In his fascinating new autobiography, ex-Liverpool defender Rob Jones relives the highs and lows of his rollercoaster eight-year spell playing for his boyhood heroes.
In this exclusive extract for This Is Anfield, he discusses his relationship with Gerard Houllier and the moment he knew his LFC career was over.
ROBBED – My Liverpool Life
IT was a very uncertain time for me.
The club had decided to bring in former France national team boss, Gerard Houllier during the summer to work alongside Roy (Evans) as joint-manager.
It was a bizarre decision. Roy had turned Liverpool back into a force and we had been challenging for the title for the past three seasons.
None of the players understood it and I’d say 99 per cent of us were still right behind Roy and wanted him to lead our assault on the Premier League.
Roy himself was just bemused by it all. He had been such a fantastic servant to Liverpool for over 40 years and he wasn’t about to cause a fuss. But maybe he should have? I felt it was disrespectful towards a man who had played an instrumental role in turning Liverpool into the club it was. He had been there, seen it and done it as far as our history of success was concerned.
I think the general reaction in the dressing room could be summed up as, ‘what the fuck?’
It was almost like Houllier was a silent assassin. He merely observed things at first while Roy and the coaching staff took care of the day-to-day training sessions at Melwood.
It may have worked if they were best friends or a duo that had a tremendous understanding. But these two managers had never met each other before.
Right away it caused issues.
Who did you go to when you wanted to discuss your role in the team or ask why you weren’t in the starting line-up last week?
I would always choose Roy because he was the one who had been my manager for several years and someone I trusted implicitly. I think that was the case for most of the lads.
I don’t think that helped any of the ‘old guard’ with Houllier.
After a bright start results soon began to dip and the spotlight on the joint-managers intensified. There was only ever going to be one winner and after a League Cup defeat at home to Tottenham, Roy resigned.
I know he felt let down by the club and their distinct lack of faith in him.
From a personal point of view, it was a disaster.
I knew that I wasn’t Houllier’s cup of tea and that I was probably going to be a part of his clear out. Liverpool had signed the Norwegian full-back Vegard Heggem during the summer and my route back into the first-team appeared to be even more unlikely.
Of course, Roy was involved in that decision too.
‘Veggie’ was the only signing made by the joint managers. He’d scored a famous winner for Rosenborg against AC Milan and was a highly-rated attacking right-back.
I think Jason was more put out by the transfer than I was. I’d been struggling with injury so much that I accepted that the club needed reinforcements. If I wasn’t going to be fit they needed to find someone who would be.
But my relationship with Houllier was non-existent. It was a problem from day one.
It was like being at school again with a new headmaster who was obsessed with rules and discipline. It was clear he was trying to make a statement and I think the power went to his head a little bit.
We’d always had a great camaraderie under Roy but the atmosphere suffered under Houllier.
He came into the treatment room one day and told me my problems were all in my head and if I got back out on the training pitch I would realise there was nothing wrong with me.
I told him that was so far from the truth it was laughable and that I would love nothing more than to go out and join the lads doing the drills. He left the room exasperated and I felt pretty low.
A few days later I opened up the paper to see that he had done an interview with the Press in which he claimed all of my injury problems were in my mind and that I was ‘acting’ injured.
I was furious.
We had showdown talks where he again insisted that I listen to him and just attempt to train instead of moping about in the treatment room.
Reluctantly I agreed.
When I did try to venture out onto the training pitch I immediately broke down again. I was left crumpled in a heap, cursing him for having such little time to listen to what I was actually saying.
When he heard I was going for a second operation just a few months into the new season, the offer of a new contract was withdrawn.
I knew I needed to find someone who had experience of performing successful surgery on the specific problem I had. We eventually found a Dr Barrett who was willing to take a look at me.
He was a specialist who was based down in Southampton. He was the one who told me that you should never scrape it like the first surgeon had. Once you do that, you rip the top of the tendons and it’ll never grow back. It results in a lot of scar tissue.
He performed the keyhole surgery on my knee and although it felt better for a short period after the operation, I inevitably broke down again.
He even tried to take a bit of my knee cap away as he felt it was catching the top of the tendons. Again, it worked for a bit but in the end I was just pulling up in agony.
It’s a strange injury because in the majority of cases, players will take anti-inflammatory tablets and have an injection that would mean they would be okay within four weeks.
However, with the likes of myself, Owen Hargreaves and the Brazilian Ronaldo it just didn’t heal.
I suppose it’s a good example of how a footballer’s dreams can be crushed as a contract comes to an end.
I’ve often spoken to Macca about it. I’m left without a contract because of injury and have to seek out another club to continue my career, while on the other side of the spectrum he played out the last year of his contract and moved to Real Madrid on a good deal.
I think if Roy had still been in sole charge there may have been a possibility that Liverpool would have kept me on. I’m not saying they would have given me the deal. I had a crippling knee injury. But I think Roy would have told me to return the following pre-season after my contract had run out and try to get my knee right.
I don’t think it would have been ‘see ya’ like it was with Houllier.
I suppose his decision was vindicated because I did finish. I can’t argue with that but I think Roy had a bit more class. He would have recognised that I’d given Liverpool good service. He’d have offered me the chance to try and prove I could still do it. If that hadn’t worked out, it wouldn’t have done Liverpool, Roy or myself any harm.
By the February of 1999 I knew that my Liverpool career was well and truly over.
I was playing for the reserves in a match at St Helens’ rugby league ground and could feel the pain throbbing in my knee. I was running with gritted teeth and knew my concentration on the game was being affected.
‘Why isn’t this going away?’
The words echoed in my mind every time my studs impacted on the turf, causing a searing pain to engulf my knee cap.
Every now and then I would hear the angry bark of Sammy Lee on the touchline, furious that I had once again pulled out of a 50-50 challenge.
I just didn’t want people to know that I was back to square one. Again.
I had returned for another scan a month after the second operation and once more it had shown an inflammation.
I could feel Sammy glaring at me in the dressing room after the game. I didn’t want to catch his eye.
As I headed out to the team bus I spoke to the physio and told him that my knee was knackered.
I sat at the back of the coach on my own. I could feel the devastation beginning to overwhelm me. I had fought it off after the match but now that I was alone I gave in to the emotion.
I picked up the phone and rang Sue. When she answered I just burst into tears. I was completely incoherent so I just hung up.
The lads started to filter onto the bus and saw that I was in a state. They tried to have a bit of banter with me and told me everything would be okay.
As the coach pulled away from the ground my phone rang……..
[sws_grey_box box_size=”600″]Signed copies of Robbed are available to order from Rob Jones’s official website >> click here to buy for just £8.99 + p&p >>>