Wednesday 20 September 2017

Uncomplicated coach whose qualities are as relevant as ever

Ronnie Moran (left) celebrates with Kenny Dalglish and Roy Evans in 1990, Liverpool’s last league title. Photo: Professional Sport/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Ronnie Moran (left) celebrates with Kenny Dalglish and Roy Evans in 1990, Liverpool’s last league title. Photo: Professional Sport/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Ian Herbert

The loss of a former First Division coach might not seem so significant in the vast and ever-changing landscape of modern football, though Liverpool Football Club are not the only ones remembering Ronnie Moran, who has died at the age of 83.

Moran, the last link to the machine Bill Shankly built, made 379 appearances for the club, was their captain and twice caretaker manager before retiring in 1998. But it was in the backroom team that he found monumental success - and the really clever part of it all was how he and a bunch of seemingly ordinary individuals lulled opponents into such a false sense of security.

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Examine any image of Moran from the days when he found extraordinary success under the genius of Bob Paisley and you'll find him grinning in an avuncular way. The members of the coaching staff who gathered to talk in the poky, windowless little boot-room at Anfield liked opponents to think they were harmless. Their names - Bob, Joe, Ronnie, Roy and Tom (with Joe Fagan, Roy Evans and Tom Saunders also featuring) - added to the impression, though what they shared with Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and other serially successful managers is that they were hard: as hard as nails.

Moran was the toughest of them all: the drill sergeant who so relentlessly preached the 'pass and go' collectivist mantra, which Shankly laid down and Paisley refined, that the players were distributing to team-mates in their sleep. 'Busgy', as Moran was known, would employ any device to get more out of players and get under the skin of the edgier ones.

It didn't always make him popular. In the timely and touching recent biography of Moran written by his son Paul, with Arnie Baldursson and Carl Clemente, Graeme Souness relates how he had "more rows with Bugsy than anyone else in football". He was "deeply antagonistic," Souness said. "A personal device used only to motivate players. There are no pats on the back, no congratulations. In fact, in the end you feel you have done it yourself, in spite of him rather than because of him."

With Evans, Joe Fagan and Bruce Grobbelaar in the boot-room in 1982. Photo: Bob Thomas/Getty Images
With Evans, Joe Fagan and Bruce Grobbelaar in the boot-room in 1982. Photo: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

Some players say there was a little more light and shade to Moran than that and there were certainly laughs when the job had been done. Yet if you signed for Liverpool in those days they assumed you had the requisite skills and did not need soft-soaping. David Fairclough, who could be a worrier, looked to Moran for advice at the Melwood training ground one day.

"You haven't got your old form back," Moran told him. "I know what I'd do."

"What's that?" Fairclough asked.

"Don't ask me, son. Work it out for yourself," Moran replied.

Helping John Toshack prepare for the 1977 European Cup final. Photo: Bob Thomas/Getty Images
Helping John Toshack prepare for the 1977 European Cup final. Photo: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

One of Moran's jobs was to hand out the championship trophies. He'd fetch them out of a cardboard box, fling them to individual players and say: "See you next season."

But less appreciated is how Moran's fascination with the football gave him such an intuitive eye for a player. Jamie Carragher's tweet yesterday morning said everything. "The man who decided at 18 I should play centre back before anyone else had even thought of it."

The biography reveals that it may have been Moran who suggested to Shankly that Kevin Keegan play in attack, having given the player a hammering for charging around aimlessly in midfield during a pre-season game against Tranmere Rovers in 1971. "Eyes and ears are dead in modern football but Ronnie just had a knack of knowing what was right or wrong," Phil Thompson recently said.

This insight was not merely based on intuition. Moran was also instrumental in the keeping of the Anfield bibles, lists of drills, injuries, opponents, even weather conditions: the kind of thing that would today be called a database. Rare images of them reveal Moran's immaculately neat, handwritten record, which runs at odds with that image of him as a mere rabble-rouser.

Paisley was the ultimate genius, of course. There was no ego about his management, so he allowed the ideas of Joe, Ronnie, Roy and Tom to take hold. We call it delegation these days. The boot-room was the ultimate meritocracy.

Moran (c) next to Bill Shankley, Bob Paisley, Fagan and Reuben Bennett. Photo: Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Moran (c) next to Bill Shankley, Bob Paisley, Fagan and Reuben Bennett. Photo: Liverpool FC via Getty Images

And up the M62 corridor at Old Trafford, the newly-installed Alex Ferguson wondered in the late 1980s how the hell you got past a machine like this.

"Some of the arguments I had with that baldy-head, old bugger (that's what I called him when I was being polite) were enough to make the dug-out catch fire," Ferguson said of Moran, years later.

"Of the rich variety of descriptions he attached to me, the only printable part was big-head. I had to respect a man whose passion for his club was boundless. Even as a coach on the sidelines, he fought for every ball. And argue? You have never heard anything like it. But after the ball had been put away, there was smiles and the banter was terrific."

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