With the recent announcement that Liverpool has agreed a deal to sign Espanyol’s Spanish International Winger Albert Riera, I looked back at Liverpool’s problem left wing position ever since John Barnes finished his playing career at Anfield.
When John Barnes was flying down the wing there was in my eyes no better sight in football, I had become a Liverpool fan in the 1980’s with the 1986 FA Cup Final being the first final I had watched .I saw John Barnes terrorise defences and Ian Rush banging the goals in. Season after season Barnes was destroying teams in the old First Division.
I can remember Alan Hansen once saying that when ever he had the ball at his feet he always looked to play it to the best player in the team which was Kenny Dalglish, after Kenny retired it would be John Barnes. ‘˜Digger’ as he is affectionately known by Liverpool fans was known for his mazy dribbling and his knack of scoring important goals, with his most famous goal in a red shirt coming in a FA Cup tie against the Blue half of Merseyside Everton, where Barnes somehow curled a right footed shot which is his weaker foot round Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall in to the top corner absolutely majestic from the Wing wizard.
After Graeme Souness took over the reigns at Liverpool he started o break up a very good team, rather than doing it over a period of time he sold a few of the very good players like Peter Beardsley, Ray Houghton, Gary Ablett and Steve Staunton and replaced them with very average players, namely Nigel Clough, Paul Stewart, Torben Piechnik and Julian Dicks.
Steve Mcmanaman came along a fresh faced scouser who was signed in Kenny Dalglish‘s last season as Liverpool Manager and he set about playing on the left wing vacated by Barnes as he had moved infield as his legs got older, Mcmanaman was very good on the wing but he his stronger foot was his right even though he had dribbling ability he never weighed in with the amount of goals Barnes used to get and what he didn’t have which Barnes had was vision, the knack of seeing the forward make the run and picking him out or playing a dangerous ball into the six yard box for the forward to run onto.
Liverpool signed Mark Kennedy at that time the most expensive teenager in British football history as a traditional left winger who had could play on the left wing, but his career at Anfield never picked up and he left the club after three uneventful years making only 16 appearances.
Harry Kewell was signed by Gerard Houllier to be his final piece of the jigsaw but Kewell had lost the pace that he possessed at Leeds and never looked the same player he was at Elland Road.
When Rafa Benitez took over at Liverpool it was hopefully the start of a journey that would lead Liverpool to the Premiership , the first season the club were named Champions of Europe, in the most thrilling Champions League Final in recent history. Rafa has been in the market and signed plenty of players to play in the left wing position but no one has really taken on the role and made it their own, Ryan Babel looks a very tasty young talent but he still has to improve upon his crossing of the ball along with his general play and control but with genuine pace I can see him playing for Liverpool on the wing or even as an inside left. Yossi Benayoun is currently playing on the on the left wing position and is seen by Liverpool fans as a stop gap replacement for someone better due to finances being tight and Rafa not being able to sign World Class players to fill the position.
Gareth Barry had been courted by Rafa Benitez during the summer but Aston Villa‘s refusal to lower their reported asking price of Â£18,000,000 British pounds and Liverpool’s reluctance to meet the price to prise Barry away from Villa Park. Stewart Downing had also been touted by the media as another target for Benitez but it has been reported that Spanish International Albert Riera has agreed to join Liverpool for a fee believed to be in the region of 8-9 million.
Riera is a very good technical player with subtle skills and has the knack of getting important goals, he has featured in the Premiership before when He played 15 games for Manchester City although he was mainly played a left wing back he showed enough promise for Stuart Pearce to try and do a permanent deal but the fee was deemed not sufficient enough for a player of Riera’s quality and was rejected. Since then Riera has established himself in the Espanyol first team and has become one of their prized assets alongside Luis Garcia. He has good vision, very good passing ability and can leave a defender for dead with his trickery much similar to David Ginola.
I for one will wait with baited breath to see how Riera fits in at Anfield but the signs are good and with Torres up front this could be a start of a very fruitful partnership very much similar to Ian Rush and John Barnes double act.