50 Years On: Is Bill Shankly the Most Important Man in Football History?
Today is a historic day for everyone involved in English football. In fact, scrap that, today is a historic day for everyone involved in world football.
On December 14, 1959, the face of the game was changed forever as Bill Shankly walked through the Liverpool doors to embark upon a jouney on which he would create a dynasty that would last for decades.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the world has completely changed in the intervening 50 years, and thanks to Shankly, so has Liverpool Football Club.
When he arrived from Huddersfield, Liverpool were a Second Division side low on trophies and ambition.
Thanks to the Scotsman's efforts, however, by the time he left the club in a shock resignation 15 years later, Liverpool were one of the top clubs in the country, and would go on to become the best in the world under Shankly's successor Bob Paisley.
In many ways, Shankly deserves as much praise as Paisley for those success too. It was he who groomed Paisley to become the world-beating manager who is now revered as much as Shankly himself, and it was also he who built the base for continued domination.
1962 saw promotion as champions of the Second Division, and just two years later they were crowned kings of the top division in the country.
This success not only ensured Shankly's first great team, including the likes of Roger Hunt, Ian St. John, and "his colossus" Ron Yeats, conquered England, but also gave them a chance to do the same in Europe.
A semi-final place in 1965, only stopped by an Inter Milan side led by another legendary manager in Helenio Herrera, was an impressive performance two years before Celtic became the first British team to win the trophy, and three years before Manchester United became the first English team to do so.
Any disappointment felt by the loss would have been swept away by success in the then-still-relevant FA Cup, however.
Shankly's relentless machine continued to rack up the trophies the following season as they won the league title and almost completed a unique double by reaching the Cup Winners' Cup final, only to be beaten by Borussia Dortmund.
The resulting European Cup campaign was only cut short when Liverpool ran into a young, but already world class Johan Cruyff.
As the old guard began to age, Shankly displayed his ruthlessness, or rather lack of sentiment, by shipping them out and introducing new blood to the fray.
Once again, his uncanny poise in the transfer market did not let him down.
The likes of Kevin Keegan, Ray Clemence, and Steve Heighway were all bargain buys, and they formed the basis of the Liverpool side that would experience so much success over the coming years.
Keegan even went on to become a two-time Ballon d'Or winner; not bad for a £35,000 man from Scunthorpe.
In 1973, this transfer acumen came to fruition as Liverpool once again won their domestic league title, but also conquered Europe for the first time, albeit in the UEFA Cup.
1974 brought another FA Cup and a second place finish in the league, and the future looked bright for all Liverpool fans.
With the cult hero Shankly in charge, what could possibly go wrong?
Then, suddenly, Shankly shocked the world by announcing his retirement. At the time, it seemed like the future of the club had dissolved overnight.
Of course, history now dictates that Paisley went on to match and arguably surpass Shankly's feats with an unprecedented, and still unmatched, three European Cup wins.
Fast forward to the present day, and Liverpool could really do with the "Shankly factor."
The team seems to be low on confidence, and a season that started out with such promise and anticipation has collapsed into one of desperation and despair.
Current manager Rafael Benitez also enjoys a cult hero status at Anfield, although not on the same level as Shankly, and even managed to do what the great Scot could never do and win the Champions League.
But there will only ever be one Bill Shankly.
At the start of the article I mentioned that he had changed the face of world football. Some people may have thought that was a slight exaggeration, but I think it is a fair assessment of the impact this man has had on the game.
Without him, Liverpool would not have become the force they were in the 60's and 70's, and subsequently wouldn't have enjoyed the domination they did in the 80's.
That rich history is the reason Liverpool are considered such a big club, and such an alluring prospect for players and managers alike.
Liverpool have changed the face of world football, and Shankly was the man who kick-started the change of Liverpool. His effect on the club cannot be underestimated.
He created the aura around the club. He created the world famous Kop atmosphere. He even changed Liverpool's kit to the universally recognised all-red it is today.
He is the reason millions of people around the world support the club. He is the reason Liverpool are the most successful English club of all time, and he is the reason people say they are underachieving today.
Success can never be attributed solely to one man. Everyone from Keegan to Dalglish to Gerrard or Paisley to Fagan to Benitez have contributed in their own way.
But if one man was to be given the title of the most influential and important man in Liverpool's history, it would have to be Shankly.
And while Liverpool may no longer be the biggest or best club in the world, they once were. They changed the face of football, thanks to Bill Shankly.
Is he the most important man in the history of the game?
Perhaps not. There must have been men equally important to their respective clubs who made waves all around the world, but he is certainly a contender for such a prestigious crown.
The football world misses him. We need another man like him, who can entertain us all with a quick one-liner, as well as being the best at what he does.
50 years after taking control of Liverpool, I would like to say thank you Bill Shankly for creating the club I have come to love.
I leave you with some famous Shankly quotes:
“When I've got nothing better to do, I look down the league table to see how Everton are getting along.”
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.”
“Me having no education. I had to use my brains.”
“Aim for the sky and you'll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you'll stay on the floor.”
“This city has two great teams - Liverpool and Liverpool reserves.”
“The trouble with referees is that they know the rules, but they do not know the game.”
“If you're not sure what to do with the ball, just pop it in the net and we'll discuss your options afterwards.”
“If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing.”
“If a player isn't interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be!”
“If Everton were playing down the bottom of my garden, I'd draw the curtains.”
“We murdered them 0-0.”
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