Article by Imraan Adam – @imadam786
We have seen it one too many times, a capable Liverpool team is built but ends up peaking before it has a chance to become successful, it’s become a familiar story for our generation of Liverpool fans. However I do believe this current crop of players will be different and judging by Liverpool’s ambition in this summer’s transfer window there is plenty to suggest to me that this Liverpool team hasn’t peaked just yet.
I have been supporting Liverpool since the age of six and as far as I am concerned Liverpool have only had four teams in that time scale that I thought were capable of finally winning the league and becoming a real force. Unfortunately all those teams fell short and were unable to reach those heights in the following season but I do think there is a reason for this and I want to explore these reasons and why I don’t think Liverpool are falling into a similar trap.
The first team that I can remember that I thought was capable of achieving something special was the 1996/97 team. I was only 10 years old at this time but I remember this season really well as it was probably the first season that I followed every Liverpool game religiously, whether it was going round my cousins house to watch Liverpool on Sky or getting my mum to record Match of the Day I did watch a majority of the matches even if it was just the highlights. That season Liverpool seem to have built a team that were more than capable of taking the fight to Manchester United and for a majority of the season we did, so much so that when United lost to Derby in early April Liverpool knew that a win the next day against Coventry would take us top with six matches remaining.
However, despite Robbie Fowler’s first half goal that gave us the lead, Liverpool ended up losing the game 2-1 and with that went to Championship Title. The following season Liverpool were just not able to maintain the same level of performances and this was for two main reasons I think.
Firstly at the end of that 96/97 season Robbie Fowler had his first serious knee injury, an injury that would never see him play football in the same way again. Fowler was never the same player when he came back and even though we had Michael Owen coming through the ranks he was still a young whipper snapper at this point and wasn’t able to reach the heights Fowler had set the previous seasons. Also Fowler had lost his partner in crime in Stan Collymore, the duo formed such a deadly partnership and this was one of the main reasons why Liverpool were so successful.
Fowler and Owen never quite worked as a partnership and even though we had Karl-Heinz Riedle coming in we weren’t able to really strike up a formidable partnership up front. The second reason I think Liverpool struggled the season after was because of the introduction of Paul Ince.
The hard tackling former Manchester United midfielder came in from Inter Milan in the summer of 97 and his arrival ruffled a couple of feathers in that Liverpool squad the wrong way. For starters he got the captains arm band straight away which is never a good thing for a new player, also Ince wasn’t the most politest to his team mates in the dressing room and I think the harmony that Liverpool had built up in that changing room very quickly evaporated when he arrived. Liverpool really struggled the following season only finishing fourth in the league and in the summer of 98 it was decided that Gerard Houllier would come in and be joint manager with Roy Evans.
The joint manager thing never quite got off the ground as both men didn’t really know who was in charge of the team, Evans was a broken man at the point and his decision to step down in November 98 singled the start of the Houllier era. Personally I really liked Houllier, I think he bought Liverpool in to modern day football at the time and he gave us a European flair. We won the treble in 2000/01 and in the 2001/02 season Liverpool were expected to mount a title challenge and end their long wait for a league title.
What I liked about Houllier is he was a man who was prepared to take a risk; however that same quality eventually led to the Frenchman’s downfall. In December 2001 Houllier took a big risk in selling club legend Robbie Fowler and told supporters to trust him and he would bring in a world class striker, about four weeks later Houllier took another huge gamble by bringing in the trouble striker Nicholas Ankela on loan with the option to buy him at the end of the season. Both of these risks paid off big time as Ankela grew from strength to strength at Liverpool, Fowler ended up being a huge flop at Leeds and Liverpool were seemingly moving in the right direction.
I remember one game from that season that stands out above all the others and that was when we played Newcastle at Anfield, Liverpool went with a three prong attack with Ankela being partnered by Owen and Heskey and the three of them absolutely tore Newcastle to shreds, we won that game 3-0 but it could have easily been nine because of how devastating our attack was in that game. Liverpool ended up finishing the season second, five points behind Arsenal, but going into the summer I really did think that the three prong attack was the way Liverpool were heading going in to the new season. So you can imagine how surprised I was when we announced that we wouldn’t be signing Anelka on a permanent deal and instead Houllier wanted to take a risk on the unknown talent of El Hadji Diouf.
Unfortunately this was one risk too many for Houllier and the gamble back fired big time, Diouf was an absolute flop at Anfield only scoring three goals in his first season and failing to score any goals in his second season, the only Liverpool number nine to do this in the clubs history. Houllier saw all his hard work, crumbling down as the team he had worked so hard to build was nothing but a shadow of their former self. Houllier ended up leaving in the summer of 2004 after he was unable to mount another serious title challenge with Liverpool.
I’m going to leave it there for this week but if you join me again next week I will look at how the Rafa Benitez team of 2008/09 fell apart after finishing two points behind Manchester United as well as the downfall of Brendan Rodgers after he broke our hearts in 2013/14.
Article by Imraan Adam – @imadam786