Unless you’ve been living on the moon these last few weeks, you’ll know that Jürgen Klopp has just celebrated his first anniversary in charge of the Reds. Here, I take a look back at how Klopp’s 5 predecessors fared in their first 12 months (or 6 months in the case of Hodgson!) at the helm.
Gerard Houllier was appointed “joint manager” in the summer of 1998 along with Roy Evans, a move that was doomed to failure from the start and effectively led to a whole season being written off. After a promising start (10 points from the first 4 games) the cracks soon started to appear and Evans left the club he’d served for over 3 decades following a dismal league cup defeat to Spurs. The Reds were 8th in the league, already nine points behind early leaders Aston Villa.
After a promising run of form around Christmas and new year, a heartbreaking FA Cup defeat to the Manchester United, followed by the announcement Steve McManaman would join Real Madrid on a free that summer, cast a shadow over the remainder of the season. Liverpool finished 7th on 52 points.
It’d be unfair to analyse Houllier’s first twelve months without looking at his first pre season in sole charge. The purchases of Sami Hyypia, Stephane Henchoz and Didi Hamann were amongst the best bits of business done by any Liverpool manager in the modern era. Sander Westerveld, Vladimir Smicer, Titi Camara and Eric Meijer were also added as the squad was completely reshaped. A young Jamie Carragher began to blossom under Houllier’s guidance and an even younger Steven Gerrard made his Liverpool debut. Meanwhile, anyone who didn’t share Houllier’s vision of turning Liverpool into a more disciplined outfit was shown the door; David James and Paul Ince were two high profile casualties.
Gerard Houllier’s first game in sole charge was on 14 November 1999. Twelve months later, the Reds sat 5th on 24 points from 14 games, having won four and drawn one of the previous five games. We’d lose only two more games between then and late April, before a now infamous collapse in the final weeks of the season cost us a Champions League place. But the foundations were being laid for what would turn out to be some memorable times under the former France boss. And who can forget his treble of cup wins!
The Reds pulled off quite a coup prizing the double La Liga and UEFA Cup winning manager away from Valencia in the summer of 2004, but nobody could have envisaged how his first 12 months in the Anfield hot seat would pan out. Nobody!
Rafa was up against it from day one with speculation over Steve Gerrard’s future a daily occurrence. And just when that saga was put to bed, the season’s plans were thrown into turmoil when Michael Owen left to join Real Madrid just 24 hours before our opening league game at Tottenham.
Rafa’s first domestic season had parallels with Jürgen Klopp’s. The League Cup final was reached for starters! And some great league performances, such as defeating champions Arsenal, coming back from 2-0 down at half time to win at Fulham and a home derby win when we ended the game with about seven fit players, were mixed with grim defeats at the likes of Middlesbrough, Southampton and Birmingham. As the Reds’ focus shifted towards other matters, Everton pipped us to the final Champions League qualifying spot. We finished 5th on 58 points, one place and 2 points worse off than a year earlier.
But 2005 won’t be remembered for where we finished in the league! From that December night against Olympiakos onwards, the focus shifted firmly towards the Champions League. Following a successful revenge mission against Bayer Leverkusen, Rafa’s tactical brilliance really came to the fore as the Reds defeated Fabio Capello’s Juventus and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, ties we started as clear second favourites. But even those victories pale into insignificance when compared to that amazing night in the Ataturk Olympic Stadium on 25 May 2005 as the Reds came from 3-0 down against AC Milan to win our 5th European Cup. Rafa had cemented his palace in Anfield folklore, joining Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan as Liverpool FC European Cup winning managers.
The Champions League win didn’t detract from Rafa’s rebuilding of the squad. Pepe Reina, Peter Crouch and Momo Sissoko were signed in the summer of 2005, significantly strengthening the spine of the side and leading to a vastly improved third place finish and impressive haul of 82 points in 05-06.
By the summer of 2010, Liverpool FC had reached a level of dysfunctionality that we will hopefully never see again. I won’t go over the gory details here!
Rafa Benitez had won the Champions League, got to another final, won the FA Cup, presided over our best league season since the last title win, regularly qualified for the Champions League and masterminded wins over some of Europe’s finest in their own back yards. Barcelona – check. Inter Milan – check. Real Madrid – check.
Yet some, both inside and outside the club, including a large element of the support, wanted him gone at all costs. They wanted him gone even when the alternative was Roy Hodgson, a man who had done very little of significance in over 3 decades of management and who was never going to repeat any of the feats mentioned above in a million years. Fair enough he’d got Fulham to the UEFA Cup final, but only an extra time Diego Forlan goal prevented us from being their opponents in that very final! So why was this suddenly good enough for Liverpool FC? It’s a mindset I couldn’t understand at the time and still can’t get my head around six years later.
Hodgson was out of depth from day one and never got to grips with managing a club the size of Liverpool. Away wins against Trabzonzpor and Bolton were described as “famous”, while his low point came in the form of a League Cup defeat to “formidable” 4th tier outfit Northampton Town. The less said about his comments after our worst Goodison performance I can ever remember, the better.
He was thankfully dismissed by new owners NESV after a dismal defeat at Blackburn on 5 January 2011. He is the only permanent Liverpool manager to not last a full season in the job.
Hodgson’s league record reads P20 W7 D4 L9 PTS25. Fulham form. West Brom form. We were 12th after 20 games, 4 points above the relegation zone. Maybe his task was impossible given the turmoil-ridden club he walked into, but Roy Hodgson should never have got within a million miles of the Liverpool job. And breathe!
Only one man was capable of uniting Liverpool Football Club in January 2011 – Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish.
Howard Webb fondness for giving penalties when Manchester Utd players fall over ensured there’d be no fairytale return for the King as the Reds were knocked out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford. His first league game also ended in defeat, at Blackpool, while his emotional Anfield return resulted in a 2-2 derby draw. Then came that most crazy of transfer deadline days: Luis Suarez arrived, Fernando Torres left, then Andy Carroll was signed from Newcastle.
Once the dust settled, the Reds’ form picked up. There was even talk of push for a Champions League place as Suarez showed glimpses of his undoubted brilliance, opponents were swatted aside and the side scored goals for fun. Kenny Dalglish had brought smiles back to the faces of Liverpool fans, a far cry from the Hodgson misery; the owners couldn’t ignore the inevitable and gave him the job permanently.
Once again, we chalked up 58 points, but Kenny’s 33 points from 18 games (it was actually 33 from 15 games as his stint was bookended by 3 defeats) was a huge improvement on Hodgson’s 25 from 20.
The summer transfer business had a distinctly British feel, with Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson all brought in, along with Newcastle’s Jose Enrique.
A year on from Kenny’s appointment, the Reds lay 6th on 34 points. That would have been better but for a frustrating run of home draws where posts and crossbars took a regular battering, but we were well in contention for a Champions League place.
By that point, however, the whole season had become overshadowed by the Suarez-Evra saga. The league form nose-dived and, despite winning the League Cup and reaching the FA Cup final, Kenny’s second stint as Liverpool manager was brought to an end that summer. He remains the last Liverpool manager to win 1) the league and 2) a major trophy.
In a break with tradition, Liverpool appointed an “up and coming” manager in the summer of 2012. Brendan Rodgers had got Swansea promoted to the Premier League and kept them there in a highly impressive first season as a top flight manager.
A 3-0 opening day defeat at WBA emphasised the size of the task Rodgers faced. Experienced players such as Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy were let go, as was Andy Carroll, while Rodgers placed his faith in youth as the likes of Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom were given regular playing time.
Only 2 of our first 11 league games were won, while our cup hopes were ended by Rodgers’ old club Swansea (League Cup), Zenit St Petersburg (Europa League) and, rather more embarrassingly, League 1 Oldham Athletic (FA Cup).
The January transfer window not only helped turn our league form around but proved to be astute business that still benefits us to this day. Daniel Sturridge was signed from Chelsea, while a little Brazilian by the name of Phillipe Coutinho was bought from Inter Milan.
Both hit the ground running and took some of the creative and goal-scoring burden off the shoulders of Suarez. The Reds lost just 2 of their last 16 games, albeit with another misdemeanour from Suarez thrown in as he was banned for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovich.
Liverpool finished 7th on 61 points, but rather more impressively ended the season having scored 71 goals. Rodgers’ team played with the shackles off and the formidable goal-scoring form continued in spectacular fashion as we came within a whisker of winning the league title in 2013-2014.
A big thanks to the excellent lfchistory.net, without which it wouldn’t have been possible to write this piece!