GRAEME SOUNESS: The biggest test these Liverpool players have known

GRAEME SOUNESS: This is the biggest test these Liverpool players have known… manager Jurgen Klopp must refresh the team or risk repeating Bill Shankly’s mistake

  • Liverpool always had the next piece of the puzzle… they have been missing that
  • They are allowing their team to get old together again, just like Bill Shankly’s did
  • We will see how the side deals with the current test against Arsenal and Man City

It was probably a shock to Liverpool when I told them I wanted to leave the club, in the winter of 1983, though what happened next showed how they were always looking ahead from their position at the top of British football. They always had the next piece in the puzzle.

I had two years of my contract to run when I approached them to say my wife was having to leave the UK because of an inheritance issue and that I would need to go. I remember Chelsea trying to find a way to capitalise a few months later, on the January night we beat Newcastle United 4-0 in an FA Cup tie. 

The club’s owner, Ken Bates, invited me to a meeting at the Holiday Inn, on Liverpool’s Paradise Street, and said that if I signed for him, I could stay at a place he had on Guernsey and just fly into London on a Thursday, to train and play.

Liverpool have struggled to find a solution to their ongoing problems so far this season

The current period is the biggest test these players have ever had to face in a Reds shirt

When I went into Bob Paisley’s office to relate my intentions, he just nodded, murmured a few incomprehensible words and that was that. Our relationship was as good as any between a player and manager but there was no counter-offer. 

No plea with me to stay. I was the captain of the English champions, showing no sign of being off my best level, but Liverpool would cope.

That Chelsea move wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel I could go to another English team and I left for Sampdoria at the end of that season instead. 

Liverpool got twice the English record fee they paid for me after seven years of service — not bad business — and within a few months they’d signed Jan Molby.

When I left Liverpool in 1984, they were ready to deal with it and signed Jan Molby soon after

The point is no one was allowed to feel cosy and comfortable at Liverpool back then. You were always looking over your shoulder. They always had someone ready to come in, waiting in the wings, observing how the team played and ran. 

There was always someone else to call in. And that’s what I think has been missing this season.

The beauty about being at the top in football is that you can buy players who don’t have to go into the team immediately. Players who can sit and understand what you’re trying to do. It’s the sweet spot. The perfect place to be. 

There’s absolutely no pressure on the club or manager. Liverpool are in that situation after a very good few years and I’m surprised Jurgen Klopp hasn’t done more to reinforce — particularly with proven players aged 25 or 26 who can deal with the storms that come over a hard Premier League season.

Jurgen Klopp’s job at Liverpool is under no pressure, but they should have reinforced better

Looking at the age of some of the current team — 31-year-old Thiago, Jordan Henderson, 32, and James Milner at 36 — I remember the old article of faith there always was at Liverpool, during my time, about constantly refreshing the team. 

The Boot Room staff all talked about the shock 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat by Watford in February 1970, when Bill Shankly’s ageing Liverpool team were not good enough. 

They let that team get old together and Shankly told Paisley: ‘Never again are we going to allow this to happen.’ That was set in stone. They were still talking about it when I arrived, eight years later.

The few signings Klopp made this summer have not been ready to play a major part, which is understandable. At 23, Darwin Nunez is a year older than Erling Haaland but he’s had to be treated with kid gloves and brought on gradually. Every player is different, in that respect.

Darwin Nunez, who arrived with a lot of hype behind him, is yet to perform for Liverpool

Nunez said this week that he has been struggling to understand what Klopp is saying, as he deals with the language barrier. That certainly can be an issue for new players, though the top ones work it out very quickly. We’re also still waiting to see Arthur Melo.

While the team wait for the new signings to bed in, we will see in the next eight days, with the game at Arsenal on Sunday and Manchester City at Anfield next Sunday, how the current Reds players deal with the biggest test they have known as a group.

Gabriel Martinelli will be a big part of the threat to them at the Emirates. He has great feet and looks to me like he’s going to be a real player. Trent Alexander-Arnold will need help from his centre halves and midfielders.

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli will be a huge threat to Liverpool at the Emirates on Sunday

Liverpool can still recover, but they face two incredibly tough games in the Premier League

Not overthinking things is a part of it. When we had struggled through the autumn of 1981 — including a 3-3 draw against Brighton, before a dreadful 3-1 defeat at home to Manchester City on Boxing Day which left us 12th — we’d started having regular player meetings. 

But Joe Fagan just told us to lighten up. ‘Go out and have a really good dinner and a few beers. I’ve said all I can to help. I can’t help you any more. It’s up to you boys now.’

It’s at times like this you really find out what you’ve got in the dressing room. You find out about who’s getting changed next to you every day of your working life. We recovered. 

We were top of the league by April 2, with young players Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan breaking through after a frustrating wait on the sidelines, and won the championship with a game to go. Paisley said it was the title which gave him most satisfaction. I’d agree with that.

Lampard doing a great job

It’s a weekend for Everton to show how far they’ve developed, with a match against Manchester United at Goodison Park. Frank Lampard has done a great job, going in there and now steadying the ship. 

With only seven goals conceded, they have the best defence in the Premier League so far.

It’s been so far, so good, with the signings. Frank has brought in battle-hardened Premier League players who know the journey they’re on and who are able to take any criticism that comes. 

Conor Coady and James Tarkowski are the core of an excellent defensive unit: two good, solid pros, precisely what Everton needed, at really good value.

If the £60million figure being quoted for Anthony Gordon was right, Everton must have been sorely tempted but the fact he’s still there shows Frank has the support he needs to build a successful team.

Frank Lampard has done a great job of steadying the sinking ship since he joined Everton

Conor Coady (left) and James Tarkowski (right) have formed a great partnership at Everton

My Rovers return was full of joy

I was in Blackburn on Thursday for a dinner to mark 20 years since my Rovers team beat Tottenham 2-1 to win the League Cup. Covid stopped us from getting together nearer the actual anniversary in February.

We were underdogs that day and I still look back on the win as an excellent achievement. Garry Flitcroft was suspended so I put Mark Hughes in midfield and he terrorised Glenn Hoddle’s team. Matt Jansen and Andy Cole scored our goals.

Matt is a very good piano player but there were no solos at Ewood Park, where we gathered.

It reminded me of something I often say in my TV and radio work: you get nowhere in football without great senior pros. It was so good to be in their company again this week.

I returned to Blackburn on Thursday to mark 20 years since I won the League Cup as manager

Blackstuff cameo was worth £150!

There are obviously more fans of Boys from the Blackstuff than I realised, judging by the response to last week’s talk about Sammy Lee and me appearing in it, 40 years ago.

I had a total of four lines and Sammy had a walk-on part but we reported to the director in Toxteth at 9am and left at seven in the evening.

They paid us £150 apiece. That really tells you a bit about the price of inflation.

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