"Under Rated XI" by Dave Usher
Defining whether or not a player is under-rated or not is an almost impossible task, as it’s completely subjective isn’t it? By that I mean one person could say Ray Kennedy was under-rated for example, but many Reds would comfortably have him in their top five players of all time and couldn’t possibly rate him any higher, so is he under-rated?
Alternatively, you may feel that Phil Babb was under-rated, whereas I would say he’s the least talented footballer I’ve ever seen and it’s impossible to have too low an opinion of him. The point is, there is no right and wrong and no way of establishing whether a player is officially ‘under-rated’ or not, as it’s entirely about opinion and who is ‘rating’ them.
When I was coming up with this side, initially I was trying to pick a team that most people would agree with, but it’s simply not possible to do it that way. So what I’ve done is chosen it completely on the basis of whether I feel they were under-rated or not, so there’ll certainly be some players in here that will have you shaking your head wondering what I’ve been smoking. That’s fine though if you don’t like it you can pick your own damn team and then I’ll pick holes in it, you contrary sods.
So without further ado, here’s my All Time LFC Under-rated XI….
Goalkeeper: The toughest decision I had to make. It’s a case of feast or famine, almost every keeper I could think of was either unanimously seen as being excellent, or simply not good enough. Generally all the keepers we’ve had are viewed as what they are, none of them split opinion. I had to choose one though, not even Kevin Keegan would select a team without a goalkeeper, so I’ve gone with Brad Friedel who proved after leaving that he’s much better than we gave him credit for when he was here, and that we definitely should have kept him. That’s hindsight talking, as I was never fully convinced by him when he was here and I remember all too well that feeble punch at Old Trafford that basically ended Brad’s Liverpool career.
He’s shown since he left that he’s better than the other keepers we had at that time, and most of those that have followed actually. So much so that we tried to bring him back to the club in 2011 at the grand old age of 40, only to be beaten to his signature by Spurs who offered him a better deal and more chance of first team football. Actually, I could have gone for Steve Ogrizovic when I think about it, but I only saw him in his latter days at Coventry and given how he only made 4 appearances for us I can't really justify putting him in, so as Brad Friedel is the only realistic candidate he gets the nod.
Right Back: I could have gone for a Barry Venison or a Steve Finnan, but the reason Venison wasn’t rated more highly is because he was no more than a slightly above average top division player. A solid pro who made a useful contribution, but unlike many others of his ilk he was never a whipping boy of the crowd. He was generally rated at the level he should have been from what I recall. As for Finnan, he turned into a very good player for us after a bad start, but most fans hold him in fairly high regard so I don’t think his contribution was particularly under-valued.
So I’m going with Alvaro Arbeloa. Definitely under valued when he was here, it was almost daylight robbery by Real Madrid to sign him for the pittance they did, but then we did it to Deportivo when we brought him over here so it’s swings and roundabouts I guess. A steady rather than spectacular player, Arbeloa has been a regular for Real Madrid and Spain since leaving Anfield. How many other full backs have we had who could have gotten in those sides? Or who could have kept Messi quiet in the Nou Camp and then do the same at Anfield a fortnight later? Not many, yet Arbeloa was never really seen as anything other than a good solid player. He’s better than that.
Left Back: I’m going for Steve Staunton, but I’m basing it on his first spell here when he was undervalued, not his second when he was completely over the hill. He suffered because of his versatility, he played all over the park, even bagging a hat-trick as a centre forward once. He used to get horrendous shit from sections of the Kemlyn back in the day, and it was only after he left that people realised what a good player he was. He was brilliant for Aston Villa, but by the time we brought him back his legs had gone.
He edges out David Burrows (a personal favourite of mine back in the day) and the much maligned Stig Inge Bjornebye, a player who had his troubles but who managed one terrific season under Roy Evans and wasn’t as bad as many - myself probably included - claimed at the time. You could perhaps make a case for Riise too, I think when people look back at his time here now his contribution is under-rated (due to a poor final season and that own goal against Chelsea), but then he was probably over-rated for a time too. Not as good as many thought when he first arrived and not as bad as many thought when he eventually left.
Centre backs. Technically I could make a case for Alan Hansen if you take into account international recognition. One of the most incredible aspects of football in the 80s was the lack of love Hansen got from Scotland, but a lot of it was political back then, he played in England whilst Willie Miller and Alex McLeish - two players not even in the same stratosphere as Hansen - piled up the caps because they were at Aberdeen. You can also blame Alex Ferguson of course, who left Jocky out of the 1986 World Cup. But given how Hansen is unanimously admired and revered by Liverpool fans, he didn’t really fit the criteria.
Another Scot did though, he actually played with Hansen at Anfield for many years. Well, I say played, but he mostly watched. Gary Gillespie was a class act, a top defender who would have walked into virtually any other side in the country. But we had Hansen and Lawrenson, and on top of that Gillespie seemed to be permanently injured. When he played he was ace - he even scored a hat-trick at Anfield (against Birmingham) - he just didn’t get to play too often. Definitely under-rated.
Alongside him I’ve gone for John Scales. Whilst the undeserving Neil Ruddock was getting all the love from the Kop, Scales quietly got on with the business of being Liverpool’s best defender for a couple of years. He was quiet, unassuming and classy. Unfortunately he was also injured quite often, and his time at the club was fairly short lived, especially when Mark Wright returned from the wilderness to force his way back in with some superb performances. He was a really good player though.
I thought about Stephane Henchoz too, mainly due to him not getting the credit he deserved from outsiders. Everyone at the club knew how good he was and the fans loved him too. In fact, I’ve never met a fan who didn’t think Henchoz was boss so I can't label him 'under-rated'.
Right Midfield: I’m sure a lot of people would suggest Ray Houghton, but if anything I’d say he was over-rated. Admittedly I’m not the most impartial judge on this, as I idolised Craig Johnston and Houghton was signed to replace him so I never really took to him that much. I thought he was a fine player, I just much preferred Johnston that's all.
Given that me and my dad were definitely in a minority there, that tells me that ‘Skippy’ is vastly under-rated. Watching him charging around the pitch at 100mph and never letting up for a second is one the most enduring images I have of watching us in the 80s, he’s my arl fellas all time favourite player and he’d make my top five too. If you’re too young to have seen him play, imagine Dirk Kuyt on speed, with the pace of Craig Bellamy and wearing a Scouser wig, and you'll have some idea of what Johnston was like.
I still love Craig Johnston now, I saw an interview with him on LFCTV recently and he broke down in tears a couple of times, choked me right up it did. Every team should have a Craig Johnson. Houghton dislodged him from Kenny’s team, but he’s not getting in this one, it’s ‘Skippy’ all the way. I loved the Anfield Rap too. What a guy. If Craig Johnston was out of the equation, I'd have picked my boy Davie Thompson. I loved Little Thommo, quality player and always totally committed. We should never have let him leave.
Left Midfield: I so nearly picked Mark Walters, a player who for me suffered simply because he was not John Barnes. Souness signed him from Rangers and with Barnes sidelined with a serious injury Walters was immediately asked to fill the left wing spot. He wasn’t great, but the stick he got at the time was way overboard from what I remember. I always liked him, I thought he was a talented player who made a decent contribution when he was here, but there were some fans who absolutely hated him. He scored a hat-trick at Anfield against Coventry, and he was also on the scoresheet in the famous game at home to Manchester United when we beat them to stop them winning the title.
The only reason I haven’t selected him is that the same is true of another player who made far more of a contribution than Walters did; Ronnie Whelan. I could have picked Ronnie in the centre, but I’ve gone with him on the left as that was probably when he took the most stick. My memories of it are fairly vague, but I’ve heard many fans who recall it far better than I do speak of the absolute hatred some fans had for Whelan back then. A thread on the forum discussing under-rated players drew comments from people who can actually remember fellow fans who refused to celebrate when Whelan scored. Incredible really.
Centre Midfield: Loads to choose from here. Jimmy Case, Nigel Spackman, Steve McMahon, Danny Murphy, John Wark, Mike Marsh… I never saw Case playing for us, I did see him playing against us and he was brilliant. I’m sure I remember him scoring for Southampton at Anfield with the most powerful shot I’d ever seen, I was only a kid but remember thinking ‘why the hell did we ever let this fella go?’.
People tell me he’s the hardest player they’ve ever seen, but he could play too. He was part of some great sides yet he’s never really spoken about and he never got capped by England at a time when virtually all of his team-mates were in the squad. Definitely under-rated.
Then there’s Murphy, I really liked 'SuperDan' but he used to get some fearful stick from the crowd. There were plenty like me who were big fans, but others couldn’t stand him. For a player who scored three winning goals for us at Old Trafford he was never given the love he deserved for me.
Mike Marsh was ace too, his only weakness was a lack of pace as he had all the ability in the world. He was a proper Liverpool player, pass and move was his game and he’s one of my all time favourite players, I was gutted when Souness shipped him off to West Ham for Julian Dicks. Marsh did a great job at right back when Rob Jones was injured, he played well at left back too at times, whilst he started out as a striker and was like the Kenny Dalglish of the reserve league. Injuries ruined his career but he's done well for himself as a coach and now works with our first team.
Steve McMahon was a truly great player, he was appreciated by Liverpool fans but he was never given the respect he deserved nationally, and only got an England cap after Johnston got commentator Brian Moore to rap about it! Spackman was a good player for us, definitely under-rated because he wasn’t as good as the likes of McMahon and Molby, but he did a good job when he was here.
As for Wark, I didn’t like him as a player back in the day but that was because I was too young and uneducated to appreciate his talents. His goalscoring record from midfield was incredible, but he was never able to establish himself at Anfield and was only here a few years. He scored 28 goals from 70 appearances from centre midfield. Most forwards can’t manage a strike rate like that so he partners Case in the middle. Unlike everyone else in the side, Wark gets in because I under-rated him, not other people. I can’t believe I’ve left Murphy out though. And for those of you wondering why no Lucas, it’s because just as many people over-rate him as under-rate him.
Strikers: I thought about Michael Owen, but I think with Michael it was a case of being under-loved rather than under-rated. Everyone knew he was top class, but some simply just couldn’t warm to him. Titi Camara was part of the shake up, I absolutely loved that guy, he was fantastic to watch and surprised everyone with how well he did for us in the short time he was here. He was badly under-used by Houllier after he signed Heskey, but in his early days Titi was electric. He'll forever be loved by Liverpool fans for playing and scoring against West Ham at Anfield on the day his dad died, and breaking down in tears as he 'celebrated' the goal. What a guy. He just missed out as I narrowed it down to three, of which I needed to select two.
The three were Peter Crouch, Paul Walsh and Milan Baros. Walsh is definitely under-rated, his problem was he was competing for a place with Kenny Dalglish. When he played he was brilliant though, his best run came in the double season when he was keeping Kenny on the sidelines (by Kenny’s own choice, he was the manager after all!) and tearing it up before getting injured against the Mancs and missing the run in. My hero as a kid, and when I tell people that they usually look at me like I’ve got three heads. So he has to be in there.
As for who he plays with, I agonised over this. I love Crouchy; to go all Harry Redknapp for a second he’s a top, top player, and a ‘triffic lad. The perfect hat-trick he scored against Arsenal is the best treble I’ve seen by anyone other than Suarez. Then there’s my boy Meeeelan. Loved watching him play, all of you fools who are shaking your head right now and complaining about him being a head down merchant can go pound sand. I got four words for ya; Champions. League. Winner. Baby. He edges out Crouchy, but I do it with a heavy heart.