Graham Kelly: Houllier suffering in the shadow of Shankly and Paisley

Houllier focuses very precisely on the age of potential signings but they have been too unadventurous
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The Independent Football

The academic and Liverpool fan John Williams's The Liverpool Way (Mainstream) is more than an account of the 2002-03 season. It examines the currently underachieving club and the English game from the unique perspective of one who suffers the heartache while simultaneously attempting to bring professional detachment to issues such as the explosion of commercialisation and the establishment of the Premier League.

The story that gives new insights into old successes, as the author yearns for a different conclusion to the script unfolding before him.

The former winger Brian Hall, now employed in a community role at Anfield, uses the language and symbolism of the family to describe the Liverpool club in the 1970s: a togetherness that linked the players, management, fans, and even the groundstaff and ancillary workers.

The legendary manager Bill Shankly's greatest ability, thinks Hall, was to look a player in the eye and see a winner. He had the gift of language, of inspiration, whereas Bob Paisley, essentially a non-communicator, better understood systems of play.

Hall, a little Liverpool University student from Preston, had signed amateur forms and was playing in the reserves while holding down a vacation job as a bus conductor. He made the big error of turning up at Anfield in his uniform. Big Ron Yeats called down the corridor: "Come and have a look at this: we've signed Jimmy Clitheroe." Shankly came and got changed next to him and started talking to him about Tom Finney. "Son, do you need a degree now to be a bus conductor in Preston?"

The player that Williams believes Liverpool most missed in 2002-03 was Gary McAllister, who had played such a resounding part in the successes of 2000-01. The very intensity of life at Liverpool was what McAllister liked. There was the element of fear that had driven him on.

Williams asked the current manager, Gérard Houllier, about the nature of the modern football manager's job, and also what he had tried to do at Liverpool to transform the club.

First, he has his aims and strategies to achieve results in the short term to make the fans and the board happy.

Second, he tries to influence the life of the club by improving the facilities, the philosophy, the lifestyle of some of the players. To do this you need some ethics. Houllier focuses very precisely on the age of potential signings, but Williams is worried that, in the absence of another McAllister, Houllier's signings have been too unadventurous.

Third, he tries to help the players and the team develop, not only on the football side but as men. Most of the players who were at the club when he arrived or whom he has signed would probably testify to their betterment.

Williams's book is worth the cost just to read the account by Yeats - at the time an Aberdonian slaughterman captaining the British Army team - of his signing for Shankly's Second Division Liverpool.

"I went into this hotel and I could see my manager and I could also see this man with him that I didn't recognise. I'll always remember this: he was a lovely dresser, this other feller, lovely suit and tie, and white, white teeth. That really impressed me. And then he's walking round me; I can hear him at the back of me and he says: 'Jesus Christ, son, you must be about seven feet tall!' And when he comes back to the front, I said 'No, I'm only six foot two', and he said: "That's near enough f****** seven foot for me." I thought there and then, "I like this man". The fact that he was Scottish was very important too. You can imagine, I was very, very Scottish, from Aberdeen, in the North-east of Scotland. You didn't meet many managers and I was very impressed with him - and I have stayed impressed ever since. He was talking in the car about signing this player and that player and what a good club Liverpool was. They'd been third or fourth the year before, and he said signing me would mean getting promotion. I had never had a good manager at Dundee United. He knew exactly what he wanted to do for Liverpool. Money didn't bother me. I never spoke about a raise in 10 or 11 years here. Today, I'm not sure whether players want to play for the club first or whether they want money first."

For all his fanaticism, Williams reverts to professorial type when considering the thorny topic of racism in the city, suggesting that Everton may have a better record in Toxteth, as few black locals reach the Liverpool under-17 or under-19 teams: "Local racism cheek by jowl with international cosmopolitanism," he claims.

Meanwhile, for Houllier, the hand that feeds ... I believe the old players who wound him with their criticism have never really left the club.