“Mind you, I’ve been here during the bad times too. One year we came second.” (Bob Paisley)
It would not be unreasonable to ask why, having won six league titles and three European Cups with Liverpool, Bob Paisley is only twelfth in our list of the finest managers of all time. A name synonymous with the Merseyside club, Paisley made over 250 appearances for The Reds between 1939 and 1954 before retiring from the playing staff to become a physiotherapist at Anfield, only to be appointed manager in 1974.
The reason why Paisley is only twelfth is, not to detract from his incredible achievements, because the team that he enjoyed such success with was not entirely “his” team – Liverpool had been driven into a position to succeed by the work of his predecessor, Bill Shankly. That said, although Paisley may not have built the Liverpool team that dominated both England and Europe in the 1970s, few managers have been able to match the relentless success which Paisley brought about at club level.
Taking over in the wake of Shankly’s unexpected and shocking resignation, Liverpool looked to Paisley – a member of Shankly’s famous “Boot Room” – for continuity and a steady hand during what could have been a difficult transitional time for the club. With no previous managerial experience, his first season in charge – the 1974/75 campaign – saw Liverpool finish second to Dave Mackay’s Derby County in the First Division, but it wasn’t to be long before Paisley began to fill the Anfield trophy cabinet with a veritable procession of silverware.
The 1975/76 season was a successful one on Merseyside, Liverpool winning their first title for three years thanks to the goals of John Toshack and Kevin Keegan and starting a run which would lead to an incredible six titles in nine years. Throughout that time Paisley turned the Anfield club into a true sporting dynasty and oversaw the best years of a team that included such famous names as Emlyn Hughes, Terry McDermott, Alan Hansen, Ray Clemence and Kenny Dalglish. This was the generation that defined Liverpool Football Club, and Bob Paisley was the man subtly pulling the strings in the background.
Although Paisley’s triumphs on the domestic front were hugely impressive, it was to be on the European stage that the Sunderland-born manager was to mark himself out as one of the finest coaches the game has ever seen. Throughout the late 1970s and early 80s his Liverpool side dominated the European Cup, winning the competition in 1977, 1978 and 1981 (overcoming Borussia Mönchengladbach, Club Brugge and Real Madrid in the respective finals) as well as claiming the 1976 UEFA Cup.
It was a run of success unparalleled by any British club before or since and Paisley, who rarely gets assigned the great credit he deserves, should be far more widely lauded for attained during his time at Anfield.
He may not have been the most imaginative of tacticians in terms of the shape of his teams – Paisley was very much an advocate of the traditional 4-4-2 – but he was revered as an expert in applying the pass-and-move ethos which was at the heart of Liverpool’s sustained run of success. Added to that, Paisley was by all accounts an astute man-manager, something which was reflected in Liverpool’s astonishing run of 85 games unbeaten at home between 1978 and 1981. If not a particularly eloquent man, Paisley was said to be astute in the subtle way in which he motivated his players, tactical in his use of criticism in order to get his charges fired up to prove him wrong.
He may not have been the most modern of managers in terms of his methods, but what he did worked to great effect and it would seem from some reports that he had a far more analytical eye for the game than he liked to let on. Indeed, his signing of Kenny Dalglish in 1977 proved that he was an excellent judge of a player and was a master at finding the right personnel to fit his system.
Retiring in 1983 as a one-club man, Paisley became a board member and served the club until his death in 1996. As I said at the top of the profile, the Anfield legend may not be regarded as the most important or formative manager in Liverpool’s history, but he was unquestionably the man who took the club to the peak of its powers. For the astonishing success he achieved in a relatively short space of time, Bob Paisley should forever be considered one of the greatest managers in the history of both British and European football.