Thursday, December 03, 2009

Bill Shankly - Liverpool FC's Greatest Manager

There was only one Bill Shankly, a man of the people, a man who made them happy.

Watch old black and white footage now of Shankly in front of the Kop, a teeming, tumbling mass of human adulation, and you know that Liverpool FC’s greatest manager was special.

He may not have won the trophies that Anfield managers who followed him amassed, but he was responsible for putting in place the foundation of a dynasty that created one of the world’s greatest football institutions.

Shankly arrived at Liverpool 50 years ago. His appointment as manager was officially on December 1, 1959. His first day at the office was the 14th and his first game - a 4-0 home drubbing by Cardiff - came on the 19th in the old Second Division.

It is hard to imagine that from those humble beginnings at a rundown northern club, Shankly created a giant of footballing achievement.

Shankly was different because he left a permanent mark on a city, a generation and a now great football club.

More than just a football manager, Shankly showed a social responsibility to the people he represented through their club.

His contribution to football was to produce a simple style of ’pass and move’ that underpinned the club’s emergence and future success.

His contribution to the city of Liverpool is immense. He gave them belief and faith when confronted with poverty.

Back in the 50s and 60s, Liverpool was still suffering the after-effects of the Second World War. The city still carried the scars and devastation of German bombing.

Shankly came from Scottish mining stock, an idealistic socialist who understood the working class, the people who flooded through Anfield’s gates to adore him and the teams he produced.

He gave them pride at a time they needed it most. It is not stretching the point to say that Shankly and the Beatles put Liverpool on the world map.

The docks, and the Lancashire coalfield that used to stretch from Salford to the sea, were in decline. Unemployment was rife.

Liverpool was a poor, forgotten city, certainly by the south at least. And here was a man "who made the people happy" - the famous epitaph on his statue in the shadows of the Kop.

His legend, the man management and clever one-liners, will come flooding back as Liverpool marks the 50th anniversary of his arrival at the club.

He became the first of the real football managers. People like Brian Clough, Don Revie and Alf Ramsey followed. They picked the team, coached it, and handled transfers.

Before that, chairman, directors and boards were in charge of all but the fitness work.

Shankly has been somewhat cruelly described as a relatively unsuccessful Liverpool manager. True there was no European Cup, but those who followed - Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish and even Rafael Benitez now - have reaped the benefits of Shankly’s foundations.

But it was his leadership and devotion to the club’s fans that set him apart.

He worked in the mines for a couple of years as a boy, and he hated the poverty his family lived in. He blamed Labour politicians as much as the establishment for that depravation.

Football gave him the escape, and he signed for Carlisle, then Preston where he won seven Scottish caps.

But the war finished his career. When it was over he was 33 and his playing days were numbered. He managed Carlisle, Grimsby, Workington and Huddersfield - where he gave Denis Law his debut at 16 - before he joined Liverpool.

He had been interviewed for the job back in 1951, but rejected because he was not a big enough name. But in 1959 Liverpool’s then chairman T.V. Williams knew instinctively that this was the right man for the times.

Liverpool was a down-at-heel club then, their training ground at Melwood a shambles, and they were languishing in the old Second Division.

Promotion came in 1964 and the rest is history. The Kop rocked to Beatles songs and Shankly’s side won three titles, were twice runners-up and claimed two FA Cups as well as the UEFA Cup (1973).

Shankly insisted on teamwork, brotherly help and spirit. The man from working class roots wanted his team to play with a socialist ethos.

They played for the people, and the people understood that simple philosophy.

Great players owe their careers to him. Ian St John, Roger Hunt, Ian Callaghan, Ray Clemence, Tommy Smith, John Toshack, Kevin Keegan, Steve Heighway...the list is endless.

Men who are legends now themselves, icons still. Some quite rightly using their names to forge media careers, where the true legend of Shankly still inspires them. Players never to be forgotten by the Anfield public.

Shankly quit in the summer of 1974 at 60. He wanted to spend time with wife Nessie and his family, and he continued to live in Bellefield Avenue, his house overlooking Everton’s now former training ground where he was always welcome for a cup of tea.

Liverpool’s truly great years were still to come. Five European Cup and a total of 18 titles. At one stage the best team in the world.

The foundations were Shankly’s. He gave pride back to a shattered, grim city. He gave British, even world, football the means to become more professional and forward thinking.

From Clough to Jose Mourinho, there are managers who could be described as clones of Shankly. And what is wrong with that.

On his retirement, Shankly was asked how he would like to be remembered. He said: "That I’ve been basically honest in a game in which it is sometimes difficult to be honest.

"Sometimes you’ve got to tell a little white lie to get over a little troublesome period of time. I’d like to think that I have put more into the game than I have taken out.

"And that I haven’t cheated anybody, I’ve been working for people honestly all along the line, for the people of Liverpool who go to Anfield. I’d like to be recognised for trying to give them entertainment.

"I’d played at Anfield and I knew the crowd was fantastic. I knew there was a public just waiting. So I fought the battles inside and outside.

"I was interested in only one thing, success for the club. And that meant success for the people. I wanted results for the club, for the love of the game, to make the people happy."

If anything, those are words that the modern game would do well to take note of. Shankly would want that.

Liverpool FC Should Blow Blackburn Rovers Away

The performance may have given us less to shout about – but the circumstances are so similar.

On October 25, Liverpool came off the back of that defeat to Sunderland and gave Manchester United a torrid time in a 2-0 victory which we all hoped would kick-start the season.

It was more of a false dawn, as it turned out.

Now we’ve pulled off another 2-0 victory in a big game and this time it really is vital Liverpool capitalise on it and go to Blackburn to blow them away.

We’ve got every chance of making sure this time we do put back to back victories together – particularly if Fernando Torres is fit and ready to lead the line.

In midweek there’s a dead rubber, sadly, against Fiorentina in the Champions League.

So if he can play at Blackburn, the Spaniard can no doubt sit that one out and have plenty of time to recover.

Whether or not we’ll see Alberto Aquilani at Ewood Park, only Rafa Benitez knows.

If he needs matches then certainly the sooner he gets them the better.

Because he is starting to look like a £20m mystery man and he’ll be as desperate I’m sure to get going as the fans are to see him.

Fernando Torres Tells Manchester City: Forget Your £50m Bid

Fernando Torres has dashed Manchester City's hopes of luring him away from Anfield by admitting he already feels like a dyed-in-the-wool Scouser.

Liverpool's £21million record signing figures prominently on City's wanted list, with speculation mounting that a £50million bid could be imminent.

But the former Atletico Madrid striker, already a huge favourite among Liverpool supporters, insists his only aim is to ensure his name becomes woven into Anfield folklore with his scoring exploits over the next few years.

'I really feel at home here,' he said. 'From my first day as a Liverpool player, right up to today, I have always felt that Anfield is my home. I feel like I am from Liverpool.

'I would like to be part of Liverpool's history one day by winning trophies. I have plenty of years here, I'm sure of that, and I hope the trophies will come soon.

'The fans have seen some of the best players in the world playing for Liverpool, and now they sing my name.

'For me, it is amazing to score at Anfield and amazing to score in front of the Kop. When I hear people sing my name, it is the best feeling I can have on the pitch.

'But I have only been here two years, and I have not won any trophies yet. I have only scored some goals, but I hope, in a few years, I can write another book, explaining about the trophies I have won as a Liverpool player.

'The people here are very different from in Madrid. Over there, people don't have much respect for players, but, here, even Evertonians talk to me in a really good way. When I was at Atletico, the Real Madrid fans didn't like me, but Everton fans are really friendly with me. I must say, I was surprised by that.

'This is my home, and it helps that I have learned the language. Have I picked up any Scouse? Deffo! I am picking up words all the time, because there are a lot of Scousers at the club.

'It was difficult to begin with, but I can more or less understand them now. If my daughter grows up speaking English and Scouse, I will be proud.'

The Alberto Aquilani Conundrum

It is the longest drawn out saga to surround Anfield since David Moores decided in the late 1990s a new stadium was exactly what Liverpool needed. But at last it looks like the wait could soon be over.

Not for the stadium - that plan has been filed neatly in the "distant future" cabinet of Anfield's offices. We are talking, of course, about Alberto Aquilani, and his long-running battle to return to full fitness.

Sunday's Merseyside derby came and went without the Italian having to get his boots dirty, and meant that the Reds' £17 million summer signing from Roma would have to wait until at least December to make his first, and very much belated, start for the club.

His manager, Rafa Benitez has been fielding numerous questions about the expensive Italian in the past week or so. Reporters, and supporters, are growing impatient to see whether the man signed just hours after Xabi Alonso headed through the departure lounge at John Lennon Airport is capable of filling the metaphorical void left by the Spaniard.

And all the noises coming out of Melwood are positive. Why wouldn't they be?

Aquilani may have only had 23 minutes of senior action in a red shirt, but he showed enough glimpses of talent to suggest that his style is one that Liverpool fans will enjoy. His clean and rangy passing game, his intelligence in receiving the ball, and his ability to manouevre shooting positions from outside the box were all in evidence, even in the briefest of cameos.

Of course, this being Liverpool and Benitez, rumour-mongers have started to have their say. Some scurrlious claims suggested that Benitez was shielding his big-money signing from the rigours of first-team action after some less-than-impressive displays in training. For Benitez, the truth could not be further removed.

Aquilani's issue is fitness. Or, to be more precise, match-fitness. It is one thing for a player to overcome an injury - especially one which required surgery, as Aquilani's did - but quite another to get themselves up to full playing speed. Especially if they have missed out on the hugely-important pre-season.

"He [Aquilani] has been out for longer than we expected and, because he has been injured during the summer, he has not been able to train properly," Benitez told the Liverpool Echo.

"Now it is much better and it is a case of improving his match fitness. We want to play him and we thought we might have been able to do that with the reserves at Wigan.

"That was called off, but we had some games at Melwood and he played 45 minutes against our reserves last week. We are trying to improve him as quickly as we can."

It is clear logic from the manager, who was promised upon signing the Italian that his injury would be clear by mid-September.

Liverpool's awful recent run has exacerbated the Aquilani situation, as fans looked for any chink of light at the end of the tunnel.

But throwing a semi-fit newboy into such a disastrous run of form could easily have backfired on Benitez, and his decision to hold back with Aquilani ("we have signed him for five years, not five weeks" - he said last month) makes perfect sense.

Aquilani will be in contention for a first start of his Liverpool career as the Reds travel to Blackburn on Saturday, but even if he does not begin the game at Ewood Park, Liverpool fans should not worry.

He is pretty much certain to make his full Anfield bow next Wednesday in what will be little more than a pride-restoring clash with Fiorentina in the Champions League, and with things getting pretty hectic in the Premier League over the next month, the Italian is bound to play a bigger and bigger role, as Liverpool look to re-build a season that has looked in danger of falling apart.

Steven Gerrard Admits Top-four Finish Is The Priority

Steven Gerrard has admitted Liverpool's chances of catching Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea are slim and that Champions League qualification is now the target.

The Reds are in fifth place, 13 points behind Chelsea and two behind fourth-placed Arsenal having played a game more than the Gunners.

Speaking ahead of his 500th game in a Liverpool shirt, the 29-year-old midfielder told talkSPORT: 'I think we have to be realistic. At the moment we’re out of the title race, but we will keep trying to get back in it. There is still a lot of football to be played and it is possible to turn it around.

'I think Chelsea are looking really strong at the moment. But our main target is to get back in to the top four.

We’re coming off the back of a fantastic win at Everton and we want to continue that against Blackburn and try and go on a run of games where we can get closer to the teams above us.'

Saturday's trip to Ewood Park will mark Gerrard's milestone and he added: 'It means everything to me personally.

'I’m a local boy and my dream when I was young was always just to play one game for Liverpool. So to reach this milestone is a really proud moment for my family and myself.

'At around the time I made my debut my dad was always saying, "You’re really close to getting your chance," and I was just praying that the chance came along.

'At the time we had injuries to big players like Steve McManaman and Paul Ince and I managed to sneak on as a sub against Blackburn.

'I’ll be starting as captain this weekend 500 games later. I’ve had an amazing career so far and hopefully it will continue to go the same way.'

Klinsmann Coy On Reds Rumours

Former Germany and Bayern Munich manager Jurgen Klinsmann has remained tight-lipped over rumours that he is to replace Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez next summer.

The 108-time Germany international has long been linked with the Reds and the club's co-owner Tom Hicks has admitted holding talks in the past.

Benitez signed a new long-term contract before the start of the current season, but speculation has suggested that the ex-Valencia boss' almost five-year tenure could soon end.

Liverpool have been dumped out of the UEFA Champions League group stages and are off the pace in the Premier League, renewing speculation that Klinsmann could replace Benitez.

But the German said in Bild: "There are always rumours."

Klinsmann does not want to return to club management in Germany and has indicated that he could make a move abroad before next season.

He said: "For us it is relatively clear. We will not embark on another adventure in the Bundesliga.

"After the World Cup, I will possibly be somewhere else."

Reds Track Gabonese Youngster

Liverpool is among a number of clubs tracking Angers SCO's Bruno Ecuele Manga, according to the defender's agent.

The Gabonese is currently playing in the French second division, but Reds boss Rafa Benitez is said to have sent scouts to check on his progress.

Paris St Germain has also been linked with the 21-year-old, while Arsenal were credited with an interest at the beginning of 2009.

The former Bordeaux player's representative, Yvan Le Mee, believes a move is a possibility but he does not expect anything to happen until after the African Cup of Nations.

Mee said in Le Quotidien du Foot: "I cannot give you a list of all the clubs that are interested in him.

"All the French clubs have come to see him, notably PSG, and a lot of foreign teams are also following him.

"(Liverpool scout) Laurent Viaud has often seen him playing. Liverpool have been following him since last season."

He added: "You never know, but I believe Bruno will not move in January as he will play in the African Cup of Nations.

"There have been no concrete offers so far. Realistically, there will be no news until March."

Liverpool FC Owner George Gillett Receives US$550 Million Cash Windfall

George Gillett, the American businessman who co-owns English soccer club Liverpool, will receive US$550 million after his sale of the Montreal Canadiens NHL franchise was approved.

The deal represents a huge profit on the US$275 million Gillett paid for his share of the franchise in 2001. The price was driven up by competing bidders, with three of the Molson brothers, from the family which owns the 19.9 per cent of the club not in Gillett's hands, outbidding a number of other parties, including Quebecor Media.

The Molson family will now take full control of the team after buying Gillett's 80.1 per cent stake. Geoff Molson will be club chairman and chief executive.

Whether Gillett will reinvest any of the fortune in Liverpool remains to be seen. His co-owner Tom Hicks has publicly stated that the sale of one of his sports properties, the Texas Rangers, will not affect his dealings with Liverpool.