The hardest thing about creating this team was that I could have created a solid group of 11 players based purely upon the those that I have seen play in the last 10 years, but then that isn’t even considering the time when Liverpool were the kings of English and European football throughout the 70s and 80s. There had to be a balance of players that were crucial to their squads throughout the last 50 years.
So without further ado, strap yourselves in for a journey of what I believe to be the best Liverpool FC team, over the past 50 years.
MANAGER: Bill Shankly
The creator. Shankly was responsible for creating the team that put Liverpool on the map during the 60s and 70s, as well as providing an impressive starting squad for Bob Paisley to build upon a decade later, when appointed Liverpool manager. Although statistics wise he is not Liverpool’s best manager, Shankly is regarded as being the reason why Liverpool were so successful under Paisley through the 70s and 80s, with 20 major trophies won in 10 years. Vital signings from Shankly such as Ray Clemence, Roy Evans, Chris Lawler, Ian Callaghan and Steve Heighway would pave the way towards an unforgettable era of Scouse dominance in football.
GOALKEEPER: Pepe Reina
Reina is for me the best goalkeeper to play in a Liverpool shirt. Getting to 100 clean sheets in just 198 games in all competitions, he beats the clean sheet record of others that have gone before him in a Red shirt, such as Bruce Grobbelaar and Ray Clemence. In 394 games in all competitions, Reina racked up a 36% clean sheet record at Liverpool, and this was during a time where he didn’t have as reliable a back four in front of him as those that Clemence and Grobbelaar had. One of Rodgers’ errors in my opinion was to let Reina go, as he could have still been a part of that Liverpool team today I believe.
RIGHT BACK: Phil Neal
The question on many Liverpool fans’ lips back in the early 70s, was how on earth Liverpool were going to replace Chris Lawler, when his Liverpool career inevitably came to an end. The answer? Phil Neal. Bob Paisley’s first signing was a £66,000 unknown 4th division right back Phil Neal, who began his Reds career against arch rivals Everton at Goodison. From such an impressive display, Neal went on to play 365 times consecutively in the league for the Reds, up until September 1983. That is a record, by the way. Reds fans valued him for his consistency and the fact that he was a no-nonsense player, and his unusual prowess at penalty kicks as well helped cement his place in Kop royalty.
CENTRE-HALF: Virgil Van Dijk
Need any more be said? The best centre back in the world at the moment, and a player that does not show any signs of dropping off soon. Liverpool fans were getting fed up of raiding Southampton’s squad for new players, and when Klopp arrived and set out that he wanted to sign Virgil, there was very much a feeling of ‘here we go again’. However, Virgil has cemented his position I believe as one of the best (if not the best) centre halves to play in a Liverpool shirt in a much faster paced game, and is one of the main reasons for so much recent success for the Reds. Liverpool have won 73.5% of their games with him on the pitch, and since his arrival it has been clear that the defensive line (that was a problem for Liverpool for a long time beforehand) had been revolutionised, with the arrival of just one player.
CENTRE-HALF: Jamie Carragher
One of two players in the modern era of football that serve as a reminder of what it is like to ‘be Liverpool FC’. He has the 2nd most appearances in a Reds shirt with 737 appearances, and he amassed a tackle success rate of 73%, against some of the biggest and most technical Premier League strikers of the last two decades. A massive part of a modern Premier League defence at Liverpool, in his 508 appearances in the Premier League, Liverpool lost less than a quarter of these games, and had a clean sheet percentage of 38%. Legend.
LEFT BACK: John Arne Riise
This was more of a sentimental choice, as either Alan Kennedy or Emlyn Hughes really could be considered as the best left backs in Liverpool’s history. However, Riise scored memorable goals throughout his seven-year career at Liverpool, leaving Kopites wondering “how he scored that goal” (as the famous chant goes). In 348 appearances for Liverpool, 31 goals were scored by him, including a tantalising free kick against United in 2001, and an amazing debut goal against Munich in the 2001 Super Cup. In his first season at Liverpool, he scored an incredible 10 times from left-back and later under Rafa Benitez, Riise became an Anfield legend. He quickly wrote his name into Liverpool FC folklore, with Liverpool’s win in Istanbul in 2005, and the three subsequent seasons he played for the Reds, before choosing to move to AS Roma in 2008.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Graeme Souness
You didn’t mess with Graeme. Originally, Souness had big shoes to fill, as he was brought in to replace Ian Callaghan, but he certainly filled them well. One of the most physical and passionate players in this entire squad, Souness quickly became a leader out on the pitch for Liverpool, and his leadership qualities earned him the armband in the 81-82 season. During his seven-year playing career at Anfield, he became one of the most decorated players in the club’s history, playing an impressive 359 times in a Reds shirt, scoring 56 times and playing a vital role in Liverpool’s retention of the European Cup against Bruges in 1978, as well as Liverpool’s league titles between 1978 and 1980. He was and still remains, one of the best midfielders to ever play in a Liverpool shirt.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Steven Gerrard
Gerrard made me fall in love with football. The best player to ever pull on the famous Red jersey, Gerrard characterised exactly what it was to be a red. Growing up as a Reds fan, he always knew that he wanted to play for Liverpool. Being played all over the place by Gérard Houllier to begin with, Gerrard quickly impressed the Anfield elite, and was given the captain’s armband in 2003. One of the most consistent players the game has ever seen, he played for 17 years at Liverpool, scoring 186 times in 710 appearances and winning 52% of the games he was a part of. Any Liverpool fan reading this will know how important a player he was, and despite not being one of most decorated players in this squad in terms of silverware, it didn’t matter. Gerrard was a solid but technical master of the game, and will always be considered an Anfield legend.
LEFT MIDFIELD: John Barnes
I don’t believe you could argue against this choice. There were not many better footballers in the game at the time than John Barnes. Signing from Watford in 1987, Barnes’ energy and goalscoring prowess quickly turned the heads of many Liverpool fans. In 407 games for Liverpool, he scored 108 times, and netted his first 75 in only four seasons at the club. Winning 55% of the games that he was a part of, Liverpool needed Barnes in that team, and Liverpool were certainly a very dominant force when he was on the pitch. The biggest shame that came from Barnes’ career was the injury to his Achilles tendon towards the end of his career at Liverpool, which majorly affected his pace. The sad thing about this was that Barnes never really looked the same player again. Nonetheless, Barnes was an absolute Anfield legend, and one that could not be overlooked, when considering the best left winger to ever play at Liverpool.
RIGHT MIDFIELD: Ian Callaghan
The player with the most all-time appearances at Liverpool (with an astonishing 857 appearances), Callaghan was a local lad from Toxteth that came through the Liverpool ranks. In a Liverpool career spanning 18 years, Callaghan scored 68 times and created important goals, such as Ian St John’s winning goal in the ’65 FA Cup final. Ian Callaghan characterised the revolution of Shankly perfectly, with Shankly saying “Ian Callaghan is everything good that a man can be. No praise is too high for him… if there were 11 Callaghans at Anfield there would never be any need to put up a team sheet. You could stake your life on Ian”. Following a major knee operation in the 70-71 season, Callaghan then played in the centre for Liverpool, to prolong his career by seven years. The natural ability, passion and vision that Callaghan showed at Liverpool created his identity as being another player that knew exactly what it meant to be a Red.
STRIKER: Ian Rush
Liverpool’s all-time leading goalscorer, signed from Chester for £300,000 in 1980, the 19-year old Ian Rush had a point to prove. But boy, did he prove it. In 660 games for Liverpool, Rushie scored 346 times, and won 55% of the games that he played in. Initially not getting much of a chance to play in the first team, he was struggling to adapt to playing for Liverpool off the pitch, as he didn’t fit in as well as he would have liked with some of the senior players, including Dalglish. He demanded that Paisley started to play him otherwise he would leave, and Paisley’s response was to make Rush available for transfer. Rush left Paisley’s office, determined to show Paisley how good a striker he was, and he then went on to become the best striker to play in a Liverpool shirt. What a wonderful story.
STRIKER: Kenny Dalglish
The king. With a career lasting 13 years at Liverpool, Dalglish scored 172 times in 515 games for the Reds. Winning 60% of the games that he played in, Dalglish is considered one of the biggest all time legends at Liverpool. Originally playing at Celtic, Dalglish decided in the season of 76-77 that he wanted to move onto pastures new. After an offer from both Man Utd and Liverpool, Dalglish chose Liverpool, despite being offered more money at United. He went on to create a name for himself amongst the Anfield faithful for being a player that was solid but skilful, and ultimately for being a player that was Liverpool FC, before going on to being a very successful Reds manager as well.
So, there it is folks, I hope you have enjoyed the whistle-stop-tour of what I believe to be the best Liverpool team in the last 50 years. If you have enjoyed reading this, please don’t forget to listen out for me on NSR!
Featured image: Flickr via cchana