Thompson fired by passion for proud past

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The Independent Online

The manner in which Phil Thompson takes charge of Liverpool is part of a long and familiar pattern. Since the July day in 1974 when Bill Shankly astonished everyone, including himself, by announcing his resignation, most of those who have become Liverpool manager have done so unexpectedly from within and at a time of crisis.

Kenny Dalglish, a man few, including the-then captain Phil Neal considered suitable material, stepped into Joe Fagan's comfortable shoes in the ghastly wake of the Heysel disaster. Six years later, Graeme Souness was prised away from Ibrox to succeed Dalglish, who had walked out of Anfield to escape the demons of stress.

When the decline proved beyond Souness's recall, there was the safe, dependable figure of Roy Evans to fight the fires of out-of-control expectation and deteriorating results. Now, Thompson has been prodded forward to the front of the stage.

At 47, the man of whom Dalglish said: "He was like a stick of rock, if you broke him in two he would have Liverpool written through him," is one of the last links with the old Anfield Boot Room.

Thompson, appointed reserve-team coach by Dalglish in 1986 because he carried the charisma and the passion he felt Chris Lawler lacked, shared it with Evans, Ronnie Moran and Ron Yates until 1992 when Souness sacked him and tore the Boot Room out of Anfield.

Those who observed Thompson by Gérard Houllier's side on the touchline, manically screaming out instructions, engaging in diatribes with fourth officials, linesmen and opposing coaches, would not be surprised to learn that Souness considered that shouting was virtually all Thompson did.

"It does annoy me that I get portrayed as someone who screams and shouts," Thompson said. "When I was a player my great forte was reading the game, understanding it and organising. I was not a headless chicken running around kicking people.

"There is a certain individual [Souness] who criticised me and said I would just shout and swear. That is so far from the point, it's malicious. If I didn't know what I was talking about, I would not embarrass myself."

It is a peculiar irony that Thompson, fired by one Liverpool manager who underwent heart surgery, should have been reappointed by another – all the more so when it is remembered that Thompson was recruited from a group of people who have caused Houllier considerable annoyance: former players turned media commentators.

In the years between his sacking by Souness and his reappointment as assistant manager by Houllier, Thompson wrote a column in the Liverpool Echo and gave his views to Merseyside's footballing public on the radio.

His excellence as a defender, his 337 games for the club between 1971 and 1982, the trophies he lifted and his Liverpudlian origins will all help him garner support and understanding from the Kop; but he is also entirely at home with the press.

Whether he is entirely at home plotting tactics in Europe is another matter. However, it is likely that before tomorrow's game with Dynamo Kiev he will consult Jacques Crevoisier, who worked with Houllier in the French Academy and whose job at Uefa before coming to Merseyside was compiling dossiers on teams in the Champions' League. Sammy Lee has already proved his coaching credentials at both Melwood and with England.

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