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Paisley's European Cup legacy

Published: Monday 19 May 2014, 11.30CET
Real Madrid CF's Carlo Ancelotti could become the second coach to win three European Cups; looks back at the career of the first, Liverpool FC's Bob Paisley.
by Andrew Haslam
Paisley's European Cup legacy
Bob Paisley with the European Cup after Liverpool's 1978 win ©Getty Images
Published: Monday 19 May 2014, 11.30CET

Paisley's European Cup legacy

Real Madrid CF's Carlo Ancelotti could become the second coach to win three European Cups; looks back at the career of the first, Liverpool FC's Bob Paisley.

Should Real Madrid CF triumph in Lisbon, it would be a third UEFA Champions League victory as coach for Carlo Ancelotti following his successes with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007. He would therefore join Bob Paisley as the only coach to win the competition three times – although, unlike Ancelotti, Paisley's career was indelibly linked to one club.

Born in the north-east of England in 1919, Paisley joined Liverpool FC as a player in 1939, leaving behind earlier careers as a miner and bricklayer; he would remain at Anfield for more than 40 years. Paisley had been a promising amateur player at Bishop Auckland FC, but the Second World War meant he did not make his official Liverpool debut until January 1946. The following season ended with Liverpool's first league title in 24 years and Paisley was a fixture in the side, although he missed out on the club's first Wembley appearance in 1950. Left out of the team that lost to Arsenal FC in the FA Cup final despite having scored in the semi-finals, he briefly considered leaving; instead, the next season he was made captain.

Paisley retired in 1954 and joined Liverpool's coaching staff as a self-taught physiotherapist – it was said he could recognise potential injuries before they occurred – going on to become reserve coach before stepping up to the first team following Bill Shankly's arrival as manager in 1959. The approach was simple. "In my whole time at Liverpool, we never worked on anything in training," said the club's former centre-back Alan Hansen. "We just played five-a-sides with rules for one or two touches."

"Those five-a-side games were key," said Paisley. "The strength for British football lay in our challenge for the ball, but the continentals took that away by learning how to intercept. The top European teams showed us how to break out of defence effectively. The pace of their movement was dictated by the first pass. We had to learn to be patient like that and think two or three moves ahead. It didn't happen overnight. When we first slowed it down we were a bit negative, just passing square balls across the field."

Liverpool's approach was devastating in its simplicity; under Shankly, the club rose to become one of the powerhouses of the English game, winning three league titles and two FA Cups. Despite their 1973 UEFA Cup success, however, it was not until Paisley succeeded Shankly as manager the following year that their European golden era arrived.

While Liverpool tightened their stranglehold on the domestic front – winning six league titles during Paisley's nine-year reign – they began to build on that UEFA Cup win to become Europe's dominant club side. The Merseyside team had reached the European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-finals in 1965; having won a second UEFA Cup in 1976, defeating Club Brugge KV over two legs in the final, Paisley's charges were now ready for a concerted challenge for Europe's top club prize the following season.

Crusaders FC, Trabzonspor AŞ, AS Saint-Étienne and FC Zürich were overcome to set up a final meeting against VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome – the city Paisley had helped liberate in 1944, entering it in a tank. Goals from Terry McDermott, Tommy Smith and a late Phil Neal penalty ensured it was a happy return, in what Paisley called "the best moment of my life".

More glory followed at Wembley 12 months later as Liverpool retained the trophy, Kenny Dalglish deftly chipping in the only goal against Club Brugge from Graeme Souness' defence-splitting pass. Both had been signed by Paisley, who excelled at team-building. "Bob's buying policy was to get the best two players available, two from the lower levels to bring on and try to bring two kids on," said Roy Evans, another key member of the Liverpool boot room that was established by Shankly and continued by Paisley. "He tried to freshen it up every season, but success is about players. Bob always had great players and the ability to mould them."

Another key Paisley skill was his ability to focus on the future rather than revelling in past glories. His son Graham remembered: "There are famous stories of him putting a box of Championship medals in the Anfield dressing room after another title win and saying: 'Take one, but only if you deserve it.' That was his mentality. He was always looking forward and moving on."

For his part, Souness added: "Praise from Bob Paisley was like a snowstorm in the Sahara. He may have been regarded as a fatherly figure by the supporters but he ruled at Anfield with a rod of iron. He was a commanding man and there were few who dared mess around with him. If we looked as though we were becoming a little complacent or if we weren't performing up to the standard, Bob would say, 'If you've all had enough of winning, come and see me. I'll sell the lot of you and buy 11 new players.'"

Such a relentless approach brought more European success in 1981 when Ray Kennedy – converted from a striker to a midfielder by Paisley – set up Alan Kennedy for the only goal against Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes. "It was a triumph for our character once again," said Paisley. "I was so proud to be the manager of the first British club to win the European Cup three times."

By the time Liverpool won the trophy for a fourth time, Paisley had been succeeded by Joe Fagan – he returned for a two-year spell as consultant when Kenny Dalglish took over as player-manager in 1985 – but the winning culture he had played a key part in establishing would endure. "We've had the hard times too," he once said. "One year we finished second."

Last updated: 09/08/14 17.17CET

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