Friday 24 November 2017

Is Steven Gerrard included in Liverpool's all-time XI?

Steven Gerrard plays his final home game for Liverpool this weekend
Steven Gerrard plays his final home game for Liverpool this weekend

As Steven Gerrard prepares to make his final appearance at his beloved Anfield, we pick Liverpool's all-time greatest XI.

Ray Clemence P665

The contention that Peter Shilton would have won 200 caps but for his rival is a familiar one but the reverse holds true for Clemence, the agile, commanding and positionally astute goalkeeper who marshalled Liverpool’s miserly defence throughout the Seventies and early Eighties when accumulating three European Cups, five titles and two Uefa Cups.

In 42 league games in 1978-79 he conceded only 16 goals*, keeping 28 clean sheets, an astonishing record for a keeper who, on his Liverpool debut in the League Cup in 1968, heard a voice from the Anfield Road Stand screaming 'Clemence take an early shower' when he shanked a kick.

* Amaze your friends trivia fans with your knowledge of the select band of scorers against Liverpool that season in the league: Paul McGee, Brian Kidd, Laurie Cunningham, John Ryan, Andy King 2, John Hawley, Peter Eastoe, David Price, Joe Royle, Ally Brown, John Deehan 2, Phil Thompson og, Nick Holmes, Graeme Souness og.

ray c.jpg

Phil Neal P650 G59

With winners’ medals for four European Cups, eight league titles, four League Cups and a Uefa Cup, the attacking full-back is the most decorated player in the club’s history.

No Englishman has ever won more. Virtually ever present after making his debut in 1974, Bob Paisley’s first signing enjoyed a dozen seasons of defensive solidity and consistency. He formed devastating right-flank partnerships with Jimmy Case, Sammy Lee and Craig Johnston and had an inside-forward’s assuredness in front of goal, especially from 12 yards.

Ron Yeats P454 G16

The danger when profiling Shankly-era stalwarts is simply to trot out the manager’s aphorisms and anecdotes but it is impossible to resist in Yeats’s case, the ‘Colossus’ at the heart of Liverpool’s revitalisation which transformed them from Second Division also-rans to league champions and FA Cup winners twice in the Sixties.

“With him in defence we could play Arthur Askey in goal,” Shankly said of the man he appointed captain and kept in place for nine years. His heading was justly eulogised but his reading of the game and toughness in the tackle were exemplary. Yeats’s leadership qualities are still acclaimed 40 years on from his retirement - Roger Hunt, saying of his club skipper: 'With him in the team and at his best, we used to think we were unbeatable.'

Alan Hansen P620 G14

Elegant central defender whose reading of the game, ability to break out from the back, sharp anticipation and stealthy tackling made him the most stylish and effective centre-back in the club’s history.

His measured distribution and assured demeanour never betrayed the gnawing nerves that he maintains tortured him for hours before kick-off . As injuries took their toll and he moved from the left of the centre of defence to the right, he remained a formidable defender, at his best alongside a forceful, brave header of the ball, but at the expense of those gambolling surges that turned the Anfield volume up to its full extent.

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Gerry Byrne P333 G4

'I've had many skilful men but the best professional of the lot was Gerry Byrne,' said Bill Shankly. 'He wasn't flashy and he wouldn't score you goals. But he was hard and skilful and gave you everything he had.'

His team-mates called him ‘the Crunch’ because of the crisp forcefulness of his tackles and his famous resoluteness was most in evidence when, in the days before substitutes, he persevered with excruciating pain from a broken collarbone through 87 minutes of normal time and 30 more of extra-time in the 1965 FA Cup final, Liverpool’s first victory in the competition. Predominantly right-footed, he could also switch flanks where his relentless running on the overlap and iron dependability were just as valuable.

Graeme Souness P359 G55

A commanding central midfielder of outrageous contrasts – the silk of his touch and technique seemingly inconsistent with his bellicosity and occasionally unflinching cruelty. Graeme Souness was the Division One heir to Leeds’s Johnny Giles – he could out-think and outplay opponents but was not averse to outfighting them too should the need arise, seeing himself as the Equalizer, administering justice to those who wronged his team.

He had everything the modern midfielder needs, the bite and power of the wing-half and the skilful guile of the inside-forward. Add in his leadership qualities and Souness was the all-round package.

Steven Gerrard P708 G185*

In 2009 Zinedine Zidane said that Steven Gerrard was the best footballer in the world. Liverpool’s dynamic ‘engine room’, Zidane said, has ‘has great passing ability, can tackle and scores goals, but most importantly he gives the players around him confidence and belief. You can't learn that – players like him are just born with that presence.’ Liverpool fans have only to close their eyes for countless memories of the club captain at his inspirational best to spool in their minds.

If, in truth, others were equally as influential as Gerrard in performing the ‘miracle of Istanbul’ there are so many examples of his talismanic quality, the times when he single-handedly carried the Liverpool standard, that he is an automatic selection for any ultimate Reds XI.

Billy Liddell P534 G228

Recommended to the club as a 17-year-old by Liverpool captain Matt Busby, the Dunfermline-born Billy Liddell was a pacy, direct, two-thunder-footed prolific goalscorer who was such a beacon during the club’s decline in the Fifties that he earned the affectionate name ‘King Billy’ and the team became ‘Liddellpool’.

After six years of wartime football and service in the RAF, he helped Liverpool to their fifth league title in 1946-47 and subsequently covered all forward positions for the next 13 years. Unusually for a man who learnt his trade out wide, he was a beast in the air, Bill Shankly remembering his headers as “blasts from a gun”, and despite loyalty to the club consigning him to a long spell in the Second Division, was selected for Great Britain XI twice eight years apart to take on the Rest of Europe.

Kenny Dalglish P515 G172

Let us leave it to his supposed arch enemy Sir Alex Ferguson to sum up the attributes that made ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish the best player in Liverpool’s history: 'Kenny had unbelievable vision and strength as a player. He was really aware of people around him. He had great balance and was a good finisher, courageous too. People often forget that the one quality great players need is courage.

Kenny is as brave as a lion. He would take a kick from anyone and come back for more. Kenny is a man I shall always respect.'" And as for that radiant smile after scoring? Liverpool supporters would walk a million miles for a glimpse of just one ...

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Ian Rush P660 G346

A scoring machine, pure and simple, with 346 goals to show from 636 appearances spanning two spells and 15 years. The instinct never left him, still scoring some belters and yet more scruffy ones towards the end of his career but at his peak, he was as sharp as they come, lethally quick, reactive and efficient.

He menaced defenders with his electric pace and as his reputation grew seemed to induce the mistakes on which he would thrive, hawk-eyed for every opportunity. He could smash the ball home with a fine shot, rise to head vigorously or bundle it in off his backside – he didn’t seem to differentiate, the goal rather than its quality concerning him most. The British game’s most effective striker since Jimmy Greaves, he had exceptional touch and would be the first to admit he thrived in a great side and from the service provided by Kenny Dalglish , Graeme Souness et al.

Kevin Keegan P323 G100

For too long Kevin Keegan’s brilliance as a footballer has been overshadowed by snide comments about his curly perm and the banal singing career or perceptions of him in management have taken precedence over memories of the sheer excitement of watching him play. Keegan was a human dynamo, a rampaging forward who could leap, head, shoot and pass with distinction.

There was courage, too, to match his energy and skill. Keegan was the most important English footballer of his generation and the best. And for those who feel he betrayed the club by leaving for Hanburg in 1977 where he won two Ballons d’Or, remember how he felt about the club he had left: 'The only thing I fear is missing an open goal in front of the Kop. I would die if that were to happen. When they start singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' my eyes start to water. There have been times when I've actually been crying while I've been playing.'

Telegraph.co.uk

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