A lot has changed since Kenny Dalglish’s last league title (1990) with Liverpool till his return, which lasted 18 months, and produced only a Carling Cup. Liverpool haven’t won a league title for 22 years, coming relatively close twice, under foreign manager.
Graeme Souness, Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson couldn’t bring back the glory days of the 1980’s and 1970’s. Maybe that’s where the problem is. The expectations to return to those days, maybe gone, forever.
Where it all started to go wrong? Some say it was the Heysel disaster. Some say it was Hillsborough. But the fact is that Graeme Souness was the first full time manager at Anfield that failed to win a league title. He did win the FA Cup in 1992, his first season with the club, but just the FA Cup isn’t enough. Souness won everything as a player for the reds. He lasted less than three full seasons with the club, winning 65 of his 157 matches. He got fired in January, 1994, after a poor league run and losing to Bristol City in the FA Cup.
He broke up the Liverpool DNA with his transfer policy, or so they say. Souness didn’t have much of a choice in some cases. He never got the players’ trust, and bringing in relatively expensive new signings, which was against the clubs famous boot room policy, didn’t help his relations with the aging stars from the Dalglish era.
Evans was the last piece of Boot Room furniture to become the Liverpool manager. His time was better than Souness’, aided by the rise of Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, winning the League Cup (1995) and finishing as FA Cup runners up in 1996, also translating into a easy-on-the eyes styel, with Jamie Redknapp also thrown into the mix. They finished fourth in 1995 and third in 1996. Liverpool looked like title contenders again, even leading the league at some point in the 1996-1997 season, eventually falling off the race to finish fourth.
Evans was blamed for not being able to control his young stars, who got labelled as the spice boys. The 1997-1998 season was again supposed to be the breakout year for the team, but Robbie Fowler got injured, and Michael Owen’s first full season was good enough for third. Then came Gerard Houllier as co-manager, but Evans didn’t last long with that arrangement, ending the Liverpool-manager line. Evans won 123 of his 244 matches with the club.
Gerard Houllier brought Liverpool into the Bosman era. Once Roy Evans was gone, he began his five-year program, which included a lot of exits, mostly of British players, while bringing in foreign talent in arguable quality. But after a very disappointing 1998-1999 season (7th finish), things started to look better for the club – A fourth place finish in 2000 and a fantastic 2001, winning the Cup treble – The UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup.
Liverpool weren’t far from winning the title in 2002, leading the table for some parts of the season, eventually finishing second, their best Premier League finish ever since Dalglish left. But the last couple of seasons for Houllier were marred with bad signings and bad football, which eventually resulted in his departure after six seasons. His famous last words at the end of his final press conference – If they want to go back to the ’70s & ’80s they can do that but not with me.
Maybe he’ll be back, because he certainly never lost the love of the fans. Benitez was brought after his huge success with Valencia – winning two La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup. But his first year with Liverpool wasn’t great, finishing fifth in the league, which meant they would miss the Champions League. But Benitez lead the club on a magical Champions League run, ending with an improbable final and an improbable penalty shootout win over AC Milan, bringing home the first European Cup trophy back to Anfield after 21 years.
Benitez’ team wasn’t a attractive team, instead a powerful one, with strong defense and a very powerful centre midfield, with Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso being the dominant figures. Enjoying Gerrard’s best days helped Benitez establish himself as the most successful Liverpool manager since Dalglish. It didn’t end with the league title. The FA Cup in 2006, that was it. Liverpool did finish second in 2008-2009, four points behind Manchester United, but the relationship with the owners fell apart from there. After a 7th place finish in 2010, Benitez packed up and left. He won 194 matches out of his 350.
A failed experiment, although Hodgson never enjoyed the famous longevity every other Liverpool manager enjoyed. A change of times. Under two different ownership groups, Hodgson lasted until January, not enjoying any kind of big money that Dalglish did from the FSG shortly after. Hodgson was responsible for Liverpool’s worst start of the season in nearly 60 years. That cost him his job, although things have looked up for ever since – A good job with West Brom and now the English national team.