So who was the best Liverpool manager then, Bob Paisley or Bill Shankly? Who can say? If you choose to base your answer by weighing up the respective silverware won by each man then, fair enough, Bob Paisley is your man. Bob won a staggering 19 major trophies in 9 years. Shanks won 9 in 15 years.
Football above all else is about emotion, passion, loyalty, prejudice, partisanship and pride - and not necessarily in that order. Cold statistical logic has a place too, and is often use to back up contentious arguments down the pub, but by and large, the mores that govern the world of the footy fan are illogical and unfathomable.
Shankly and Paisley
Which is why I think Shanks sometimes gets a higher billing than Paisley when it comes to these things. Let's be honest, Shanks will always be remembered as the man who built the Anfield empire, Bob the man who consolidated it. Shanks' starting point as manager at Anfield was so much lower than Bob's was. He took us from second division deadbeats to the top club in England and there are plenty of fans around today who still remember the 'dark days' of the 1950s.
Shankly stirred something deep in the souls of Liverpool fans with his fiery oratory and blinding committment that stays in the collective memory to this day.
But celebrating Shanks' triumph in dragging the club up by it's bootlaces is not to belittle the role of the backroom boys who made it possible. In the same way that Paisley couldn't possibly have done what Shanks did I think it's fair to say that Shanks wouldn't have succeeded without Bob alongside him.
Before he came to Anfield Shanks had not been a huge success as a football manager but once he arrived at Anfield, his legend began to take shape. Shankly's blossoming was due in no small part to the influences of the backroom staff he inherited and as a double act Shankly and Paisley were made for each other.
The distinguished journalist John Keith summed it up perfectly when he said 'Shankly lit the fire, Paisley fuelled it.'
We make no apologies for talking about Shanks here on Bob's web site, as you really cannot talk about one without mentioning the other. The two men, if not exactly hewn from the same rock, were fashioned from the same building blocks of sweat and struggle. Both men came from small mining communities and worked at the pit head, helping to ferry coal laden trucks from the mines to the distribution wagons. Both men loved football and used it as their escape route to a better life. Even as players, the two men played in similar positions, in a similar style, and extraordinarily, were both early exponents of the long throw-in.
They both had different strengths and weaknesses, differences that dovetailed magnificently. For example, Paisley's ability to spot and diagnose injuries was almost supernatural. It was said he could tell what a player was suffering from by merely watching him stroll across a room in a suit. Shankly on the other hand had no time whatsoever for anyone who was carrying a knock. The net result of Paisley's diagnostic medical skills and Shankly's cold indifference meant that injured players at Anfield were a rarity, and in the days of small tightnit squads that was a vital asset for a club to have. The role of the lesser lights in the background were also crucial to the success both men enjoyed.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Paisley was the keener tactician, Shankly the chief motivator. With Fagan, Moran and Bennett supporting them, they were unstoppable. That Paisley went on to even greater things as manager (without Shanks' influence) is testament to the ability and talent he had, but the unlocking of that management potential was only realised because Shankly had been there before him and laid the groundwork.
"In Israel just before the European Cup final, we’d been playing fizzbuzz, one of those drinking games. There was Alan Hansen, Kenny, Bruce Grobbelaar, Stevie Nicol, myself, Ronnie Whelan, Ian Rush, Sammy Lee, all drinking in the square in Tel Aviv. Things got said and a fight started. Me and Rushie were quite close so it’s us back to back against everybody else. Somehow it calmed down and I went to the hotel with Rushie and Alan Kennedy, who fell on the ground and couldn’t get up. The old Liverpool director Mr Moss was coming out of the hotel just at that moment. So I’ve got down to pick up Alan Kennedy and I couldn’t get up either. And Mr Moss is stood above us frowning. He says: ‘Gentlemen, this is Liverpool Football Club.’ So I grabbed hold of his trousers and pulled myself up his body. And I put my arm around him and said: ‘Mossy, you old bugger, you might be a director but I think you’re a great fella.’
After breakfast the next morning, they call this big meeting upstairs and around the table there’s Bob, Joe Fagan, Moran, Evo and Mr Moss, who stands up. ‘I’ve been at this club for over 20 years and I’ve never witnessed anything like last night in my life. I’ve had many accolades passed on to me, but never have I received one so touching than from David Hodgson.’ Then they lift the tablecloth and underneath it’s piled high with beer!’ After that meeting, Bob Paisley turned to me and said: ‘You’re a good Geordie, son. That’s what you are.’"