Who is the best Liverpool player of all time? It’s completely subjective, of course. What is that makes a good player? And is that necessarily all that different from what makes a good Liverpool player? Chelsea fans revere John Terry, Manchester United fans talk of Eric Cantona in superlatives, Duncan Ferguson seems to represent everything that Evertonians hold dear, yet all of their supporters openly mock Liverpool fans and our love of Luis Suarez. All players with troubled moments, each perhaps a pure distillation of the supporters’ core values.
This is, obviously, my top ten. You may disagree and, if you do, feel free to let me know in the comments section or on Twitter. In essence, though, I’ve tried to think about what a player has given to Liverpool over the years and explain why I think it’s important that that is remembered and praised. I’ve also looked at ‘The Modern Era’, which I’m describing as any person who is still alive and I know about. Billy Liddel is widely loved by Reds but I couldn’t pick him out of a line-up and I’ve never even seen a clip of him play, so let’s keep it real. Enjoy!
10 – Michael Owen
Liverpool’s greatest players have always been given nicknames and it’s a pity that Michael Owen had to leave the club before he earned one. It’s even more of a pity that the word that has come to represent the former England frontman is ‘Judas’.
Owen’s decision to leave the Reds on a Bosman in order to head off to Real Madrid left a bad taste in plenty of supporters’ mouths. That he ended his career at Manchester United is as close to unforgivable as it’s possible to get. His performances as a pundit for BT Sport would put the nail in the coffin if anyone was still awake enough to do it.
Yet none of that should take away from the fact that he was absolutely sensational in a Liverpool shirt. He scored 158 goals in 297 appearances in all competitions for the club, with plenty of those being big goals, too. We all remember the 2001 treble, but it’s a less interesting double without his FA Cup brace against Arsenal. A flawed individual, but a flawless striker at his peak.
9 – Fernando Torres
Another striker and another player Liverpool fans have struggled to forgive since his decision to leave the club for Chelsea in 2011. The way his career dropped off a cliff when he departed Anfield for Stamford Bridge made the whole thing easier to swallow, as did the £50 million we received for him from Roman’s empire.
Sadly Liverpool’s recent history is littered with players who should have won the Premier League with the club but didn’t. Perhaps that’s why Torres will never really be thought of as a club legend. He departed Merseyside without a trophy to his name but his almost telepathic understanding with Steven Gerrard meant he scored 81 goals in all competitions from 142 appearances. That is some going.
8 – John Barnes
In this day and age it seems almost distasteful to talk about race when discussing a footballer, yet it needs to be at least part of the conversation surrounding John Barnes’ Liverpool career. He arrived at the club at a time when racism was still prevalent in the game and, unquestionably, helped to change attitudes both on and off the pitch. Liverpool supporters, who had only witnessed one black player in Howard Gale perform a hand full of matches, had written to Barnes and asked him not to join their club. Barnes summed up his attitude to racism when Everton supporters threw a banana at him in the middle of a derby match and he casually back-heeled it off the pitch.
Throughout his life John Barnes has been a credit to himself and his family, being a trailblazer for black players throughout the game. More important than anything else, however, was Barnes’ ability on the pitch. He was a truly exceptional player of outstanding ability who was an absolute joy to watch. That he re-invented himself as a player under Roy Evans is testament to his footballing brain. He remains one of the most articulate and joyful people to listen to regarding any number of footballing topics and deserves his place in the pantheon of Liverpool players.
7 – Robbie Fowler
I could sum up Robbie Fowler by simply saying ‘God’, but as an atheist that seems like a contradiction. 183 goals in 369 appearances in all competitions across two spells at the club doesn’t quite do justice to just how good a player Robbie Fowler was. He was the classic striker and for a time he was simply untouchable.
The sort of player who has too many standout moments across his footballing life to merely pick one, though I will always remember and adore his goal against Birmingham City in the 2001 League Cup final.
6 – Ian Rush
Another striker who was, to put it simply, clinical. It’s easy to forget that Rush made his debut for Liverpool on the 13th of December 1980 but didn’t score his debut goal for the club until the 30th of September 1981. Though some of that time was spent in the reserves, it still took the Welshman the best part of a year to get off the mark.
I say it’s ‘easy to forget’ that fact because any mention of Ian Rush nowadays is of a player who remains the record goalscorer for both Liverpool and Wales. Much like Fowler, Rush had two spells at the club after an ill-fated period at Juventus from 1986 until 1988. He scored 7 in 29 in Italy, but for Liverpool he notched up 346 goals in all competitions over 660 games.
For a club that has been blessed with top-class strikers over the years, Rush must be remembered as one of the very best. In 1982 he scored four goals in one match against Everton as the Reds went on to win 5-0. He didn’t just score goals – he scored crucial goals, being responsible for more than a couple of the trophies that adorn Liverpool’s trophy cabinet today.
5 – Graeme Souness
Souness’ time at Liverpool will, sadly, forever be tainted by his spell as manager, in which he tried to do too much too quickly and ended up setting the club back years. Had he been as successful in the Anfield dugout as he was on the hallowed turf then I’m in no doubt whatsoever that the Reds would not still be waiting for a Premier League title.
On the pitch Graeme Souness was peerless. He is remembered as the ultimate hard-man, chasing down players who had put a rough tackle in on one of his teammates and ‘leaving one on them’ to make sure they knew not to do it again. That belies his outstanding talent, however, and suggests he was just about the bite and the tackle. The truth is he was a skilful player with a silky touch and the ability to run a midfield single-handed. On his day he was absolutely majestic.
4 – Jamie Carragher
The only defender to make it onto my list and perhaps that’s unfair. Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson are both deserving of a mention, whilst players like Phil Neal shouldn’t be forgotten. For me, though, Jamie Carragher represents everything good about Liverpool Football Club. The sort of player who, by his own admission, was perhaps not the most skilful player, Carragher showed what putting in the hard yards and having a desire to succeed can achieve.
It’s also unfair to suggest that Carra didn’t have any ability, far from it in fact. He was a prolific goalscorer as a youth player before being moved into a defensive role under Gerrard Houllier. He kept hold of that goalscoring instinct, though unfortunately he scored in his own goal more than the opposition’s!
No game sums up Carragher’s style more than the Champions League final in 2005. He was part of a defence that conceded three goals in the first half but he refused to allow it to happen again in the second, putting his body on the line to stop Schevchenko and co again and again. Seemingly crippled by cramp on more than one occasion, Carragher kept pushing himself – and Liverpool – on to glory. We all dream of a team of Carraghers.
3 – Luis Suarez
Ah Luis Suarez, the ultimate contradiction. On the one hand his utterly sublime skill, phenomenal goals and refusal to give up represents everything that Liverpool fans hold dear. On the other hand, he bit a fella. Never far from controversy, Suarez’s combustible nature meant he sometimes got carried away in his pursuit of excellence.
Nevertheless, for me he deserves to be this high up the list. He remains one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen pull on a Liverpool shirt and is, right now, the best player in the world. We have never been closer to winning the Premier League title than in 2013-2014, when Suarez was scoring world-class goals for fun.
For some the ‘controversial’ side of the Uruguayan will forever taint their opinion of him, as will the fact that he left the club to join Barcelona. I respect that position, but I don’t agree with it. Every club in the history of football has revered controversial players so Liverpool shouldn’t be any different. You also need to remember he clawed his way out of poverty and desperation in his home country to make his way to Europe in order to rejoin the love of his life, Sofia, in Barcelona. It’s where he’s always dreamed of being and now he’s there. A phenomenal player.
2 – Steven Gerrard
Gerrard played over 700 goals for Liverpool and was the heartbeat of the team for as long as I’ve been an adult watching the game. At his peak he was coveted by every club in Europe but, despite more than a couple of temptations, remained true to Liverpool. If all of that sounds a little clinical then it shouldn’t – Gerrard is second only to one man in the pantheon of great players at the club.It’s difficult to put into words what Steven Gerrard means to Liverpool. That header in Istanbul. The arms swirling, encouraging the supporters to believe. That penalty and tops off moment against Fulham in 2014. The huddle after Man City at Anfield, desperate, absolutely desperate to give the supporters the Premier League title we all crave. The slip. That horrendous, terrible, heart-breaking slip. It will keep him awake nights for the rest of his life, but it shouldn’t. He’d already given us more than we ever thought possible.
A lad from Whiston who seemed to represent the supporter on the pitch, Steven Gerrard will have more to offer Liverpool Football Club in the future and we should all be looking forward to it already. The dynamic engine room for so long, Stevie G could well take over the number one spot if he achieves as a manager what he managed as a player. What a lad.
1 – Kenny Dalglish
There can only be one man at the top of the pile, surely? Kenny Dalglish has given so much to the football club since his arrival in 1977. King Kenny deserves every accolade that can be thrown his way. As a footballer he was majestic, the early prototype for players like Luis Suarez to base their game on, Dalglish played 501 games in all competitions and netted 169 times. He then went on top become manager at a time when few outside of the club thought he was ready for it, but he excelled and created arguably the most exciting Liverpool team of all time.
Dalglish’s Liverpool career was peppered with tragedy, the most notable, of course, being the Hillsborough Disaster. In the wake of that horrendous day Kenny seemed to take the weight of the world on his shoulders and guided the club as only he could. He ensured there was a Liverpool player at every funeral of the 96, attending plenty himself, and his door was always open to the families. For what he did during that period he deserves our never-ending thanks and praise and the keys to the city.
His return as manager in 2011 didn’t work out as well as we would all have liked it to, but he still won a cup, made the final of another and rid us of Roy Hodgson, so it wasn’t a disaster either. For his play on the pitch, his achievements as manager and his work on behalf of the club in any and every capacity, Kenny Dalglish deserves to be called Liverpool Football Club’s greatest ever player.