Comment: Liverpool’s European success has many fathers
We couldn’t have known at the time how a goal by Lee Martin for Manchester United in the 1990 FA Cup replay against Crystal Palace was to signal the end of a remarkable era of Liverpool domination of English football.
Liverpool won the league that year. It was the club’s eleventh title in two decades.
While they haven’t won the league since then, they did, however, lift the Champions League trophy in 2005.
Tomorrow they’ll be striving to win the competition for the sixth time.
Liverpool’s trio of strikers, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, have set a tournament record with their total of 29 goals.
That’s one more than Real Madrid’s triumvirate of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema managed in their winning campaign of 2013-14.
Supporters who dream that Jurgen Klopp will chart a way back to Premier League invincibility are reassured as Liverpool’s current strikeforce prompt positive memories of past goal-scoring glory days.
The importance of scoring goals was underlined by Bill Shankly who, when appointed manager in 1959, introduced target-boards in training to improve shooting accuracy.
Shankly’s ambition was simple. “I want to build a team that’s invincible,” he said. “So that they have to send a team from bloody Mars to beat us.”
He did more than lay the foundations for greatness. When he retired after Liverpool’s FA Cup win in 1974, Shanks handed over a squad that included Kevin Keegan, a signing from Scunthorpe United he described as “the inspiration of the new team”, as well as Ireland international Steve Heighway, John Toshack and captain Emlyn Hughes, who would become the only English player to captain a team to two European Cup wins when Liverpool won in 1977 and 78.
Shankly’s assistant Bob Paisley (both inset) took charge in ’74 and over the next nine seasons guided Liverpool to six league wins, three League Cups, three European Cups and a UEFA Cup.
An enigmatic character, who was so uncomfortable dealing with the press that on one occasion, when he was told ITV were covering a match, he donned his BBC tie so that he wouldn’t be approached for an interview. Bob appeared to be a reluctant manager, but he was an astute football man.
Among the players Paisley signed for Liverpool were Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness and the redoubtable Phil Neal, who today possesses four European Cup winner’s medals.
A remarkable feature of Liverpool’s golden age is how many standout memories vie for attention.
Despite winning a treble of League, League Cup and European Cup in 1984, Graeme Souness says: “The 1978/79 season was sensational. I’m tempted to say that was the best team I have ever played in. It was not a case of winning games but a question of how many we were going to win by.”
At a time where there were two points for a win, Liverpool won by a record total of 68 points. They scored 85 goals and only conceded 16 goals in their 42-game season, turning Anfield in to a fortress where they went unbeaten for the season winning 19 or their 21 home games with just four goals scored against them.
Goalkeeper Ray Clemence kept 17 clean sheets and conceded just four goals at Anfield. Right back Neal played 650 games for Liverpool, 417 of them in a row.
Anfield legend has it that he defied club doctors and insisted on playing with a broken jaw and a broken toe.
Dalglish had been signed in August ’77 as a replacement for the departing Kevin Keegan. In his debut season he scored 31 goals in 62 matches and helped Liverpool retain their hold on the European Cup, the second time they won it.
In his first two seasons with the club, “King” Kenny scored 56 goals in 116 games. His vision and intuition served both him and the club well as he went on to win three European Cups, half a dozen League titles, four League Cups and an FA Cup. And that was before he went on to manage the club with distinction.
The departure for Juventus in 1987 of Ian Rush, the second highest goalscorer in the league the previous season, would have been damaging for most clubs. Liverpool, however, responded by signing John Aldridge, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley.
With this formidable strike force at their disposal, Liverpool began the following season unbeaten in 29 games.
In the iconography of football there are few totems as potent as the “This is Anfield” sign that hangs above the players’ heads as they stand at the bottom of the steps that lead up to Liverpool’s pitch.
It was put there by Bill Shankly, as he said, “to remind the lads who they’re playing for and to remind the opposition who they’re playing against.”
Another of Shankly’s initiatives was to introduce the club’s distinctive all-red strip. Former centre forward Ian St John explained: “He thought the colour scheme would carry psychological impact – red for danger, red for power.”
If the all-red strip didn’t intimidate opponents, Liverpool’s reputation for deploying devastatingly greedy target men did.
The success of Mane, Firmino and Salah is in keeping with Liverpool’s enviable tradition of nurturing prolific goalscorers.
Aside from those mentioned already, Robbie Fowler, Barnes, Aldridge, Michael Owen, Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres and, of course, Rush had the ability to single-handedly turn a game for Liverpool.
When Mo Salah scored against Brighton in the last league game of the season, he set a Premier League record, becoming the first player to score 32 goals in a 38-game campaign. It was his 44th goal of the season and left him three behind the club record set in 1984 by Rush with 47 Liverpool goals in the 1983/84 season when Liverpool won the European Cup.
Rush wants Salah to go one better. “I’m fine with losing my record,” he says. “If he breaks my record by scoring a goal in the Champions League final and we end up winning the trophy, I would be the happiest man in the world.”
Liverpool supporters know their history and their geography.
lRome May 1977 – 3-1 against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
lLondon May 1978 – 1-0 against Club Brugge.
lParis May 1981 – 1-0 against Real Madrid.
lRome May 1984 – 1-1 against Roma (4-2 on penalties).
lIstanbul May 2005 – 3-3 against Milan (3-2 on penalties).
As Liverpool legend Didi Hamann says: “Real Madrid are probably the world’s most iconic club, so beating them in the Champions League final would be a feat up there with
the best.” From Bill Shankly’s infamous Boot Room to the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, there’s a sense that, under Jurgen Klopp, this young Liverpool side can continue to make history.