Former Reds legend Phil Neal spoke exclusively to This Is Anfield‘s PAUL HASSALL and gave his views on Rafael Benitez’s bid for Premiership glory as well as England’s World Cup hopes.
EIGHT League Championships, 4 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup, 4 League Cups and 50 Caps for England.
Phil Neal’s record speaks for itself.
A relatively unknown twenty-three year old midfielder when Liverpool paid Northampton Town Â£60,000 to sign him in 1974, Neal’s career was transformed when the reluctant genius that was Bob Paisley converted him into the country’s finest attacking fullback of his generation.
His consistent performances and knack for scoring important goals made him a fixture in the dominant Liverpool sides of the 70s and 80s, prompting the great Kenny Dalglish to describe him as ‘˜ the best player I ever played with.’
In eleven trophy-laden years at Anfield Neal made 648 appearances for the reds scoring 60 goals including a match-clinching penalty in the 1977 European Cup Final triumph.
Having prospered under the most successful club manager this country has ever seen in Paisley, Neal knows a top draw manager when he sees one and he believes Liverpool have found a man with the same winning mentality in
He said: ‘˜Like everyone else I am hugely impressed by the manager and the way he organises the team. ‘˜In his first two seasons he has won a trophy in each of them and that is something I think even the great Bob Paisley did not achieve.
‘˜What I admire most about Benitez is his ability to make quick decisions. He gives everyone a chance but if they aren’t performing and don’t live up to his expectations he is quick to move them on.
‘˜He’s brought in a few Spanish lads, who for whatever reason, haven’t quite worked out how he wanted and he’s been strong enough to admit the mistake and sold them on.’
While Benitez has been criticised in some quarters for this tendency to favour the Spanish transfer market Neal believes that the majority of the reds boss’ signings HAVE proved successful and that the improvements in the squad have been reflected by last season’s impressive Premiership campaign that culminated in the epic FA Cup triumph over West Ham.
He said: ‘˜I think Benitez has spent quite wisely and although he does not have anything like the transfer kitty available at Chelsea he has received strong support from the Anfield board, like most Liverpool managers have, and I think with him in charge we are heading in the right direction.’
As Benitez begins to lay the foundations for his third and possibly most challenging season in charge given Chelsea‘s unrelenting penchant for the world’s best players, Neal, along with the rest of the nation, is eager to put thoughts of the Premiership to one side and focus his attention on this summer’s World Cup in Germany.
England boast what is arguably their finest squad in decades and with a strong reds contingent in the form of Peter Crouch, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Scott Carson, a Liverpool player could yet prove to be the difference between World Cup glory and heartache.
Neal believes England deserve their place amongst the favourites and is anticipating a memorable World Cup campaign.
He said: ‘˜England have got a great chance. It’s a great opportunity to get to the quarter-finals or the semis, whether Rooney plays or not.
‘˜We’ve got a chance to go all the way and we proved we are capable of beating the best when we beat Argentina recently.
‘˜It just depends upon whether we get the run of the ball and that little bit of luck, but if w get that who knows’¦we do have an excellent chance.’
Inteview Copyright Paul Hassall and This Is Anfield.com
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