There has always been a debate about how many more European Cups Liverpool might have won had the great sides Kenny Dalglish managed in his first silverware-spattered term of office not been banned in the wake of the Heysel disaster.
Last night, as he prepared for his first European game as manager of Liverpool, a low-key Europa League fixture against Sparta Prague, Dalglish reflected that he had few regrets that the great sides, spearheaded by John Barnes, Ian Rush and John Aldridge, never tilted for the European Cup. What he really regretted were the 39, mostly Juventus fans, killed before the 1985 final; the last match before he took over.
"We wish the ban had never happened, but we wish Heysel had never happened," he said. "For so many people to lose their lives at a football game was appalling and it was right someone was punished.
"We had to pay some punishment and that was the punishment we received. There has been a lot of conversations about what might have happened; whether we would have been good, bad or indifferent. We had fantastic teams with fantastic players. It would have been nice to have seen them been given the opportunity."
Liverpool would have qualified for the European Cup three times during Dalglish's first spell and his then captain, Alan Hansen, thought they might have won it once, in 1989. Even then, they would have had to overcome the great Milan side of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard, while Hillsborough, a tragedy that overshadowed even Heysel, would have intervened a month before the final.
"I don't know if they would have won it I just know they were fantastic players," said Dalglish. "But I regretted more what happened at Heysel. I have another opportunity now, but there are a lot of people who never get second chances.
"And it was not just Liverpool who suffered. Everton won the championship that year and they never got to play for the European Cup did they? There were other people who suffered and they were innocent."
For a manager with Dalglish's track record, his European involvement as a manager has been curiously muted. There was a single Champions League campaign with Newcastle that began with a 3-2 win over Barcelona and then largely fizzled out; elimination from the Uefa Cup by the little-known Swedes of Trellborgs with Blackburn.
Here, as he made his way into the airless press room, it appeared he had never been away. Asked if he was looking forward to meeting Patrik Berger, who had lived next door to him in Southport, Dalglish smiled and said he had proved a better footballer than he had been a neighbour. Reminded that he had lost a World Cup qualifier here at the Letna Stadium in 1973, Dalglish shot back that Scotland had won the second leg at Hampden.
There may have been no Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger or Christian Poulsen on the plane that left John Lennon Airport yesterday, but there were four young players who might be as interesting. Raheem Sterling, Jack Robinson, John Flanagan and Conor Coady were all part of the Liverpool side that this week thrashed Southend 9-0 in the FA Youth Cup at Anfield.
"We have not brought them along as a publicity stunt," said Dalglish. "We have brought them because they deserve to be here." (© Independent News Service)
Sparta Prague v Liverpool,
Live, 3e, 8.05