Hopes higher as Rambo rolls back into town
Sunday 28 December 2003
He was a man of many epithets: Rambo to the adoring Kop; a veritable thesaurus section of expressions ridiculing his portliness to opposition followers; and simply the Great Dane to the impartial. Rarely has a footballer so defied his stereotyping as this eloquent, adopted Scouser, who challenged the assumption that a stockily built playershouldn't occupy a place among the élite of England's most illustrious club.
Since Jan Molby departed Anfield in February 1996, he has successfully converted to management, having been responsible for Kidder-minster Harriers' elevation to the Football League in 2000. Today, he is once again at the Aggborough Stadium, 10 weeks into his second stint at the club, with avoidance of relegation back to the Conference his priority, but with a home third-round FA Cup tie with neighbours Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday providing a financially beneficial distraction.
The departure of Molby, now 40, from Kidderminster around Easter last year was an acrimonious one. He was appointed manager of Hull City a month later, but it was a brief association, lasting only until October. After that he returned to media work, for which he is always in demand. Then came, from all places, an appeal from Kidderminster, who had just dismissed the former Chelsea midfielder Ian Britton. "I was looking to get back into football, but it was the one call I didn't expect to get," confesses Molby. "There's the saying, 'Never go back', but I've taken the chance. It's a club where I feel I'm allowed to get on with the job."
Already there has been an upturn in results, and inevitably Molby is regarded as an alchemist, with the ability to transform a club with reputedly the lowest budget in the Football League into one challenging for honours. "I'd rather have that than people just turning up and thinking nothing's going to happen," he says.
When we speak on Friday night he is aboard the team bus, travelling back with his side, who have just secured an away victory at promotion challengers Yeovil Town. Those opponents, Molby needs no reminding, are hosts to Liverpool the day after Kidderminster face Wolves. He still refers to the Reds as "we", and you suspect their former player, once described by Kenny Dalglish as "one of the finest midfield players of his generation", would relish a return to Anfield in some coaching capacity.
"It's not an immediate ambition," Molby says, swiftly dismissing the notion. "I just want to manage at the highest possible level, whether it's with Kidderminster or with somebody else." He adds: "It's difficult to explain what makes you want to stay in football. There's not a lot of money around in this division and we're all scraping the barrel. It's a tough job, and the pressure is immense. I guess it's in your blood. As much as I enjoy all my media work, football is my number one love."
Molby views his old club's current troubles with conflicting emotions. "I'm not sure if sadness is the right word, but you can't help feeling that maybe they should be doing slightly better than they are," he says. "This season is going to be 14 without the championship, isn't it? That's very disappointing. We're going to get a whole new generation of football fans who think that Liverpool are a mid-table team rather than what they are - based on what they've achieved - the greatest club side in England."
Molby adds, with a wry laugh: "The manager is an easy scapegoat, isn't he? But there's no doubt that, whatever the reason, they're not quite fulfilling the potential they've got. Certainly, the players can't be in the clear, but there'll always be question marks about one or two of the manager's signings. That said, I still think he's the right man for the job. But we do need to be in the Champions' League to attract, or at least be in the running for, the players who can improve Liverpool."
Molby's pedigree is immaculate. Born in Kolding, who were his first club, he joined an Ajax youth academy that included Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Jesper Olsen, and played alongside Johan Cruyff. Joe Fagan signed him for Liverpool for £225,000 in August 1984, and he developed into one of the most accomplished of the early foreign imports with his wonderfully adept passing, long and short.
In his time at Anfield he amassed three championship and two FA Cup winners' medals, and the double that Liverpool achieved in 1986 remains the zenith of his career. "My overriding memory was the FA Cup final of that year, against Everton," Molby says. "For me to have an impact, like I did in the second half, being involved in all our three goals (Liverpool won 3-1), was a boyhood dream come true."
Molby also experienced the unpredictability of the FA Cup, notably at Wembley in 1988, when Liverpool were overcome by Wimbledon. Such occurrences provide his side with optimism on Saturday, especially with men such as striker Dean Bennett in the side. "Dean's had a good return on the FA Cup this season. We've scored five and he's got four of them. He's a Wolver-hampton fan, so he'll be well fired up."
So, you anticipate, will be the manager on a weekend which he is well aware can bestow career-changing fortunes.
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