as one of the greats in world football.
The acquisition of players in the transfer market such as Didi Hamann, Sami Hyypia, Vladimir Smicer and Markus Babbel just to name a few were signs the club was building something. 2001 brought three trophies in one season – the FA cup, league cup and UEFA cup. So it seemed good things were on the horizon.
It never materialised though, and Liverpool simply could not compete financially at the time with the superpowers of Manchester United and Arsenal. Man United were already a global icon but seemed to benefit the most by dominating the English game at a time when TV rights and sponsorship deals were going through the roof. Arsenal had a string of world cup winners in their side and a manager who had an eye for picking out young talent – Patrick Viera, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit and Nicolas Anelka.
In 2004 Gerard Houllier was replaced by the Spaniard Rafa Benitez who arrived from Valencia with a strong reputation. Having upset the favoured giants of La Liga (Barcelona and Real Madrid), Valencia would win two league titles and a UEFA Cup in 3 years. A significant achievement for a club not seen as one of the “big boys” in Spain. He would be one of the men responsible for a night which will go down as one of the greatest achievements in the club’s history.
The 2005 Champions League final has been hailed as the greatest cup final ever and rightly so. Like so many Liverpool supporters, I gave them no hope after what had happened in the first half. 3-0 down and seemingly given no chance of even restoring any sense of pride to the scoreline, what transpired was breathtaking. Steven Gerrard would take it upon himself to carry the team on his back, and the introduction of Didi Hamman would be an inspirational one.
Getting it back to 3-3 and Jerzy Dudek pulling off a double save which defied the laws of goalkeeping kept Liverpool in the game. It was won on penalties eventually, and for days I couldn’t believe what had happened. The European Cup was back at Anfield. The FA cup would be won in 2006 through another masterclass from Stevie G, and the legend proved once again how much of a big game player he was. Once again all signs pointed to the restoration of Liverpool at the summit of English football.
However, in 2007 the club was sold to American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. It was heralded at the time as the dawn of a new era and a favoured destination when trying to attract new players to the club. It didn’t do anything, but straddle the club with massive debt. Lack of investment into the squad caused immense friction with the supporter base and eventually in 2010 with the club being on the verge of administration, the club was sold to Fenway sports group who still own the club to this day and have transformed them into a powerhouse.
Purchased for around £300m and now worth around £1bn, it is a significant change in fortunes. A manager in Jurgen Klopp who almost every club in the world wish they had has made every Liverpool supporter smile again. Winning the Champions League in 2019, World Club Cup and almost clinching the Premier League. Almost? Yes, that’s right. On the verge of ending a 30-year wait and a global health pandemic sets in. The sort of thing nightmares are made of. We’ll see though how it pans out. They can’t deny us again. Can they?