It takes a rare courage to write yourself out of the script at a club the size of Liverpool, especially when it's your love, but that's what Danny Murphy did over the summer.
It takes a rare courage to write yourself out of the script at a club the size of Liverpool, especially when it's your love, but that's what Danny Murphy did over the summer. Maybe it's because he is married to an actress - the former Hollyoaks star Joanna Taylor - that the England midfielder knows that walk-on parts offer only a limited appeal.
Indeed at the end of last season, following the departure of Gérard Houllier, he told Liverpool's chief executive, Rick Parry, that he had no desire to pick up his money and sit on the bench if he wasn't going to be in the new manager's plans "whoever he was". Murphy explains: "I did it for the best part of five, six months last season, and I went up the wall. I would rather go. You can have someone who's 20 or 21 who plays 15 to 20 games a season, but I wanted to play every week. I didn't want to be on the fringes."
Which is exactly where the 27-year-old found himself once Rafael Benitez arrived at Anfield. "The conversation I had with him was honest, fair and frank," Murphy recalls. "He said to me, 'I've had a couple of bids, I've accepted them. Because even though I know what you've done for the club and your capabilities, I'm looking to bring some players in and they're going to play'. To me that was it really."
Murphy adds: "As far as I'm concerned I would have played for Liverpool until the day I stopped playing. That was my goal. I've never had arguments about money, contracts, whatever. But I just gave it my best shot. I had seven years there and it came to a time when I was surplus to requirements and I had to take it like a man and move on."
It is said without rancour but with regrets, even if he is able to list an impressive array of trophies, finals, nine international caps and lots of happy Anfield memories from his 249 appearances, 178 in the League. But regrets there are and, when asked to elaborate, he is passionate. In doing so, Murphy returns to a theme he touched upon in choosing to join Charlton Athletic in August, for £2.5m on a four-year deal, rather than Tottenham Hotspur.
It is a desire to play for a British manager. It is not being a Little Englander, it is about an appreciation of playing in England. And it is an argument he extends to players as well as coaches. "A lot of managers are coming in now and thinking that a nucleus of English players is not that important," he says. "I don't particularly believe that's the right view. You can have a successful team without it, of course you can, but it is more difficult. The fans of the club, like Liverpool, do need to have some heroes who they know are one of their own, like Robbie Fowler or Steven Gerrard. Stevie's still there, Carra's [Jamie Carragher] still there."
But only those two. Arsenal have got away with it, he says, simply because in Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell they have "three of the best players in the world". "But they are the exception," Murphy says. The best two players for Chelsea, he states, are Frank Lampard and John Terry.
He highlights Liverpool's defeat last week by Manchester United, a team who preserved their core - and a side he had a knack of scoring against. "I wasn't even a Scouser, but I was local [Murphy was born in Chester and grew up a Liverpool fan] and I know what it means to play United. I would never disrespect the players who are there [at Liverpool] because they are good players, at a big club, and they've taken their opportunities. But I think that if you go to another team, especially from another country, it's difficult to gauge the enormity of what it means to lose to Man United. Those lads won't know what it means to the fans every day at work. They will be upset because they have personal pride, but they don't know what it means, like I know what it means.
"The manager doesn't know what it means like I know what it means. I'm sure he'd agree with that. He might say, like Gérard used to say, 'I've been a Liverpool fan and I know what the club means'. Of course they do, of course they care. They are winners. Benitez is a winner. He proved that at Valencia. His track record is fantastic and I'm sure he'll do a good job. But he's not got that upbringing that I've got. He couldn't tell me how Liverpool and United have got on every season for the past 15 seasons the way I could. He couldn't tell me that he's cried, like I did, when Liverpool lost the League [in 1989] to Michael Thomas's goal in the last minute [for Arsenal]. That's the difference, and when you lose too many of them [English players] it has an effect."
It has also had an effect on Murphy. Physically and emotionally, the frustrations of the past 12 months have taken their toll. "I'm a football person, I can't switch off. Some players can, I can't," he says. "And last year I was uptight a lot of the time and it got to a point where it was affecting the people around me. I wasn't myself. Because I wasn't playing and I'd got used to playing, to being happy in my football."
Travelling with the team was the worst thing. "Doing that, all over Europe and then sitting on the bench was mentally exhausting. It gets to the point where you are not happy going home every day. It's not a nice way for me to live." Nor is commuting up and down from the North-west, and Murphy will be relieved when the home he has bought near Chipstead, in Surrey, is complete. At present he is staying with a relative of his wife. Already, however, he feels more "relaxed", even if eyebrows were raised in some quarters when he chose The Valley over White Hart Lane.
Murphy himself is clear in his reasoning. He has found that nucleus, that core, he craves. "I've definitely felt a togetherness that I haven't experienced in a long time," he says of Charlton. It was something he was conscious of when he played against the Addicks. Little things - like communicating more easily with his team-mates and the camaraderie of golf days and go-karting, easier to organise at Charlton - have also made a difference.
And then there's the manager, Alan Curbishley. "I haven't worked for an English manager for a long time," Murphy says (not since 1999, when he was loaned back to his first club, Dario Gradi's Crewe Alexandra). "And I wanted that clearness of what he wanted from me, what was my role, and I know the gaffer has been in the Premiership for a long time and so he knows me."
Spurs, he says, are in transition. It would be like starting all over again. At Charlton, Murphy believes, he will be given the "platform" to perform. "That's what I needed, I needed someone to have that confidence in me," he says. "I don't think Jacques Santini [the Tottenham head coach] knew a lot about me."
And so when he played badly, as he freely admits he, and the rest of the Charlton team, did against Southampton recently, he had the opportunity to remedy it immediately. Curbishley had that confidence in him. Next up was Birmingham City, and Murphy was man of the match back in his favoured central-midfield role, following up with a midweek goal in the Carling Cup against Grimsby Town.
"Charlton is a good place for me to take a commanding role," he explains, and Murphy is starting to do so. It's that role which allows him to answer the inevitable accusation that he has taken a step down. "Everyone gets tarred with that brush when you move from Liverpool," he says. "I'm not naïve enough to think it's not a move down. Of course it is. What I have to make sure is that from an individual point of view it doesn't make me think I'm less of a player." And by proving that he can help take a "progressive" Charlton to "the next level". Maybe not a top-five finish, yet, but the possibility of "nicking" a European place. He relishes the challenge.
"At Charlton I'm looked on as one of the senior players who's expected to rise above it when others are having a bad game. It's part of the reason I came and why the gaffer wanted me here. I've been in Liverpool teams that have struggled and I've never hidden. I try and keep going, make things happen. As time goes by and I settle here I will develop. They haven't seen the best of me yet, far from it."
Next month he will return to Liverpool for a Premiership match. "I think I'll get a decent reception," he says. He should. One disappointment is that his best friend, Gerrard, will be missing, having broken a metatarsal bone in his foot - the same injury that ruled Murphy out of the 2002 World Cup. "It's a shame, we'd always joked about 'what if one of us moved and we played against each other'," Murphy says. "But it will be good to see everyone. I want Liverpool to progress, but I'm a Charlton player and we want the points. There's nothing in me that's bitter towards the club. I will still be a Liverpool fan." But a Charlton player. And all the happier for that.
Born: 18 March 1977 in Chester.
Family: Married long-term girfriend, actress Joanna Taylor, in Barbados in July.
Clubs: Crewe: 1993-97, 1998-99 (loan); League debut at 16, 150 appearances, 28 goals. Liverpool: 1998-2004; 249, 44. Charlton: 2004-present; 7, 1.
Honours: England: 9 caps, 1 goal (in 4-0 friendly win against Paraguay, April 2002). Called into 2002 World Cup squad but forced to withdraw through injury. Also capped at Youth and U-21 level. Club: 2001: European SuperCup, Uefa Cup, FA Cup, Charity Shield; 2003 League Cup (all with Liverpool).
Lucky ground: Old Trafford: Scored winner for Liverpool there three times in four years, made England debut there.Reuse content