Book of the Week: Bob Paisley: Manager of the Millennium

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The Independent Online
Bob Paisley: Manager of the Millennium By John Keith

Robson Books pounds 17.95

THIS BOOK could have the subtitle "An Accident Of Fate" because the more you learn about Bob Paisley the greater the temptation grows to wonder how he became manager of the premier club in Europe in the 1970s and 80s.

An inarticulate and shy man in an age where the manager was transformed from an organiser of football teams into the public face of the club, it was astonishing that he was chosen to follow the media's friend, Bill Shankly. It was a surprise he was at Anfield at all.

Matt Busby might have become manager of Liverpool, with all the consequences for the future that would have had; in the Second World War Paisley missed death by seconds when news of his brother's demise caused him to wander stunned down an Italian road moments before a shell exploded on the spot where he had stood; in 1950 he wanted a transfer when he was dropped for the FA Cup final. Even Shankly's arrival might have marked his end at Anfield if the great communicator had wanted his own back-room staff.

Instead they formed one of the greatest odd couples in football, loud and quiet, brash and bashful, each provided what the other lacked. Even more surprising, Paisley slipped from out of the shadows to eclipse Shankly on his retirement, winning three European Cups, six Championships and the Uefa Cup as part of a 19-trophy collection. Even Sir Alex Ferguson's success suffers by comparison, and makes you wonder what this champion of the little man had to do to earn his own knighthood.

But the manager of the millennium? The title is deliberately provocative as the foreword by Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool's greatest player since Billy Liddell, acknowledges. "What is not open to debate," he writes, "is that Bob Paisley was the country's most successful football manager."

The author is perfectly suited to record the nine wondrous years, as he was a reporter for a national newspaper on Merseyside throughout and, to give him credit, there can be few of Paisley's surviving football acquaintances whom Keith did not interview. The book will be a source of reference for journalists and others.

Jim Beglin, Paisley's last signing, described his manager as "a very ordinary man with a football gift". It is as fitting an epitaph as any.

Guy Hodgson

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