Liverpool FC: 10 Cult Heroes of the Past 10 Years

Dan PattersonContributor IMarch 15, 2011

Liverpool FC: 10 Cult Heroes of the Past 10 Years

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    Liverpool Famous Koppites
    Liverpool Famous KoppitesShaun Botterill/Getty Images

    How do you define a cult icon? You could call them people who are unknown or derided by opposition fans yet fiercely cherished by their club due to some event or quirk.

    A cult hero rarely enjoys plaudits in the mainstream media which often questions that individual's value. But none of that matters to the fans, because for whatever reason that player will forever be in the hearts of those in the stands or watching around the world.

    Liverpool fans have a reputation for their passion and will throw their support behind any player who shows due passion for their club. So how exactly does one become a cult hero for the Anfield faithful?

    Absolute  dedication to the cause in face of insurmountable odds is one avenue, the essence of the underdog. Moments of pure technical skill and brilliance in moments of dire need is another.

    But the easiest way to a Liverpudlian's heart for any player? Score the winner against Manchester United.

The Bane of Manchester United: Danny Murphy

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    Danny Murphy Lays Another Raking Pass
    Danny Murphy Lays Another Raking PassLaurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Fulham's current captain has proven his worth to the London club on numerous occasions with sterling displays in the heart of midfield. For Liverpool fans, he will always be remembered fondly for his contributions to our chief cause: beating Manchester United.

    Valued for his poise and skill from set-piece situations, his winner against United from a free kick in the 2000/2001 season inflicted a first home defeat for the Manchester club in two years. The game ended 1-0.

    In January 2002, he put away a Steven Gerrard pass in another 1-0 victory. Two years later, it was Murphy again who scored a penalty (after a rash challenge by Gary Neville) that beat United, you guessed it, 1-0.

    While not the most outrageously skilled player, Murphy was a reliable asset to Gerard Houllier but looked for greener pastures at Charlton during Liverpool's "Rafa-lution."

    Even while at Fulham, Murphy gave Liverpool fans another present when he was at the heart of everything good during Fulham's 2-0 win over United at Craven Cottage in 2009.

Liverpool's Second Goal in Istanbul: Vladimír Šmicer

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    Initially signed by Gerard Houllier to replace a Real Madrid-bound Steve McManaman, "Vladi" had an injury-plagued career at Liverpool which limited his first-team opportunities.

    Operating out wide or as an advanced attacking midfielder, he only notched 10 goals in a Red shirt, but it was the nature of some of those goals which endeared him to Liverpool fans.

    A late, late winner against Chelsea 2002, followed by memorable goals in European competition were all eclipsed by what would be his last game for Liverpool.

    On his 32nd birthday, the day before the 2005 Champions League final, Smicer was told by Rafa Benitez that his contract would not be renewed. When Harry Kewell pulled up injured in the first half, Smicer was sent on, and he remarked, "It was my last match for Liverpool, so I was determined to end it in style."

    End it in style he did. Smicer scored Liverpool's second goal as well as netted Liverpool's winning penalty.

Luck and Heroics: Jerzy Dudek

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    Mention the name Jerzy Dudek before May 2005 and most Liverpool fans would have shaken their heads. A cult hero he was certainly not.

    The Polish goalkeeper possessed little shot-stopping ability and exhibited lapses in concentration as well as poor decision-making. With a deal for current keeper Pepe Reina lined up for the summer, it was a matter of gritting one's teeth and waiting for the season to end so Liverpool could enjoy the protection of a proper keeper.

    After being given little chance with AC Milan's opening three goals in the 2005 Champions League Final, Dudek somehow kept out two point-blank efforts from Europe's most feared goalscorer deep into extra time.

    The look on Andrei Shevchenko's face was priceless, but Dudek's night was far from over. Taking Jaime Carragher's advice, Dudek resurrected Bruce Grobbelaar's "rubber legs" and denied Shevchenko again, blocking his penalty and delivering Liverpool's fifth European Cup.

Game Changer: Neil Mellor

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    Offer the name of Neil Mellor and most soccer fans would likely shake their head and ask, "who?"

    A young striker who graduated from Liverpool's youth academy, Mellor would eventually leave the club due to injuries disrupting his progress. A promising talent, Mellor was a strong central striker who possessed a goalscoring instinct, and he was loaned out several times before being sold to Preston North End.

    Injuries have severely disrupted his short career, but that didn't stop him from making a lasting impact in the minds of Liverpool fans.

    Much has been said over Liverpool's 2005 Champions League triumph, but they may never have gotten there in the first place.

    Tied 1-1 against Greek side Olympiakos, Liverpool needed to win by two goals to progress to the knockout phase. Brought on as a sub for Milan Baros late in the game, Mellor struck to make it 2-1, then set up Steven Gerrard who smashed in a sensational third.

    But it will be his winner against Arsenal in 2004 which will live longest in memory. A long kick from Jerzy Dudek was pounced upon by Mellor who unleashed an unstoppable 30-yard volley to win the game for Liverpool.

Hard Man During Hard Times: Momo Sissoko

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    Momo Sissoko Goes Flying in on Deco
    Momo Sissoko Goes Flying in on DecoShaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Rafa Benitez brought in Momo Sissoko from his former club Valencia in the summer of 2005 to bring a little more muscle to the Liverpool midfield. Unfortunately for the Mali midfielder, he was soon upstaged by the arrival of Javier Mascherano, but Sissoko made an impact with the limited chances he got.

    He managed only one goal for the club but never shied from a tackle and often left the field covered in dirt, chalk and more than a little sweat.

    In 2006, Sissoko suffered a potential career-ending injury after his retina was damaged after being kicked in the face but returned wearing a mask and was as enthusiastic as ever.

    A standout moment for the enforcer was his display against Barcelona in 2007 en route to another final appearance for Liverpool, which helped the Reds dump out the 2006 winners.

    Eventually sold to Juventus due to the form of Mascherano and Xabi Alonso in midfield, Sissoko's dedication and muscle has been something that the club has missed since his departure.

Small but Mighty: Luis Garcia

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    Rafa Benitez brought in Luis Garcia to add some guile and genius to Liverpool's front line and the little Spaniard delivered.

    Hampered by injuries and hindered by a small physique against Premier League opponents, Garcia was nonetheless a fan favorite for small moments of magic that shaped games. His numerous goals against rivals Chelsea were cherished, none more so than the infamous ghost goal which allowed Liverpool to squeeze past the London club on their way to the 2005 Champions League final.

    But it was his goal in the previous round against Juventus which was more memorable.

    Renowned for his close control and shooting ability, Garcia hit a spectacular first-time volley past Gigi Buffon to beat the Italians 1-0.

    It seemed that Garcia never stopped smiling, and even with his questionable "thumb-sucking" celebration, he will be forever favored by Reds fans, especially as his sale to Atletico Madrid helped grease the wheels for Fernando Torres' arrival.

Fire and Brimstone: Craig Bellamy

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    Bellamy Tees Off Much to the Amusement of Steven Gerrard
    Bellamy Tees Off Much to the Amusement of Steven GerrardAlex Livesey/Getty Images

    Loved and hated in equal measure across the Premier League, Craig Bellamy's stay at Anfield was short, but he made quite an impression and it was with reluctance than fans waved goodbye.

    Bought from Blackburn in the summer of 2006, Bellamy's pace and tenacity was undoubted, but he struggled for goals in the beginning of the season although eventually found his form.

    His fire and passion as well as outspoken personality was valued by fans who were sad to see him leave. Bellamy only scored seven goals in his Liverpool career, but one stands head and shoulder above all others.

    In February 2007, Bellamy and teammate John Arne Riise were allegedly involved in a scuffle involving a golf-club after a team karaoke session—which is where he earned his "Nutter with a Putter" nickname.

    After apologizing to Rafa Benitez, Bellamy quickly put it behind him as Liverpool's next opponents were Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Bellamy notched Liverpool's first goal (officially given to Dirk Kuyt) and with his usual cheek, swung an imaginary golf-club in celebration. Liverpool's second was scored by Riise, which of course was set up by none other than Bellamy.

The Iron Tower: Sami Hyypiä

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    Sami Hyypia Salutes His Adoring Fans
    Sami Hyypia Salutes His Adoring FansAlex Livesey/Getty Images

    To think that Sami Hyypia only cost $4 million. Ten years at Liverpool saw the gigantic Fin emerge from an uncertain prospect to team captain after two years and Anfield legend upon his departure in 2009.

    His central-defensive partnerships with Stephan Henchoz and then Jaime Carragher were the bedrock of Liverpool's treble in 2001 as well as their Champions League success in 2005.

    It was a rare sight indeed to see Hyypia beaten in the air by anyone, but he didn't lack in skill either as a rare but beautiful volleyed strike against Juventus showed.

    Liverpool's recent problems with defending set pieces can be directly attributed to Hyypia's departure as even at 6'5", he was a phenomenal leaper. The emergence of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger as well as his advancing years eventually saw Hyypia leave the club for Bayer Leverkusen, even after an offer to remain in a coaching capacity.

    The defender played his last match against against Spurs in May 2009, and it was a tearful Hyypia who was hoisted on the shoulders of teammates to be carried around Anfield to a standing ovation.

Everpresent and Underappreciated: Dirk Kuyt

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    Dirk Kuyt Scoring Goals For Fun
    Dirk Kuyt Scoring Goals For FunRichard Heathcote/Getty Images

    It seems that it takes a hat-trick against Manchester United for the rest of the world to understand what Liverpool fans have known for years.

    After being prolific for Feynoord in the Dutch Eredivise, many could be forgiven for showing some despair at Dirk Kuyt's lack of goals in England, but offer Liverpool $20 million for the Dutchman and you'd likely be shown the door.

    Utilized primarily as an outside right attacker under Rafa Benitez, Kuyt's limitless endurance and positional sense have seen him as an ever present in the first team since his arrival.

    It's no mistake that in a team packed with mercurial talent, skill and trickery, Kuyt retains his place in the Dutch national side.

    He hasn't scored many goals, but he has scored some damn important ones.

    Ever-reliable from the penalty spot, Kuyt knocked out Chelsea in the 2007 Champions League semifinal to see Liverpool through to face Milan, where he scored a consolation goal in the final. Asked to deputize for Fernando Torres during his long spells out through injury, Kuyt has rarely disappointed with his tireless running up front, notching more than a few last minute tying or winning goals in Liverpool's "almost" 2008/2009 season.

    The Dutchman has undergone a bit of a renaissance under Kenny Dalglish when deployed as a central striker. His three deserved strikes against Manchester United highlight his striking abilities: strong and accurate in the air, alert to any opportunity and most importantly, in the right place at the right time.

In Rafa We Trust: Rafa Benitez

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    LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on February 6, 2010 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Out of all on this list, there is perhaps none who so perfectly encapsulate the cult aspect of an icon as Rafa Benitez. "In Rafa We Trust" said Liverpool fans in the face of any criticism or uncertainty.

    There is a profound sense of what would have been if Rafa could have enjoyed the full support and financial backing from stable ownership rather than be forced into battle for control of club matters.

    After the genuinely likable and emotional Gerard Houllier, Benitez seemed another species entirely to Liverpool fans. The Rafa-lution at Anfield brought in the likes of Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres but on the flip side was also responsible for questionable acquisitions in the vein of Josemi, Albert Riera, Andrea Dossena and Alberto Aquilani.

    But the cult of Benitez ensured his hero status no matter what because he gave us one of the greatest victories ever seen in the sport and our unprecedented fifth European trophy.

    It is irrefutable that Benitez was a tactical mastermind, more than the equal of Jose Mourinho, who was an ever present rival in the Premier League. When he had the team working the way he wanted, Liverpool seemed unstoppable, with a domestic triumph whiskers away in 2008/2009.

    When things weren't so hot, at times Benitez was impossible to read: his cryptic press conferences, his rotation policy and his mis-management of Steven Gerrard and Torres in the 2009/2010 season.

    He was a Liverpool manager who genuinely got under the skin of Sir Alex Ferguson, although Fergie eventually won that round of mind games.

    Many wish Rafa could have stayed, but it was apparent during his exit that the team was stagnating and change was needed.

    Because of 2005 Benitez will forever remain in the hearts of Liverpool fans, and that memorable 4-1 demolition of Manchester United was demonstration of Benitez's dream in full flight.

    Perhaps only Kenny Dalglish enjoys the sort of protective barrier the cult of Rafa erected around the Spaniard, and it will be up to Dalglish to pick up the pieces and attempt to surpass the Spaniard's achievements.


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