Steven Gerrard’s story of legend begins – Liverpool’s turbulent 1998/99 campaign

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It was a rocky campaign for the Reds in 1998/99, with managerial changes and a seventh-place finish in the Premier League – but it would mark the debut season for a future Liverpool legend.

The summer of 1998 saw the club appoint Gerard Houllier as joint-manager alongside Roy Evans, a decision which needed little time to crumble under Liverpool’s feet.

Within just three months, Evans walked away from the top job and Houllier was left to push on, but Liverpool’s season never truly got up and running.

The Reds would score 68 goals and finish seventh, 25 points adrift of Man United at the top of the table.

It was a campaign, however, which saw a certain 18-year-old continue to dominate and a future captain make his first of what would be 710 appearances for his boyhood club.

And here are 10 things we noticed from Liverpool’s 1998/99 season.

 

Owen starts as he means to go on…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 7, 1997: Liverpool's Michael Owen in action against Manchester United during the FA Youth Cup match at Anfield. United won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After making his debut at the back end of the 1996/97 season, Owen became a central figure in his first full season and he did not relent in his second.

Still only 18 years old when the season started, he was the fresh-faced striker with an incredible eye for goal and with speed to burn, just ask the Newcastle United side he dismantled in the third game of the season having netted a hat-trick.

He would go on to score 18 goals in the Premier League in 30 games and 23 in 40 games across all competitions, only for his hamstring to give way against Leeds United in April 1999, and his career would never be the same.

 

Who is in charge?

Gerard Houllier (right), who has joined Liverpool Manager Roy Evans, to form a managerial partnership at Anfield, today (Thursday). See PA Story SOCCER Liverpool. PA Photos

Evans and Houllier were appointed as joint-managers and it was ultimately a decision doomed from the start.

The former, who had been at the helm for four-and-a-half-years felt it was an “impossible situation” as players did not know who to approach and they rarely agreed on the team selection.

In the end, Evans would walk away from the club after just three months, with the Reds having collected just 16 points from a possible 36 at the start of the campaign.

And while the 1998/99 season had few highs, Houllier would more than prove his worth.

 

The future captain arrives

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard prepares to take a throw during his debut - 29-Nov-1998 - (Picture by Mike Egerton EMPICS Sport)

On November 29, 1998, Liverpool fans would be given the first glimpse of a future legend in the making – but you’d be forgiven if you thought otherwise based on his nervous-looking 18-year-old frame.

It was brief, just moments in fact as he took the place of Vegard Heggem in the 90th-minute against Blackburn.

He would feature 12 times in the Premier League in centre-midfield and on the right-wing and he had felt “out of my depth.”

Houllier and the club persisted and they would be duly rewarded with a career which cemented his name among the club’s greats.

 

Heggem makes Ian Rush proud

Vegard Heggem, goal, Middlesbrough, 26 December 1998 ( Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/PA Images)

Vegard Heggem was the only player brought to Liverpool during Evans and Houllier’s partnership and he proved to be a huge success in his debut season.

Slotting in at right-back, Heggem liked to adventure forward and two of his three career goals for the Reds arrived in his first 29 league games.

Both came against Middlesbrough, but it was his first on Boxing Day which left fans stunned as he summoned his inner striker to glide past four defenders into the area before cheekily chipping the ‘keeper with the outside of his right boot.

Like Owen, his career at Anfield would go on to be ravaged by injury.

 

Controversy and injury for Fowler

Liverpool's Rigobert Song (standing) congratulates Robbie Fowler after scoring their first goal as he pretends to snort cocaine from the touch line, after abuse from the Everton fans, 1999 (Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport)

It was another injury-interrupted season for Fowler, one he started off the back of a seven-month absence from an ACL injury which restricted his 1997/98 campaign to just nine goals in 20 league games.

He would notch a brace on his return against Charlton at Anfield and would find the net 14 times in total in 25 games, which included two hat-tricks.

But it was two controversial incidents which saw Fowler hit the headlines, first against Chelsea‘s Graeme Le Saux and then for his ‘snorting’ the line celebration after scoring in the 3-2 victory over Everton, which resulted in a combined six-game suspension to see his season ended prematurely.

 

Four ever-presents

Throughout the 38-game campaign, Jamie Carragher, Paul Ince, Jamie Redknapp and Karl-Heinz Riedle led the way for appearances.

They each featured 34 times and combined for 20 goals, and even Carra managed to score one.

 

Away kit perfection

Another year and another impressive kit. It was simple and clean but that’s all it ever needed to be. Reebok did well in this arena.

 

James and Alisson one in the same…

Just in this one instance that is.

Alisson‘s assist for Mohamed Salah against Man United is one of the standout moments in 2019/20 and over 20 years ago David James supplied Owen with a similar opening.

Nottingham Forest were the visitors and despite having already scored three, the teenage was not done yet as he latched onto James’ throw over the half-way line to weave his way into the box to score his fourth.

Goalkeepers as playmakers are just something else.

 

The Kids Are Alright

Liverpool's Robbie Fowler celebrates after scoring a goal for Liverpool during their FA Carling Premiership clash against Southampton at Anfield. Liverpool won the match 7-1. 16-Jan-1999 (David Kendall/PA Archive/PA Images)

As we all know, Liverpool never do things the easy way and while this season was one which was not filled with tremendous highs, a 7-1 thrashing of Southampton showed what the Reds could be capable of under Houllier.

Three goals in 15 first-half minutes saw Liverpool take an emphatic lead into the break and a Fowler hat-trick saw his tally for the Reds move to 101.

With Fowler, Owen, Carragher, Dominic Matteo and David Thompson, every goal of the seven was scored by a Liverpool Academy graduate – a unique occurrence.

 

The end for McManaman…

London, England - Monday, December 2, 1996: Liverpool's Steve McManaman in action during the 2-0 Premier League victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Following 364 appearances and 66 goals for Liverpool over nine seasons, McManaman switched Anfield for the Bernabeu – becoming one of the first high-profile Bosman free transfers.

He had announced his imminent departure with five months left on his contract and it was met my disdain by many fans and the press.

There is no doubting, however, that McManaman gave his all for Liverpool and he is one of the most underappreciated players of his generation – he had pace, balance, vision and the skills to match in abundance.

McManaman would go on to win the Champions League and La Liga with Real Madrid, making 158 appearances over four years.

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