Some acts are hard to follow, and in football, that doesn’t mean just players, but managers. The shadow cast by your predecessor can be a long one: you need to look no further than Crewe Alex, where two replacements have failed to measure up to Dario Gradi’s stature. Tonight, that thought will be among the crowds at Anfield.
Because, fifty years ago, Liverpool, then a second division club with a tatty stadium and non-existent training facilities, appointed as their manager a dour and uncompromising Scot called Bill Shankly. It was not just Shanks’ achievements with the club – his successor Bob Paisley won much more – but his putting Liverpool back on its feet that drove the legend.
Ever since Paisley left, successive managers have struggled to keep the team at the top, and this season has started badly for Rafael Benítez, the current incumbent. He has been fortunate that two of the team’s victories have been against Manchester United and in the derby match with Everton: these are prize scalps for the fans. But, whatever the cause, Liverpool are not having a good time of it, and the celebration of Shankly’s arrival will just cast that long shadow once more.
But then, Shanks’ great friend and rival Matt Busby cast his own long shadow across Man U for two decades after he retired. Eventually, Alex Ferguson remade the club and stepped out from the shadow, so it can be done. My feeling is that Benítez will not be the one to return Liverpool to the promised land.
But someone will, one day.