Next up in our Liverpool Lifetime XI challenge is We Are Liverpool fanzine editor Neil Poole.
My lifetime Liverpool 11 should technically cover the period from season 1978/1979 to date.
However, as I take these things far too seriously, I’m only going to include players I’ve seen in the flesh and who I can make an informed and true judgement about. I’m restricting myself further by only including players I can genuinely remember seeing live.
As a consequence Kenny Dalglish, for example, doesn’t get a look in. He only played five times from the beginning of the 1987 until he left Liverpool. Checking the records I know I did see him play but I’d be lying if I said I have a genuine recollection of any of them.
There’s also the issue that I have a terrible memory and can’t remember much before I was sixteen other than my earliest football memories. Consequently, the mid-nineties also gets short shrift.
Bruce very nearly never got in because he talks nonsense these days. Nonetheless a childhood of attempting to re-enact his save against Everton in the FA Cup final in which he stretched every sinew in his body to tip it over the crossbar gave me great pleasure. I was always gutted when I never managed to do damage to my intercostal muscles in the process like he did. Must try harder.
He wouldn’t get in many people’s best eleven but I loved Vegard Heggem. The right back was great in his first season and I can still vividly recall the excitement and anticipation around Anfield in those early days when brought on as a substitute. Someone back me up on this!
He was fast, direct and very much the ‘modern fullback’ years before we all started going on about ‘modern fullbacks’ His career was ultimately scuppered by injury and he left Liverpool at the age of twenty-five. I include Vegard for the payer he was in that first season and the potential of what he could have been if he’d been dealt a fairer hand by lady luck.
Nicol was a right back but the two footed Scot also played at left back a few times so I’m getting him in my team that way. Nicol was merely a cog in the great Liverpool team in the eighties. Put Nicol in today’s team and he’d be probably our best player. Scored a hat-trick against Newcastle in the 1987/88 season. How many fullbacks in England’s top tier have scored a hat-trick?
One of a batch of good early signings by Gerard Houllier, I remember deciding Sami Hyppia was brilliant having seen him play just a few pre-season friendlies. In fairness I’ve irrationally pinned my hopes on a new player labelling them geniuses every single year at this time. However, the law of averages eventually won out and I had to call one right sooner and later. Thank you Sami. And he was dirt cheap.
I found it hard to forgive Hansen when I read in his autobiography that he really prefers golf to football. This shattered the illusion that football means as much to the players as it does to fans. Nonetheless, imagine being the best centre half on these islands in what is only your second favourite game. Golf’s loss was Liverpool’s gain.
Only recently usurped by someone later in this list, John Barnes had always been my favourite Liverpool player. In a former teaching career down south I always ensured my poster of John Barnes reading a book, promoting literacy, had pride of place on the classroom wall. “Who’s that?” the young whipper-snappers would ask. “Are you sitting comfortably…” I would reply. That was that lesson boxed off. True education.
With Barnes on the left wing, I’m sticking the player who I regard as the best Liverpool player ever, ‘out of position’ and ‘wasted’ (Sky Sports TM) on the right. This is the position that was so detrimental to him that he scored twenty three goals, the most of any season in his career. Shame Andy Gray, Richard Keys et al never noticed it was just a starting point, essentially a free role and ignored the sheer weight of evidence. Only player I’ve shed tears for on their departure…sniff. I heart Stevie.
Specifically Xabi Alonso of his first and least seasons. Alonso wasn’t quite as consistent as people make out but at his best there were few to touch the sheer class and intelligence of the Spaniard. Only truly appreciated by people outside of Liverpool once it was clear he was leaving, Alonso was not only a quality player but one who ‘got’ the club and embraced the city too. Importantly, he was one of the first players to be regularly seen in Costco bulk buying pot noodles. He made Gerrard smile too. [td_ad_box spot_id=“custom_ad_3″]
I struggle to think of another player who put in as much as a shift in and seem to care as much Steve McMahon. We probably give this too much importance as Liverpool fans but, hey, it’s a gut reaction. It just matters for some reason doesn’t it? A better player than he’s given credit for.
The first striker we’d bought since John Aldridge that genuinely delivered after homegrown Fowler and Owen had kept us ticking along nicely. From his first goal against Chelsea at Anfield you knew we’d bought a world class talent. For those first couple of years at Liverpool I’d argue there were few better strikers in Europe. Alongside his speed and quality he came packaged up nicely with pictures and stories about armbands that proved he was a red. He also had the most enjoyable song to sing of any Liverpool player of my lifetime. And to top it all off Ferguson passed on him.
As Torres sloped out of one door, Suarez came in the other and ultimately proved an upgrade. It’s hard not to drive yourself to despair with thoughts of what could have been had they played together, both in top form. It’s a partnership that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Barcelona side that has just won the treble.
‘The’ most talented player I have seen. Maybe Barnes was better. I don’t know. The memories of Suarez are more recent and more vivid and I’d have him back in a heartbeat even with all the baggage. A player who always managed to delight and surprise when you thought he simply couldn’t possibly surprise anymore.
After twenty odd years of Barnes reigning supreme Suarez is now my favourite ever Liverpool player. Sorry John.
Neil’s XI: Grobbelaar, Heggem, Hansen, Hyypia, Nicol, Gerrard, Alonso, McMahon, Barnes, Torres, Suarez.
PREVIOUS XIs: Ian Clarkson
Who would make your lifetime XI of players you’ve seen play for the Reds? Let us know in the comments below.