Bob Paisley is number 10 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next two weeks.
The great Bill Shankly is credited with turning Liverpool's fortunes around throughout the 60s and early 70s, and deservedly so. He took a team floundering in the second division, and returned them to the top of English football, aiming the bow for a period of unparalleled success.
The Reds had only begun to accomplish that greatness when Shankly stepped down in 1974, however, if the wrong man was chosen to take to the main stage next, then the likelihood is that the European legacy which today defines Liverpool FC would never have left the ground.
It's just as well, then, that the man who was chosen to fill the immeasurably large boots left vacant by one of the greatest ever, represents perhaps the greatest managerial appointment in the history of football. The man who had gates erected in his name at Anfield alongside those built in Shankly's honour; one Bob Paisley.
And that's not because of the immense forward progress that was achieved in the years to come, but because of the insurmountable pressure that was so effortlessly shouldered to ensure a near-seamless transition from one untouchable legacy into another.
Paisley's senior coaching career started at the beginning of Shankly's Anfield tenure, but his Liverpool story starts long before. He had been a fixture at the club as far back as the late 1930s, when he spent 15 years as a formidable left half before moving into off-field roles as a physio and then as reserve team manager throughout the 1950s.
When the time came for Shankly to take over in 1959, then, Paisley had cut his teeth, and his depth of knowledge and high standing within the club saw him appointed assistant manager in order to ease the transition.
|Football League First Division (1976/76, 1976/77, 1978-79, 1979/80, 1981/82/ 1982/83)|
|English League Cup (1980/81, 1981/82, 1982/83)|
|Community/Charity Shield (1974, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982)|
|European Cup (1977, 1978, 1981)|
|UEFA Cup (1975/76)|
|UEFA Super Cup (1977)|
In many ways, while Shankly picked the team and handled the motivational side of the job, Paisley was the tactician.
Although he would later prove to have assets more valuable to his management than his tactical knowledge, it was one of his tactical observations towards the end of the Shankly era that proved just how far ahead of his time he was, as he noted in a European tie that Red Star Belgrade's use of ball-playing centre-halves was their undoing in a 1973 European Cup tie.
This was something alien to English football, as virtually every team at the time; including Liverpool with Tommy Smith and Larry Lloyd; playing with two destroyers at the heart of defence. Paisley's solution was simple, recommending that midfielder Phil Thompson be played at centre-back alongside the intelligent Emlyn Hughes.
The result was a more possession-based approach to building from the back that took the place of the high-octane attack-at-all-costs football that would soon become redundant.
"It's not about the long ball or the short ball, it's about the right ball."
When handed the reins after Shankly's retirement in 1974, it was this shift of styles that he looked to implement, and while it didn't achieve immediate success; his first season yielded only a runners-up award and a Community Shield; it would prove to be the long-term blueprint that would see the Reds finally add the European Cup to their expansive honours list.
Paisley's true managerial strength would soon come to light after taking the hot-seat. While his tactics were generally spot-on, he didn't see himself as a tactician. He based his management on his ability to judge a player, feeling that if the 11 players fit the basic system and were intelligent enough to read the game themselves, then tactical coaching could be kept to a minimum.
Over the next few years, he would take a hands-on approach to recruitment, and opted to bring in Ian Rush, Bruce Grobbelaar, Mark Lawrenson and, most notably, after Kevin Keegan threw his plans up in the air with a transfer request, one Kenny Dalglish. And it was the signing of the latter that was the final piece of the puzzle, as his subtlety and ability to read the game allowed Paisley's 4-4-2 to shift into a 4-4-1-1.
It would take opposition managers years to catch up with that development.
You could talk about what Liverpool accomplished during Paisley's nine-year tenure for years and never get bored of it. In a period when the European Cup was immeasurably harder to win than it is now, with only league winners gaining qualification, Paisley became the first man in history to win the trophy three times, with only Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane matching that feat since.
The story of a humble genius. Bob Paisley, in his own words... pic.twitter.com/RKCGDynYw9— Liverpool FC (@LFC) July 26, 2019
"If you're in the penalty area and you don't know what to do with the ball, put it in the net and we'll discuss the options later."
It's his European legacy that defined his time at the club, forging the relationship between Liverpool and the European Cup that defines them even to this day. But domestically, there was only one season under Paisley in which Liverpool finished lower than second, dropping to fifth in 1981. They won the league six times in less than a decade, having claimed it three times in 15 years under the legendary Shankly.
And yet, even despite the success he achieved, Paisley never once felt that he was an adequate replacement. His humble, understated nature summed up in clear terms by something he is frequently quoted as having told his players upon arrival: "I'm only minding the shop until a real manager comes along."
Paisley knew when a player was past his sell-by date, ruthlessly moving on the likes of John Toshack, Tommy Smith and Ray Clemence when he felt they no longer fit the team. There was nothing unfair about this approach, however; he applied the same treatment to himself.
In 1983, after 20 major trophies in nine years - making him statistically the second most successful manager ever, with his 2.2 trophies per season bettered only now by Pep Guardiola - he went out on top, calling it a day after bringing his final first division home, and handing the reins to Joe Fagan.
His quiet, humble personality means he will perhaps not be remembered as fondly as Shankly, or another countryman in Sir Alex Ferguson. But either man would happily tell you that any comparison is utterly redundant; Paisley's legacy stands up to any, and dwarves most.