"Macca Can" - Steve McMahon interview
You started out with the Blues. Was it always going to be Everton or did you have any trials with Liverpool when you were a kid?
It was always going to be Everton, I didn’t get an option. When I was 10 or 11 I was scouted by them and that was the first thing I did, join Everton. All my family were Evertonians - lots of them still are - so it was a natural thing to do and I was very fortunate. Things change quickly in life though.
We’ll get to why you left in a second, but I wanted to ask you about a game that holds special memories for Liverpool fans, but not for yourself. A lot of people reading this might not know this, but you played for Everton in the famous 5-0 Goodison derby didn’t you?
I did yeah. The main thing I remember about it was Glen Kealy, on his debut, getting sent off early for pulling Kenny Dalglish back. It was bad enough playing against Liverpool anyway at that time, but when you’re down to ten men and already a goal down it’s almost impossible.
I was a midfield player but I went to right back and Brian Borrows went to centre half, so we had to rejig it and it was just like *puffs out cheeks* non stop. We hit a downhill path straight away. When you watch the goals all you see every time is the back of my shirt, chasing Rushy back. It was hard.
So, what made you leave Everton?
Contrary to what people say, it wasn’t about finances. Howard Kendall had a different view on my situation than I did and we fell out. My contract was up at Everton and it was the first year of freedom of contract, although you still had to go through a tribunal for a transfer fee.
I’d played for Everton’s first team for three years on a contract I’d signed when I was a young player. Since then I had established myself in the team and I was actually the captain. Then when it came to a new contract they offered me an extra ten pound a week. After three years, as a local lad that had come through the ranks to become club captain. I thought it was degrading and a sign that they didn’t value me. I took that as a sign to move on because they weren’t bothered about keeping me.
You left Everton just before they turned it around and started to be successful. Did you ever regret leaving?
No I didn’t. They had an 18 month period where they did well, very well, but long term they never did because when I came back to join Liverpool we won the double straight away, beating them to both. Liverpool were the dominant team while I was there so no regrets.
I’m talking more about when you were at Villa, Everton won the league in your second year with Villa…
Yeah and we played against them in the semi final of the cup and they beat us 2-1, but no I don’t ever look back, I always look forward, I’m very positive in that way. I didn’t ever think “I wish I was still at Everton”. I’d moved on, it didn’t matter to me what Everton were doing and then pretty soon I was at Liverpool anyway.
Was there ever a chance you could have gone straight from Everton to Liverpool? Bob Paisley wanted you, didn’t he?
Yes, I could have signed for Liverpool straight away. I went and met Bob Paisley. Me and my dad went into the offices at Anfield and it was almost there, to go straight to Liverpool. But out of respect to Everton and the situation, I couldn’t do it and I went to Aston Villa.
They had a fantastic side, they’d won the European Cup in 1982 and had Gary Shaw, Gordon Cowans, Nigel Spink, Gary Williams, Colin Gibson at left back… it was a fantastic young side and I just thought it was the right move for me personally, although not financially.
Regardless of what people say about me moving for money, Liverpool offered me double what Aston Villa did but that was never an issue, it was about making the right decision for me personally.
Luckily I got the opportunity to join Liverpool a couple of years later and it was something I couldn’t refuse second time around.
You were sent off against Liverpool playing for Villa. What happened?
Well ‘Souey’ and Kenny ganged up on me really! One got me booked and the other got me sent off. We still laugh about it to this day. They knew how important it was to me playing against Liverpool, and they were clever, they were experienced. Proper professionals that knew how to wind me up. It’s just experience, they did what they had to do.
How did the move to Liverpool eventually come about. Villa tried to sell you to Man United didn't they?
Yeah that’s true. I got a call asking “would you like to come to Liverpool blah blah blah”. First of all I thought it was a wind up, but when I realised it wasn’t I said that I would, but didn’t know how I would go about it as I’d been at Villa for two years but had a four year contract. They said “just blame your wife”. I said “what do you mean?”. “Just say she’s homesick” they told me.
It was only an hour and a half away, but to cut a long story short I told Villa I needed to get back to the North West and sort myself out and they were fine about it, and said they’d work something out. So within a week or so I get a call to go to the manager’s office - it was Tony Barton at the time, God bless him - and he said “It’s all sorted, you’re going back to the North West, get your boots and get to Old Trafford, ‘Big Ron' Atkinson is waiting for you up there”.
I said “Sorry, where?” and he said “Manchester United, you wanted to go back to the North West”. So I said “Actually I wanted a bit further north west than that!” From that day they knew exactly what was going on because I turned down Man United, I refused to go. They just chased me out the office!
So I rang the guy at Liverpool - I won’t tell you who it was! - and they rushed the deal through quickly because after all that I couldn’t continue at Villa. So I’ve had the pleasure of saying “no” to Manchester United!
What was the reaction like when you came back? How did your friends and family feel about it?
Strange. Really, really strange. They were mostly blues and still are. It was weird, it really was, but I’ve got to say, without any disrespect to Everton, from day one when I walked through the doors at Liverpool I felt as though I should have been there a long time ago. It just felt like home. You know when you go somewhere and it just feels right? It proved to be right for six and a half, seven years.
What about the Liverpool players you’d butted heads with for Everton and Villa. Was there any ill feeling there or had you made peace with them before you signed?
It was very strange. Being from the city, I met my wife there and she was best friends with Ronnie Whelan’s girlfriend, who would become his wife. So I was at Everton and he was at Liverpool, and then all of a sudden I’m signing for Liverpool, I’m rooming with Ronnie and our wives just happen to be best friends. It was all just so weird, but great because everyone just wants to play football and be successful, and we were.
Players went out more back then and they weren’t usually hidden away in VIP places like they are now. Your generation were much more accessible to the general public than today's players are. Were you a bit of a marked man after switching sides?
Yeah of course, plus you get labelled with the whole “oh he’s a hard man” which is not the case but it puts a target on your back. Very rarely did we get into trouble but obviously there would be certain times where you did, because you don’t have all the bodyguards and security around you that players do today. Even Steven Gerrard got himself in trouble in recent times, because it happens. You’re only human and that’s the way it is.
I think the game has lost its soul a little bit in terms of players interacting with supporters. It’s not tactile anymore, players seem to be aloof now. We’d be walking through the car park and signing autographs and talking to fans, but you don’t see that nowadays, you don’t see the footballers mixing with the supporters as much as they should do.
It doesn’t help when the club are telling them not to stop at the gates and sign autographs because professional autograph hunters are selling them online either…
There’s got to be a good balance, you can’t alienate the true supporters, the real fans. There’s got to be some middle ground but it’s gone totally away from it now, it really has.
To my Evertonian school mates you were public enemy number one, even more so than Kenny and Rushy. The Blues really seemed to despise you…
*Laughs* Yeah they did.
...but you seemed to thrive on it and made a habit of scoring against them. What was it like to play in those games?
I loved it. I scored my first Liverpool goal against them - the winner in a 3-2 at Goodison. I just loved playing big games. Some of the players that have failed, playing for Liverpool or United or any of the big clubs, it’s because of the fear of failure. If you’re scared of failing then you’ll fail. I never felt that way. I was always like “bring it on”. The bigger the game the better for me.
That goal I scored at Goodison, it was my fourth game for Liverpool I think, the Everton supporters trashed my car afterwards!. It’s a funny story. My father-in-law was a mad Liverpool supporter. He came to the game and I’d parked my car at the Park End, so after the game I go back and my car is in pieces - actually it was Aston Villa’s car! - so I just left it and me and my father-in-law went and had a couple of beers. It was a great night.
I rang Villa on Monday morning and said “You need to pick your car up from outside the Park End, but you’ll need a shovel and a brush to put it in the bin!”
What was the most memorable derby you played in?
The Cup Final in 1989. With it being just after Hillsborough, and with it being Everton, it was very special. It was fitting that we played Everton as it Hillsborough impacted on the entire city. I’ve got to say, Everton still means a lot to me, regardless of my success at Liverpool, Everton is still part of me. I’ve got to say that. So playing them in that final, and winning it, that was very special.
You and Peter Reid used to have some right ding dong battles back then. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since; you’d take turns to boot the other up in the air, but always picked each other up and shook hands. Was that because you were mates from when you played together, or was it just something that developed over time due to the battles you had?
It was mutual respect. He later signed me for Man City when he was manager. We were together at Everton but he couldn’t get in the side as he wasn’t good enough to play ahead of me! No, he was injured a lot when I was there and obviously I was young and fit so I was in the team and ‘Reidy’ couldn’t get a game, but we had that connection. We still have. It’s the same with Brian Robson, all good. What you see on the pitch is intense, but it’s different off the pitch and you’re still friends.
Was Reid your favourite opponent?
I enjoyed playing against lots of people. ‘Souey’ was fantastic, 'Robbo' was fantastic to play against too. You had Mark Hughes and Norman Whiteside. I just loved the big games. ‘Reidy’ was different because they never seemed to win when we played them, so it was always good to win against Everton and ‘Reidy’.
There were some hard players back then. Vinnie Jones, Terry Hurlock, Jimmy Case, Remi Moses, Bryan Robson… who was the toughest opponent you faced, and were they any that you had a real personal issue with?
Jimmy Case was a tough cookie. As for Vinnie Jones, the perception is that he was as hard as nails, but no he wasn’t, no, no. He made his name by being dirty. He’d make a 50-50 a 60-40 just so he wouldn’t get hurt.
I don’t like to talk about Vinnie too much because I don’t think he was a top player. I say that with respect because I thought he did a great job for the teams he played for, but I wouldn’t put him in the same breath as Robson, Reid, Souness… because he wasn’t at their level. He just did a good job, but everybody has payback time and it happened. I’m not going to go too deep into that though.
That first season went well but you lost your place through injury and couldn’t get back in. It must have been tough not making the team for the 86 Cup Final, especially against the Blues. Was that a big disappointment?
I got injured in the semi finals at White Hart Lane, and didn’t play again for six weeks. I did a little bit of training for a few days and Kenny picked me in the squad. I was pleased because I had no right to expect that. There was only one sub - it was the last year of only one sub - so I don’t look at that as a disappointment as there were other players who weren’t even in the squad. I had no right to even be part of the 12 having not played for six weeks so it was a bonus rather than a disappointment.
The only thing I regret, and I’ve told Kenny since, was he should have brought himself off and put me on, but he was too selfish! *laughs* He wouldn’t even give me five minutes! I still celebrated; you win and you get your medals, I was part of it and it was special.
In my first season Liverpool won the double for the first time. They had been an amazing team and had great success, but had never done the double which is hard to believe considering how good they were. But in my first season, as Kenny’s first signing, winning the double, it just made it all worthwhile.
Season two didn’t go as well for the team, as Everton won the title and we lost the league cup final to Arsenal. Ian Rush then left for Juventus. What was the feeling in the camp at the time, did you think maybe it was going to be a struggle or did you know as soon as Barnes and Beardsley arrived that things were about to take off?
We knew, they were superstars. Liverpool had a tradition of replacing great players with more great players. Three or four would go out and three or four would come in. There was never a mass exodus and they always planned for the next stage. The wheel kept on turning.
When 'Barnesy' and Peter and 'Aldo' came in, and then Ray Houghton, they were fantastic. Absolutely amazing. 'Barnesy' is the best player I’ve played with. For two seasons you would never get a better player than John Barnes. Apart from against Arsenal in ’89 when he gave the ball away near the corner flag. It was his fault!
We’ll get to that game later, sadly, but we’ll skip over it for now. The team went 29 games unbeaten before losing to Everton. That must have been a tough one to swallow?
Wayne Clarke scored the goal didn’t he?
Yeah, it was a scruffy one.
Yeah, yeah. All good things come to an end, but with it being at Goodison it was a bit more disappointing, but it’s just the way it was.
Having won the league at a canter, it looked almost certain that another double would arrive but Wimbledon ruined that. What are your thoughts on what went wrong that day?
We could have done the double four years in a row. We’d already won the league when we played Wimbledon. They were a good side, but ‘Aldo’ missed a penalty and Peter Beardsley scored a goal that should have been allowed. It was just one of those days. They say Wimbledon intimidated us in the tunnel, but that’s rubbish. Absolute rubbish.
Well I was going to ask you about that too. One of the biggest myths in football for me is that after Vinnie Jones clattered you in the first few minutes the team were intimidated after that and didn’t perform. Yet you bounced back up immediately and just shrugged it off. It must piss you off when people go on about it?
Yeah when people say the major factor was Vinnie Jones sorting McMahon out. No, rubbish. Absolute rubbish. Everything just went for Wimbledon on the day. The missed penalty, disallowed goal, it was just one one of those days and one step too far for us at the time. It was nothing to do with how Wimbledon played or intimidation.
The following season the reverse happened, the FA Cup was won but the league was lost literally at the last moment. Let’s talk about the FA Cup first. After Hillsborough how difficult was it to go back to playing football and trying to win the cup?
We had three weeks before we had to play again. It was horrendous. Being brought up in Liverpool and knowing people who were at the game - my family were at the game - and being a part of it all, it was incredible to think that could happen. Supporters running on the field to tell us that people were dying, it was just very very sad and very emotional. Not just for players, but for their families too. Just horrible.
But eventually we had to get back out there. We won the FA Cup against Everton but because of the postponements during those three weeks, our last game against Arsenal was delayed for a couple of weeks after the cup final. The emotional side of it was massive. I think people maybe didn’t realise that.
We knew how much it meant winning the FA Cup and the pressure that was on us to do it, and although we won it, the game itself was draining because of the emotion and also because it went to extra time. It just all caught up with us against Arsenal.
We should have won the double in four years of the five or six years I was there. The next year we got beat 4-3 by Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semi . It was wild. We beat them 9-0 in the league, how can you work that one out? You beat them 9-0 and then they beat you 4-3. How crazy is that?
That summer of 1989 must have been difficult, processing everything that had happened in the last few weeks of the season. Lesser teams wouldn’t have bounced back from that but you did.
It’s the character of the players. You move on, you have to. You can’t wallow in self pity, you have to pick yourself up and go again. Liverpool had a tradition of doing that, just moving on to the next season and forgetting about the year before, whether it was successful or not. We won the league the next year, and that was the last title Liverpool won. I still can’t believe that Liverpool haven’t won the league for 27 years.
That was my next question…
It’s hard to believe isn’t it? Most people don’t know this but I was actually captain on the day the last time Liverpool won it. Alan Hansen was injured, so was Ronnie Whelan, so I was the last captain to lift that trophy. I wouldn’t have believed that I’d be sat here 27 years later talking about how Liverpool haven’t won the league since. It’s just inconceivable.
What do you put it down to?
Bad management mostly. When Kenny left it changed. Completely. Souness came in, and I’ve still got a lot of respect for ‘Souey’, but that was the beginning of the end.
In theory Souness should have been good for you, as you were both great midfielders and there should have been a natural connection there. You moved you on fairly quickly though. What happened?
He changed things too quickly. It wasn’t broken; it needing maybe tweaking a little bit, but he had his own ways, his own methods and ideas and it didn’t sit well with me. I had signed a six year contract at Liverpool and had four and a half years left. But I went in to ‘Souey’ and said “I’m not happy, I want to leave”.
Things had changed. Big time. The Boot Room was gone, the girls in the canteen were gone, no longer were we going in and getting a bit of breakfast, a bit of egg on toast in the morning before training, just all the things that made Liverpool what it was were changing. It just didn’t feel right and I made the decision to leave.
You know what though, if Souness had said “I don’t want you to go” and tried to talk it out then maybe I’d have stayed, but he just said “Ok”. That’s all he said. I said “I’m not happy with the situation and think it’s best if I leave” and he just said “Ok”.
So had you not been getting on before that? Had there been any bust ups?
No, nothing at all. I just wasn’t happy. He had his different ways but I respected him, I still do. There was no bust up, nothing like that. It was just my feeling. I had four and a half years left on a contract with a testimonial at the end of it as well, so I didn’t take the decision lightly.
Funnily enough, I could have signed for Graeme’s old team Sampdoria before I signed that contract. I had the chance to go to Italy but Liverpool offered me that six year contract but I left 18 months into it.
You moved to City, but having been used to challenging at the top and playing with world class players, how difficult was that for you. Niall Quinn said in his autobiography that you were too intense for them and because of your background you wanted to win more than they did.
Well then I’d say that’s why they weren’t successful. If you haven’t got that winning mentality then you won’t be successful. I had that mentality, and if Niall Quinn felt that way then fine. That’s where City where at that moment in time and why they were not successful.
You don’t just sign good players, you sign winners. I still say to youngsters now in school, participation is important but winning is important too. You’ve got to have that attitude that you want to be a winner, and I had that and if Niall Quinn wasn’t happy with that then fine, I can’t do anything about that as that’s the way I am.
Do you think that’s a big problem with young players coming through today? Steven Gerrard has said similar, that everyone at that level can play but you need more than that to make it.
There’s got to be something there that sets you apart from everyone else. Academies now give kids and parents false hope. When they’re six or seven they are part of an Academy and they forget about playing for the school, about street football and Saturday and Sunday league.
When you join an Academy you can’t do any of that and everyone thinks they’re going to be the next Steven Gerrard. They’re not. It’s not going to happen. 99.9% of them aren’t going to make it but they are given a false sense of security that “young Johnny is going to be a footballer” when the likelihood is he isn’t.
There is a lot of average in Academies, they throw the net over everyone just to make sure one doesn’t get away. So there’s a lot of average. I don’t say that lightly, I do coaching at Academies in Asia and some coaching over here and I see lots of average. That’s what Academies do, they breed average.
Let’s talk international football for a second. I’m biased, but I thought you were comfortably the best midfielder in the league in the mid 80s, yet you had to wait until 1988 to get capped by England. Now players are getting called up before they’ve even started a Premier League game. You were a key player in the best team in the country but couldn’t get a sniff. Why do you think that was?
Well firstly thank you for saying that. It was just about earning the right. You had ‘Robbo’, you had Ray Wilkins there ahead of me. Then you had Glenn Hoddle. Coming through was ‘Gazza’ and David Platt, there were so many great players that you had to serve an apprenticeship. You had to ply your trade and be consistent for years.
Now, Jake Livermore or Loftus Cheek or whoever gets player of the month and then gets an England call up. They’re giving caps away like confetti. It’s not the fault of Gareth Southgate, there’s just nothing about so he’s having to look at everyone.
Was it frustrating, did you think you deserved a call up earlier?
You know what, I was just happy playing for Liverpool at the time and I saw England as a bonus. I played in the World Cup finals, and it was a successful one as we did well. I have no regrets. I have 17 caps, I should have had more but I was the equivalent of Bryan Robson - or everyone thought I was - but he was the England captain so I had to wait for him to get injured or not turn up for me to get a game. It was difficult but it’s the way it was.
Was it the Anfield Rap that got you called up in the end?
Possibly! Come on Bobby Robson he’s the man, coz if anyone can, Macca can!
How do you feel about that song? Personally I loved it, I had it as my ring tone for years. Do you cringe when you hear it or does it make you laugh?
I love it, I think it’s great. I know all the words but I’m not going to sing it to you!
I know all the words too, I can do Aldo’s bit if you like?
No no! I thought it was brilliant though. We got a silver disc for that. I’ve got a gold disc too, which is great considering I can’t sing. ‘World in Motion’ got to number one so I got a gold disk for that and a silver one for ‘the Anfield Rap’, which reached number two but should have got to number one.
What happened that night with you and Bruce Grobbelaar? He tells one story, but I read a completely different version of events in Steve Nicol's book. What really happened?
Nothing. Bruce is famous for telling stories. Famous for it, always has been. If he wants to sell books or make a few quid out of serialisations in papers or whatever then that’s up to him, but it’s nonsense, it’s lies. He says he broke my nose twice in one night or something?
Yeah, he says you came looking for him after the first one and burst into his room but he was hiding in the bathroom and then jumped out at you.
Bruce is a character, I love him, I think he’s great but he’s not telling the truth. He says he broke my nose twice, I’ve never had my nose broken and how would something like that happen without the manager knowing? It’s like a lot of these after dinner things players do, they make for great entertaining stories but they’re often fabricated because they're entertaining.
Do you have any regrets about your time at Liverpool and would you change anything?
No, I don’t look back and although you’d maybe tweak one or two things here and there, the major decisions I’ve made in life, I’d still do the same things.
What was the best goal you scored, I’ve got my thoughts on it but I’d like to hear yours first?
Man United probably, or maybe one of the ones against Everton. Scoring against United was always special and that one in the top corner was probably the best.
That would be number two for me, I loved the header from the edge of the box against Everton.
You know what competition that was?
Screen Sport Super Cup, I’ve done my research!
Very good. Yeah it was from a corner and I met it at the edge of the 18 yard box and headed it into the top corner. It was only the Super Cup though so not many people care.
(Note: You can see this goal at 3:45 in the clip below)
Who was the best player you ever faced?
Enzo Scifo. We played against Belgium in the World Cup quarter finals and Bobby Robson said “What I need you to do is mark Scifo”. So ok, no problem. First five minutes he turns me one way then the other and hits the post. Right, I’ll get him next time. Then he gets it... right foot, left foot, he’s done me like a kipper again. He was brilliant.
After 70 minutes I got the arl Shepherd’s Crook and David Platt replaced me and the rest is history. He scored that great volley and established himself in the team and had a great international career. But without Scifo giving me the runaround and me coming off, 'Platty's' England career wouldn’t have happened, so he’s got me to thank for that!
The game today is almost unrecognisable to when you played. In some ways good, in other ways its worse. In the 80s the midfield was often like a war zone and you had to be tough to survive in there before you could show your ability. How do you view midfielders today? Who do you enjoy watching and would any of them have been able to hack it in your era?
Good question. I’m biased though, I don’t think it’s the same game. When you talk about Souness, Reid, Robson, Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside… I could go on, I just can’t name the modern day equivalent. It doesn’t roll off the tongue does it, when you talk about the modern day players? It’s sad.
I did enjoy watching Stevie G, but now he’s gone I don’t really know. I do the Premier League for TV in Asia so I watch all the games, but there’s no English players that really excite me. No one that jumps out and makes me say “wow” like Stevie G did. Midfielders are more one dimensional these days.
It makes me laugh, because you’ll hear people say “he’s a front sweeper”, a specialist who sits in front of the back four. A “holding midfield player” they call it. What is that, does it mean you can’t go over the halfway line? It’s nonsense.
And now all youngsters want to be the 'number ten', they want to sit in behind the striker and attack but they don’t want to defend. Or it’s the specialist holding player that wants to defend but doesn’t attack. I was led to believe that when you’re a midfield player you do both. You go forward and you defend. They don’t want to do that side of it anymore.
I’m of the opinion that you should never have a bad game. I’ll qualify that by saying you can have an off day where things aren’t going your way, but I always felt I could affect the game by making sure that my opponent has an off day too. So although I’m not having a good day at the office, I’ll make sure my opponent doesn’t either and make it ten against ten if you like.
I don’t see that enough now. I say to youngsters you can always affect the game even if you’re not playing well. That’s what I like to think I did.
That sort of brings me to my next question. One of the other things I always remember fondly from the 80s is the likes of you or Jan Molby hammering in shots from outside the box, or you making those runs ahead of the forwards and getting in behind the defence. Today's midfielders don’t seem to do much of either. Why do you think that is?
Third man running, yeah. Correct, I agree 100%. You very rarely see a midfielder making runs ahead of the ball anymore. Adam Lallana does it and Deli Alli. Frank Lampard used to - and he'd bang in shots from distance too - but generally your midfield players don’t do it because everyone runs now to get the ball. Sometimes you’ve got to run even if you’re not going to get the ball, but to take people away and create space for other people. Sometimes the ball might come, but the important thing is dragging people out of position.
People don’t do that anymore, third man running beyond the strikers. If I was going to be ultra critical of Liverpool this season I’d say that I don’t see any midfield player getting ahead of the strikers. Then they wonder why they can’t break teams down.
That goes back to Lallana being out then…
Yes, absolutely. So Liverpool play in front of the defenders all the time. It’s great when teams attack them because they’ve got pace and skill, but when they have to think about how to break the opponents down, there’s no midfield player who runs behind. Nobody that takes a chance and runs. If you don’t get the ball it doesn’t matter, try again. But I don’t see it, I don’t see that off the ball running that I used to.
From the modern era, which Liverpool players, if any, do you look at and think “he could have played in our team”.
Great question again. Gerrard obviously, probably Jamie Carragher as well. He was as steady as you like, he was the Phil Thompson of the modern era. ‘Carra’ was an intelligent player, and I say this with the greatest respect, probably even by his own admission he wasn’t the greatest ‘footballer’ if you like, but he was streetwise and knew what he was doing. He’d take up positions to stop players, stop them progressing and he’d read the situation before things developed. He was pro-active, not re-active. So yeah, Jamie could have been part of that, and Stevie G was sensational.
It’s difficult though because if you ask me who was better than Rushy, or who was better than Barnesy, or Alan Hansen or Mark Lawrenson, or who was better than Jan Molby and Ronnie Whelan, I can keep going. Who is better than them?
It wasn’t so much about who is better or replacing players in your team, it was more a general question about who wouldn’t have been out of place in that side, so you’ve answered that with 'Carra' and Stevie. On a similar note, you played with some great midfield partners in Whelan and Molby, but of those who followed who do you think you could have formed a good partnership with? I mean, I could see you and Xabi Alonso really gelling well together, and Gerrard obviously…
Yeah Alonso would be similar to Jan. You have players who compliment each other. It’s about partnerships. I always say you need partners on the pitch. The two midfield players, the right back and right sided player, the centre backs, the front players... you work in tandem and it’s little partnerships all over the pitch.
Me and Ronnie (or Jan when he played) used to have a great relationship. I can’t understand players these days getting sent off for two yellow cards. I can for a red card, you make one bad tackle fine, you do it and that’s it. But for two yellows, no. Because once you’ve had a yellow that’s your warning, you can’t do it. You take turns apiece. Me or Ronnie would get a yellow after 15 minutes and then it was the other’s turn. I’d get one after 60 minutes and then it was someone else’s turn. You’ve got to be clever and share the yellow cards around, there’s no point me getting one and then doing it again.
Would you say today’s players don’t think for themselves then?
They need telling every single thing to do on the pitch, whereas Ronnie Moran - God Bless him - would tell us “if you’ve got a problem, work it out. Work it out”. If you didn’t work it out you wouldn’t play, they’d bring you off. You have to work it out very quickly.
Youngsters now can’t work it out for themselves. They want to be told everything; where to be, what position to play, how to do things, where to stand on the pitch.. you’ve got to work it out for yourself.
You had spells in management with Swindon and Blackpool and had some success with both but didn’t stay in the management game too long. Did you just decide it wasn’t for you?
No, there’s still a part of me that wishes I would have stayed in coaching. I was successful, Swindon won the league for the first time in a hundred and odd years and got promotion. At Blackpool we got promotion and were up there with Liverpool and Arsenal as the only teams unbeaten at the Millennium Stadium. We went there three times and won them all. Playoff final and two LDV Trophies.
There was success but things changed. I needed something bigger but it didn’t happen and then I got the chance to go to Australia. When I was at Swindon it looked like there was an opportunity to take over at Man City. That’s gone under the radar a little bit, because it didn’t materialise. I’ve never been sacked, I left Swindon and I left Blackpool. They didn’t say “see you later you’re sacked”. I always know when it’s time to go and move on to something else.
There was talk of me coming back to Liverpool when Gerard Houllier had taken over. Phil Thompson got it and he said he was surprised he got it instead of me.
Post management, you’ve been doing overseas TV work for a number of years. How long have you been living abroad?
14 years. It’s a long time, but I’m due to come back in January which is exciting because I’m working with Roy Evans again in a project called Bootroom Academies, which is education plus football and scholarships. So it’s very exciting for me to get back and move on to something new again.