“I was rushed to hospital” Liverpool’s worst seasons, and sackings that followed
Another Anfield defeat has brought more awkward questions for Jurgen Klopp, as Liverpool continue to stack up the barely believable records.
There are surely enough mitigating circumstances to give the manager enough time to try and turn things around, but the fact that the weekend’s defeat to Fulham saw the Reds slide down to 8th in the table won’t have gone unnoticed by supporters with long memories.
That’s because 8th place is Liverpool’s lowest ever finish in the Premier League era, something they’ve done three times, and matches the lowest they’ve been ever since Bill Shankly took them up from the old Second Division in 1962.
Worryingly for Klopp, those three eighth-place finishes all either led to or featured a managerial dismissal along the way as well, giving the German food for thought as he presides over the unfolding crisis engulfing Anfield.
Here are the stories of those eighth-placed finishes – statistically Liverpool’s worst seasons in the top-flight.
The signs had been there the previous season when Liverpool opened the newly-formed Premier League with just two wins and five defeats from their first 10 matches.
But Graeme Souness had won the FA Cup to cap off the club’s centenary campaign the previous May and, frankly, he was Graeme Souness.
The fearsome Scot was an Anfield icon and one of only three Liverpool captains to lift the European Cup, which meant that many things could be forgiven, even if an interview with The Sun published on the third anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster wasn’t one of them.
The rot that set in then would prove to be incurable.
Having finished sixth and made no impact on the cups in 1992/93 – exiting the European Cup Winners’ Cup in the second round with a 2-0 defeat to Spartak Moscow at Anfield – Souness went into the summer of 1993 seeking to add some steel to a squad split between ageing stars and exciting youngsters.
Enter Neil Ruddock and Julian Dicks.
The duo probably looked more like bouncers than footballers, but fellow new arrival Nigel Clough had entered too and he at least looked like he had what he took to succeed at Anfield, where he scored twice on his debut in a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Liverpool then won 3-1 at QPR and 5-0 at Swindon to go top of the league, with optimism abound as Souness sought to stamp his authority on the group.
Things were looking up.
Then they lost five of the next six league games.
Youngsters like Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler – who scored all five goals in a 5-0 League Cup win over Fulham – clearly had the talent, but there was a stark lack of quality elsewhere in Souness’ squad.
They trundled along for the next few months, including a draw-filled December, before the fatal blow was administered by third-tier Bristol City in an FA Cup third round replay at Anfield, the Robins’ first win for a month. Souness resigned three days later.
"This is a sad day for me. After a great deal of soul searching I have reached the conclusion that the best thing for the club and I is that we should part company,” he said in a statement.
"I took this job believing that I could return the club to its former glory but this proved to be more difficult than I anticipated.”
With Liverpool about to go an unthinkable three seasons without winning the league for the first time since the early 1970s, faithful deputy Roy Evans stepped into the breach.
He would spend the rest of the campaign untangling a mess.
Liverpool lost nine and won just five of the 16 league games Evans oversaw in 1993/94, eventually coming in eighth behind Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday and level on points with QPR.
As they played their final game in front of the standing Kop, a 1-0 defeat to Norwich, there was an uneasy sense of drift abound.
Three years without a league title was hard to stomach.
Surely that couldn’t go on much longer?
Their smiles were broad and the excitement clear, as three footballers and a veteran manager took their places in front of the cameras at Anfield.
From left to right, Milan Jovanovic, Danny Wilson, Roy Hodgson and Joe Cole didn’t quite know what they were getting themselves in for, and neither would Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen when they had their own photocalls either.
But a year on things were different, Fenway Sports Group were in place now and with them came the concept of ‘Moneyball’, the stats-based recruitment drive that was supposed to underpromise and overdeliver.
By now it was Kenny Dalglish back in the centre of the pictures after he’d replaced the disastrous Hodgson midway through the previous season, steering the Reds from the bottom half – and an entire October in the relegation zone – to a respectable sixth place finish with 10 wins from the final 16 games.
As well as reserve goalkeeper Alexander Doni, Dalglish stood alongside Liverpool’s ‘Moneyball’ signings – the £20m winger Stewart Downing, £16m youngster Jordan Henderson and £6.7m midfielder Charlie Adam, a creative force at relegated Blackpool.
Adam and Downing in particular had been signed in order to provide service for January signing Andy Carroll, the £35m powerhouse with the future of English football at his feet, or rather his head.
The new arrivals’ stats had been studied intently and ‘director of football strategy’ Damien Comolli’s methods were trusted. His January signing of Luis Suarez was already looking a good piece of business.
And for a while things were fine.
Liverpool only lost three of their first 19 league games of the season, although points were being frustratingly dropped in a series of home matches.
Yet a combination of Dalglish’s status and what seemed to be pure bad luck – Liverpool always seemed to hit the woodwork – meant that fans were willing to believe progress was being made, and if anyone could get things right it would be Kenny.
Then the club got things drastically wrong.
The accusations that Suarez had racially abused Manchester United ’s Patrice Evra in a match in October came to a head two months later, and with Liverpool naively – and, to a lot of people, irreparably damagingly – choosing to just take the forward’s word for it that he was innocent, an ugly episode played out.
There were those t-shirts at Wigan, with Dalglish sent out as the front man for the club’s ridiculously short-sighted stance amid a lack of leadership from the top, something that Comolli has later said he deeply regrets.
With Suarez banned Liverpool’s league form would suffer, but there was solace in the cups.
A raucous League Cup semi-final against Manchester City would prove to be Dalglish’s best Anfield night of his second coming, with Craig Bellamy scoring the crucial goal to send the Reds into the final against his hometown club Cardiff City.
The Championship outfit were eventually squeezed past on penalties after a 2-2 draw, with Anthony Gerrard, cousin of Steven, seeing his decisive effort saved by Pepe Reina.
It would prove to be Liverpool’s only major trophy for 13 years, prior to the winning of the 2019 Champions League, but Dalglish could have had another one.
Liverpool made it to the FA Cup final as well, beating Everton in a Wembley semi-final on the way, but a defeat to Roberto Di Matteo’s soon to be European champions Chelsea ended a dizzying ride, and suddenly meant that where Liverpool had finished in the league would be scrutinised.
And it wasn’t good.
While the Reds were having fun in knockout football they had lost 11 of their final 19 Premier League matches, tumbling down the table to finish eighth.
With FSG far removed from the sentimentality and importance of the domestic cups, their target of a place in the Champions League had been spectacularly missed. They now thought they’d need a younger coach with new ideas on how to get the best out of their strategic signings to reach the promised land of milk and money.
“Results in the Premier League have been disappointing and to build on the progress that has been made, we need to make a change,” said the club, with Dalglish thanking them for the “honourable, respectful and dignified” way the decision was handled.
It had been a nice idea, but it never really could have lasted.
Yet again, the damage had been done the season before.
With Suarez gone and Daniel Sturridge injured, Liverpool’s attempts to build on the wild ride that was 2013/14 had seen them turn to Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini in attack, with the only real inspiration coming from a young Raheem Sterling and the ageing Gerrard.
By the end of 2014/15 they’d be gone too, with Sterling’s fraught contract episode playing out in the media and Gerrard setting sail for Los Angeles and an escape from the Liverpool bubble.
The FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa then a 6-1 capitulation to Stoke in Gerrard’s final game had meant there were plenty who felt that Brendan Rodgers should have gone that summer as well, with the malaise tracking back to earlier in the season and meek showings on the Reds’ first return to the Champions League in five seasons.
However, Rodgers made it to the beginning of the campaign as Premier League-ready James Milner, Christian Benteke, Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Ings were added to the squad, as well as exciting youngster Joe Gomez and the mysterious Roberto Firmino.
So mysterious in fact, that Rodgers didn’t seem to know what to do with him.
The Brazilian was stationed on the left-wing and then, for a 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford, at left wing-back as Rodgers frantically tried to come up with answers that proved his tactical acumen, often attempting several different things in the same game.
It wasn’t working.
After a 1-1 draw with Everton in early October meant that Liverpool had won just three of their eleven 90 minute matches in all competitions, squeezing past Carlisle on penalties in the League Cup, Rodgers was dismissed. The job had chewed him up and spat him out.
“I went to Spain for a week. Then I came back, and flew to Dubai. Within a couple of days in Dubai, I was rushed into hospital,” Rodgers told The Coaches’ Voice in 2018.
“I went through all the tests. It was felt that I was having some issues internally, but then they got into the process of what had happened with work, with my life.
“They pieced it all together, and it was simply a case of my body being so tense, so tight, from all that had happened in finishing my time at Liverpool.”
A good man had found the job too much by the end, and the club seemed on a knife-edge as years of mediocrity beckoned.
Enter the beaming smile and genuine warmth of Jurgen Klopp, and the sense that if he couldn’t get it right then perhaps no-one could.
The German was quick to let everyone know that the squad he was walking into really wasn’t that bad at all, although few would have foreseen Henderson, Milner, Firmino, Gomez, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Divock Origi becoming Champions League and Premier League winners back then.
There were early signs of what Klopp could do in commanding wins at Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as the thrills that would come with last minute strikes against Arsenal and Norwich prompting wild celebrations, yet it was clear that the remainder of the season would largely be about implementing performance standards rather than results.
A little like 2011/12 it was the cups where the fun were, as the Reds reached the League Cup and the Europa League finals, with raucous wins over Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund in the latter competition.
An identity was being created, even if defeats in the finals to Manchester City in a penalty shootout and Sevilla thanks to a second half collapse showcased just how much work would need to be done.
Liverpool won 13, drew nine and lost eight of Klopp’s 30 league games to eventually finish eighth, even if it already felt as though they were in a better place than at least the two clubs directly above them, Southampton and West Ham.
Surpassing them and everyone else would have to wait though, as Klopp did eventually prove to be the man to end the weightiest of all waits.
But now that has finally been achieved, the view from the top grows darker.
Liverpool are eighth again, and it is hardly a position of strength.
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