Paisley's European Cup legacy at Liverpool

Bob Paisley was the first coach to win three European Cups after masterminding Liverpool's triumphs in 1977, 1978 and 1981; looks back on his career.

Bob Paisley (Liverpool FC)
©Getty Images

Bob Paisley's name will forever be associated with the European Cup, as the first coach to win the trophy three times. Carlo Ancelotti matched the feat in 2014; however, while the Italian took Real Madrid to glory after triumphing with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007, Paisley's career was indelibly linked to one club.

Born in north-east England in 1919, Paisley signed for Liverpool 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, 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 the club's first Wembley appearance in 1950. Omitted from the team that lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup final despite having scored in the semi-finals, he briefly considered leaving; instead, the next season he was made captain.

Bob Paisley (Liverpool FC) - 1981 Bob Paisley celebrates Liverpool's 1981 victory©Getty Images

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 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 victory, however, it was not until Paisley succeeded Shankly as manager the following year that their European golden age dawned.

While Liverpool tightened their stranglehold on the domestic front – landing 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 claimed a second UEFA Cup in 1976, defeating Club Brugge over two legs, Paisley's charges were now ready for a concerted challenge for Europe's top club prize the next term.

Crusaders, Trabzonspor, Saint-Étienne and Zürich were overcome to set up a final meeting with Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome – the city Paisley had helped liberate in 1944, entering 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 the only goal against Club Brugge from Graeme Souness's defence-splitting pass. Both had been recruited by Paisley, who excelled at team-building.

Bob Paisley (Liverpool FC) Bob Paisley with the European Cup©Getty Images

"Bob's buying policy was to get the best two players available – two from the lower levels to try to bring on," said Roy Evans, a 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 Paisley skill was his ability to focus on the future rather than resting on his laurels. 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 with him. If we looked as though we were becoming a little complacent or 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 striker to midfielder by Paisley – laid on 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 lifted the trophy for a fourth time, Paisley had been replaced by Joe Fagan – he returned for a two-year spell as consultant when Kenny Dalglish became player-manager in 1985 – yet the winning culture he had helped to establish would endure. "We've had the hard times too," he once said. "One year we finished second."

Bob Paisley and Liverpool FC Bob Paisley with Liverpool's European Cup-winning side in 1978©Getty Images Bob Paisley (Liverpool FC) Liverpool fans pay tribute to Bob Paisley at Anfield©Getty Images