As their fans never fail to remind us, Liverpool are the most successful club in English soccer, if you add up league and European titles (the European caveat would be completely unnecessary if not for a certain Scot and American capitalism, but that’s another story). So it stands to reason that the club can put out a handy all-time XI. Hell, if this piece were to be trimmed down to a paragraph or so I could have just written out the team from 1977-1984.
Four times European champions, and to get into the competition for old big ears they had to win the English league first, anyway. They won the honor in consecutive years (1977 and 1978) and reached three more finals in the next seven years. But it wouldn’t be right to just write in that XI.
That team was the product of great management, togetherness, and a few superstars. Kenny Dalglish was Liverpool’s greatest ever player for sure, but you cannot, in my opinion, produce an all-time XI from the red half of Merseyside without names like John Barnes, Kevin Keegan and of course a couple of modern giants – Stevie Mbe and El Pistolero.
First things first, the formation. As tempting as it would be to cram Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Ian Rush and Luis Suárez into a 0-6-4 formation, pragmatism must win out. Liverpool have always wanted the ball, and as Bill Shankly once famously said: “If you’re not sure what to do with the ball, just pop it in the net and we’ll discuss your options afterwards.”
So it’s a 4-2-3-1, four or five players swarming the centre to monopolize possession, tricky and creative players out wide high up the field to receive quick passes, and a natural goal scorer to finish things off.
Goalkeeper – Bruce Grobbelaar
A 34-year career in three different countries, but it was the 13 in Liverpool from 1981-1994 that were really special.
Ray Clemence was the number one in the side that started Liverpool’s love affair with European cups, and he was a fine goalkeeper indeed. In modern times, Pepe Reina’s skill with the ball at his feet and ability to command a defense in the Rafa Benitez’s years were admirable. But there was nobody quite like Grobbelaar.
Acrobatic and capable of making saves that required immense agility and positioning, what really stood out were the intangibles. The character to put Roma players off their penalties in 1984, and the sheer terror he instilled in his own defense that made them want to be as perfect as him.