Following the launch of the book ‘˜Liverpool: Match of my life’ Paul Hassall spoke exclusively to two Anfield Legends and took a nostalgic journey back through their times at Anfield.
In the first of the two interviews, Gary McAllister talks about the treble, Steven Gerrard and his thoughts on the Rafalution.
ON July 1, 2000, Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier made what was to become one of the most significant signings of his 6 year tenure.
Having just missed out on a place in the Champions League after a last day defeat at Bradford City, the Reds boss made a surprise swoop for a veteran midfielder plying his trade in the lower echelons of the Premiership.
In his prime Gary McAllister had excelled as part of Leeds United’s 1992 title winning side, but at the age of 36 his career was now coming to an end at Coventry City, and it was a signing that left many Reds fans with doubts.
But for McAllister, it was the chance to play European football and the opportunity to play in L4 was one he knew he couldn’t miss.
He said: ‘˜Playing at Anfield is special and it is a shame I couldn’t play there earlier in my career, because there were rumours at one point that they were interested, but it never happened.
‘˜But you don’t turn down Liverpool when they come calling and I finally made it there in what was a fantastic part of my career.’
Having swapped the perils of playing for survival at the foot of the table, for the stresses associated with winning trophies, McAllister was relishing the prospect of pulling on the famous red of Liverpool.
But it wasn’t a fairytale start, and after being sent off in the first half of his debut against Arsenal at Highbury, the prospect of glory in May 2000 looked unlikely.
He said: ‘˜We started slowly and maybe I didn’t feature as much as I would have liked to, to begin with. But we just gathered momentum and with winning the Worthington Cup in February, it just spiralled and we won the FA Cup, and then The UEFA Cup and finally we made one last push to get that Champions League Spot.’
The ‘˜Treble’ season provided Liverpool fans with a series of unforgettable highs in which McAllister emerged as a leading figure.
And when it comes to the medals he won that season, the former Scotland International’s has no hesitation in choosing the one he received after the UEFA Cup Final against Alaves.
He said: ‘˜My favourite medal would have to be the UEFA Cup one. I won the FA Cup which is something you grow up watching on TV and you want to win it, but playing in Europe is another level.
‘˜The UEFA Cup is still a big trophy and we had to beat some top sides along the way, such as Barcelona, which was a great occasion too.
‘˜I played well in Dortmund and it was great to get man of the match on such a special night.’
Although he starred and scored in the UEFA Cup final, his favourite goal for Liverpool was in the incredible 3-2 derby win at Goodison Park.
‘˜It has to be the one against Everton,’ he says with a grin, reliving his quick thinking and perfect execution of the 40yard free-kick that gave the Reds a vital 3-2 win in injury time – a goal that gave Liverpool the impetus to eventually claim third place and a chance to play in the Champions League.
In December 2002, McAllister’s brief love affair with the Reds came to an end when he took a player/manager role at Coventry City.
Much has changed since he last graced the Anfield turf and there is now a new manager at the helm, in the form of Rafa Benitez.
But despite the increasing Spanish influence and an influx of new players, McAllister believes there are similarities between the side that he played in and the current Champions League holders.
He said: ‘˜I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference between the side I played in and Rafa Benitez’s. It’s pretty similar in approach. I wouldn’t say cautious, but it is built on a solid defensive unit and not conceding, but I can see little steps forward in an attacking sense.
‘˜Rather than making massive steps forward, they’ve taken slow strides, but they are definitely moving forward and it’s a great start for Rafa Benitez winning the Champions League in his first season. He’ll get things right at Anfield, in time.’
One player who was pivotal in that European triumph and emerged as a modern day legend during McAllister’s time with the Reds, was current Captain Steven Gerrard – a player McAllister holds in the highest esteem.
‘˜I played with a few good players at Liverpool but the best would have to be Steven Gerrard, because he just has everything in his game.
‘˜I’ve got a very high regard for Steven. After being on the training ground with him for a couple of seasons, I know just how good he is.
‘˜As he gets older, I think he will get better, because I do think midfielders tend to get better with age, as your decision making improves, and I can see that in his play.
‘˜He just keeps getting better and better. And looking forward to next year in the World Cup, I hope he emerges as one of the best players in the world, which I think he is.’
While Gerard Houllier once lamented that he would liked to have signed a Gary McAllister 10years younger, the Scot still made the most of his short time at Anfield, and in two superb seasons he won five medals and helped Liverpool to finish third and second in the Premiership.
And although he considers Alaves his favourite match, McAllister would have loved to have been involved in THE European final, one that even eclipsed that nine goal thriller.
He said: ‘˜I really wanted to go to Istanbul but I was told by somebody that the facilities weren’t great so I didn’t go. I wish I had gone. Sitting watching the game was amazing, like most Liverpool fans and people associated with Liverpool. At half time we were all thinking AC Milan would score 4 or 5, but they came back and I’ve never seen a transformation like it. It was one of the greatest matches ever and I wish I had been part of it.’
Many Liverpool fans who witnessed his impact from 2000-2002 would tend to agree.
Copyright Paul Hassall and This Is Anfield, 2005