London – He would have loved this, Bill Shankly. Not so much the personal acclaim, the minute’s applause on the eve of what would have been his 100th birthday, or the cards held up in the Kop in tribute to their greatest manager of all. Shankly, more than anyone, knew that Liverpool Football Club is bigger than any man.No, he would have loved the way Liverpool performed and ultimately prevailed in what remains the most passionate fixture in the English football calendar.
The sound of Anfield in full cry, the rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone before kick-off and the ecstasy that greeted Andre Marriner’s final whistle after 95 minutes of typically frenetic competition between Liverpool and their old rivals from Manchester. When the dust had settled and Liverpool had celebrated as if they had won the league itself, they were top of the table with a 100 per cent record after their best start in nearly 20 years.
Three games, three 1-0 wins and three clean sheets. It’s unlikely to last. The new order within English football will re-establish itself over the course of the season with Liverpool hoping, at best, for one of those precious Champions League positions. But on Sunday it certainly felt as though the good times were back. As if Shankly were smiling down on Anfield.
The centenary celebration in his honour was a reminder that David Moyes is not the only manager with big shoes to fill. Brendan Rodgers also feels the weight of history on his shoulders – in every corner of Anfield and along the corridors of the Melwood training ground.
Former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson, sitting in the stands in his capacity as England boss , is by no means the only one of his predecessors to have tried and failed. Rodgers knows only too well the scale and expectations of the job he has taken on. His late father Malachy, and his father before him, were both huge Liverpool fans who told him all about Shankly’s great teams of the Sixties and early Seventies.
“When you take the job of manager of this great sporting institution you are fully aware that you are following in the footsteps of true giants,” Rodgers wrote in his programme notes yesterday. “There is no-one more fitting of the phrase ‘greatness’ than Bill Shankly and his influence is as strong today as it has ever been.
“Every day I’m blessed to drive into Melwood, the same training ground where Bill Shankly created a team that would dominate not just England, but eventually Europe as well after his departure. Every day on my way in and out I pass a bronze bust of the great man and that reminds me of the responsibilities that come with this job and leading this club.
“Next to his statue is a quote: ‘Above all I would like to be remembered as a man who was selfless, who strove and worried so that others could share in the glory and who built up a family of people who could hold their heads up high and say...’We Are Liverpool’.”
His team certainly produced a fitting performance for the occasion. No sooner had the applause for Shankly died down than Anfield was in raptures as Daniel Sturridge, who was celebrating a birthday of his own on Sunday – his 24th – claimed what proved to be his third winning goal of the season. It came from an early Steven Gerrard corner and the scorer then ran over to the touchline to embrace Rodgers.
Gerrard rose to the challenge, as he so often does against United, charging half the length of the field to dispossess Danny Welbeck before seizing an opportunity to get in Robin van Persie’s face, as a clearly ruffled United threatened to lose their cool before half-time. To a man, Gerrard’s teammates responded. Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel were immense in central defence, particularly as United began to dominate after half-time, and Glen Johnson shut down Ashley Young on the right. In the heat of what was always going to be a feisty affair, Philippe Coutinho was another standout performer as he provided the creative spark. It was not vintage Liverpool by any means. But they won, United lost and the fans went home content. Bill Shankly would have been happy enough with that. – Daily Mail