Brian Viner: Rafa's shackles wouldn't have held back Shankly

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

The air, one imagines, took on an inappropriate shade of blue when the managing director of Liverpool FC, Christian Purslow, met recently with the Spirit of Shankly supporters' union and broke the news to them that, with the financial situation at Anfield so parlous, players' wage increases must come out of the club's much-diminished transfer budget.

If the actual spirit of Bill Shankly had been hovering over the meeting, I suspect it would have been suppressing an earthy Ayrshire chuckle. His modern-day counterpart, Rafa Benitez, has been shackled until 2014 with a maximum of £20m a year to spend in the transfer market? Poor love.

Shankly wouldn't have minded a pair of shackles like that, whatever the equivalent was, 40 years ago, of £20m today. Consider his most astute buys: £37,500 for Ian St John, £30,000 for Ron Yeats, £18,000 for Ray Clemence, £65,000 for Emlyn Hughes, £33,000 for Kevin Keegan, £110,000 for John Toshack. Those weren't negligible sums by the standard of the 1960s and 1970s, but consider also £500 for Jimmy Case, and nothing at all for Steve Heighway.

For much of Shankly's time at Anfield, he was not so much shackled by the Liverpool board as straitjacketed. Brian Clough, Denis Law, Jack Charlton, Peter Osgood and Lou Macari were all players he coveted but couldn't afford. Yet he managed, in both senses of the word, rather well without them. In 1973 Macari signed for Manchester United for more money than Liverpool were offering, but within a year United were relegated, while Liverpool won the title. "He couldnae play anyway," Shankly told his players. "I only wanted him for the reserve team."

Obviously, the football landscape is different now. The transfer market has gone global, and, thanks to Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea, stratospheric. But I suspect the spirit of Shankly would have some rasping words for Benitez, perhaps to the effect that a five-year splurge well over £200m still hasn't yielded the League title, and that the Champions League trophy and FA Cup wouldn't be on his CV either without the dramatic and continuing impact of a player who was there when he arrived and cost precisely nothing in transfer fees, Steven Gerrard.

Shankly would doubtless note how many established first-teamers have come through the Liverpool youth ranks, or have been picked up for a song, since Benitez's arrival. "Where are your bloody scouts?" he would say. And Benitez would look wounded, and say: "But Bill, times have changed since your day."

Well, yes and no, although, on an unrelated matter, if the spirit of Shankly does happen to be knocking around this week, it will have been mightily bemused by reports that the coach of the Indian cricket team, Gary Kirsten, has advised his players to have more sex, to increase their testosterone levels. Shankly took the opposite view, ordering his players never to indulge on the eve of a match. "Shanks told us to wear boxing gloves in bed on a Friday night," Ian St John once told me, laughing uproariously. "And if that didn't work, to send her to her mother's." Times indeed, have changed.

Lord's homecoming to celebrate

The late Harold Pinter wouldn't have cared for the pomp and circumstance of a memorial service in Westminster Abbey, but he would undoubtedly approve of a cricket match in his memory, and it duly takes place tomorrow between the Lord's Taverners and Pinter's beloved club, the Gaieties, on the Nursery Ground at Lord's. Participants include Mike Atherton, Mike Gatting and Chris Tarrant, and entrance is free.

The match begins at 11.30am, ends around 5pm, and will be followed by a reception and concert in the Long Room, where a splendid painting of Pinter in the nets is to be auctioned for charity. The painting was done by a pavement artist called Joe Hill. I'm told that Pinter loved it, and hung it above his desk. I'm also told that around the same time he was sitting for a portrait by Lucien Freud, but after a few sessions he told Freud to forget it; he couldn't bear the boredom. I should think the Taverners would rather be auctioning a Lucien Freud, but it's a lovely tale. You too can bid, at pinter@lordstaverners.org. For further details of the concert, call 020 7821 2828.

Two star turns lost in controversy

Almost a week has passed since the Manchester derby, but still it remains vivid in the memory as a match that offered almost everything a neutral observer could wish for: fantastic goals, great saves, a last-minute winner and schoolboy howlers (one of which was the decision by Sky Sports to make Darren Fletcher man of the match, rather than the remarkable Ryan Giggs). But such is the media obsession with controversy that two of the day's finest performances have been cast into shadow.

Craig Bellamy's characteristically intemperate attack on the fool who ran on to the pitch accounted for dozens more column inches than his two wonderful goals, the second of which, worryingly for England as well as United fans, made Rio Ferdinand look like Titus Bramble on a really bad day. And while everyone debated Martin Atkinson's timekeeping skills, nobody acknowledged one of the best, most level-headed displays of refereeing I have seen for a long time.

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