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From field of play to the dugout: Can Gerrard make the leap?

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I woke this morning to news that Stevie Gerrard has held talks with Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool F.C. about a potential return. Bringing the club’s greatest ever player home in any capacity amounts to the mother of all ‘no brainers’ for me. It’s still impossible to understand why he was ever allowed to leave in the first place.

However, bringing him back as a coach conjures inevitable thoughts of him one day managing the club, perhaps even alongside a certain Bootle born centre-back. Surely the idea of this Scouse duo leading the club to glory is the ultimate Kopite wet dream.

Some may question whether having a local lad managing the club would necessarily be a good idea. Well actually, Liverpool have done reasonably well with Scousers at the helm.

Remarkably though, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that a Liverpudlian was granted the honour of managing the club. Joe Fagan led ‘The Reds’ to a historic treble of the Championship, European Cup and the League Cup. The following season, his last in charge, the club finished runners-up in the League and European Cup.

Roy Evans’ managerial spell may be regarded as a flop by many, but for me the team played some great football under his early stewardship and of course he led us to two cup-finals. Equally, Phil Thompson served the club well, albeit briefly, during Houllier’s illness.

So what’s not to love about the prospect of the Huyton born superstar one day taking the helm at Anfield? Nothing, if you can find someone to perform a ‘Men in Black’ style mind-wipe on you, erasing the Graham Souness years from your memory.

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It’s fair to say that, like Gerrard, Souness was one of the club’s greatest captains. He was an absolute legend during his playing career. However, history shows that he was an unmitigated disaster as manager. Not even an FA Cup win, against Sunderland in ’92, can salvage his spell in charge in the eyes of most Reds.

The thought of Stevie ruining his reputation, in the same way ‘Souey’ did, sends shivers down my spine. Of course there’s no logic to this at all. In reality the fact that Souness made an absolute mess of his spell in the Anfield dugout means nothing.

So is there hope that one day Gerrard can successfully complete a remarkable footballing journey from Liverpool fan, kicking a ball on the ‘Bluebell Estate’ in Huyton, to captaining and then managing one of the biggest clubs on Earth? It would be comic book stuff, possibly without precedent.

Thankfully there is some evidence that great players can indeed go on to be great managers. Let’s have a look at three ex-Liverpool legends who went on to be hugely successful as managers.

John Toshack

John-Toshack

Once part of a formidable strike partnership with Kevin Keegan, Toshack scored 96 goals in a red shirt. He won three Championship titles, a European Cup, two UEFA Cups, the FA cup and the European Super Cup, in what was a glorious spell from 1970-78.

The Welsh striker learned from the best in the game, playing under both Shankly and Paisley and coached by Fagan and Moran. It was a schooling he was to put to great use when he eventually took on the managerial hot-seat at Swansea City.

Toshack led ‘The Swans’ from the Fourth Division to the First in four seasons. He also won three Welsh Cups. His success with Swansea caught the eye of Europe’s top sides and he went on to manage Sporting Lisbon, Real Madrid twice, Real Sociedad three times, Deportivo La Coruna, Real Murcia, Besiktas, St Etienne and Catania in Italy.

His managerial honours overseas are impressive, winning La Liga, the Copa Del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and the Turkish Cup. His exploits in Spain saw him crowned ‘La Liga Coach of the year’ twice in 1989 and 1990.

To many John Toshack seemed the obvious choice to take over at Liverpool following the surprise departure of Dalglish in 1991. However, it wasn’t to be. The club instead turned to Souness, who had achieved success in Glasgow with Rangers.

Kenny Dalglish

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Steven Gerrard may have usurped Kenny as the club’s greatest ever player, but to Liverpool fans everywhere Dalglish will always be king. Signed to replace the ‘superstar’ Kevin Keegan in 1977, Kenny went on to establish himself as The Kop’s favourite player. He was even cooler than ‘The Fonz’.

He made 355 appearances as a player and scored 118 goals. His list of honours is incredible. In twelve years he won 6 First Division Titles, 3 European Cups,  1 UEFA Super Cup, 2 FA Cups and 4 League Cups. Throw in his 7 Charity Shields and that’s 23 pieces of silverware as a Liverpool player, in just over a decade.

Such  record was enough to ensure Kenny legendary status on its own. However, his winning mentality and love for the club meant that he would step up as player manager, when Joe Fagan resigned in ’85. He would serve the club in this role for six years. He won 3 First Division titles, 2 FA Cups and a further 4 Charity Shields, a record that puts him in the top 3 most successful Liverpool managers of all time.

I once found myself in a beer fuelled debate with a blue mate who, in all seriousness, told me that anyone could have been successful with the team Kenny took over from Joe Fagan. Kenny had just returned to the club for his second stint as manager, replacing the ‘train wreck’ that was Roy Hodgson.

He was telling me that appointing Kenny was a mistake and you couldn’t read anything into his success in the ’80’s. Liverpool back then were the dominant team and really Dalglish had an easy ride. Things were far different these days. Of course Kenny went on to steer us to another two finals in one year and win one of them, before being unfairly dismissed in my view.

To diminish Kenny’s achievements in his first stint as Liverpool manager is ludicrous even for the most myopic of rivals. It ignores the scale of task he took on. Firstly he had to replace the club’s captain and midfield general, Souness. He also had to replace two ageing full-backs, including the club’s most decorated star, Phil Neal.

However, all of that pales in comparison to the task of picking the club up after the Heysal Stadium disaster and the subsequent European ban. Under Dalglish Liverpool delivered a brand of attacking football that simply blew their rivals apart. I was privileged to stand on The Kop and revel in some of the finest displays I have ever seen. I watched in awe as players like Barnes, Beardsley and Rush simply destroyed all before them.

Away from Liverpool, Dalglish  managed Blackburn to a Premier League Title, took Newcastle to second place and Champions League qualification and won the Scottish Cup with Celtic. Surely Kenny’s record demonstrates that great players can go on to become equally impressive managers.

Bob Paisley

Paisley

Quite simply the most successful Liverpool manager of all time. Bob spent over forty years with Liverpool Football Club. Between 1939 and 1954 he made 253 appearances and won the First Division Title in 1947. Due to the outbreak of WW2 this had been officially his début season. He would later go on to captain the club.

To most Reds today though, Bob is remembered for his managerial prowess and rightly so. He became assistant to Shanks in 1959, a position he fulfilled until 1974, before going on to succeed the great Scotsman.

Paisley famously told an assembled first team squad, shell shocked following the departure of the iconic Shankly, that he didn’t even want the job. It was a lacklustre start to the most amazing managerial career that would see Liverpool establish themselves as undisputed Kings of Europe.

Paisley’s Liverpool swept all before them, winning an astonishing 6 League titles, 3 League Cups, 3 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup, 1 UEFA Super Cup and 6 Charity Shields. He achieved all of this in under a decade. Even more incredible is how close he came to even greater success.

Pailsey’s Reds were runners up in the League twice, the FA Cup and League Cups once and the Intercontinental and UEFA Super Cups. Many feel that Bob does not get the recognition he deserves. He is undoubtedly the greatest manager England has ever produced. Indeed with a ratio of 2.2 honours per season he is the most successful British manager of all time.

Only Ancelotti has matched his 3 European Cups and, under Bob, Liverpool became the only British Club to retain the trophy. Paisley steered Liverpool to two successive European titles in 1977 and 1978.

So when it comes to dreaming of Stevie leading Liverpool to future glories, it seems there are plenty of precedents to draw upon. One Souness does not a jinx make.

This article by me was also published on http://www.theliverpoolway.com

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