I came across Paul Tomkins through Twitter as a writer of all things Liverpool. His site is a pay-one, so I wasn’t in a position to read in any great depth the material he would write, but I came across enough to at least admire the style of writing and his obvious commitment to LFC.
When I came across this book – the first I’ve actually seen since coming across him – there was something intriguing about the title and the stated aim of the book. Being about the managers of Liverpool since Shankly it offered something I hadn’t come across before and that was a more enlightened comparison of the manager’s displays in their time in charge at Anfield.
I don’t regret buying the book for a minute. It proved to be just the sort of enthralling read that I thought it would be with more. Sure it gave you factual evidence of the merits (or lack of) of all the managers and being published just before the season in which Rafa Benitez famously outlined some facts about Sir Alex Ferguson it was interesting reading Tomkins go on about the power of facts.
What I like about Tomkins’ writing is that he looks to be balanced and reasonable without looking to achieve pure objectivity. There’s enough of his own bias and his own flavour as to what he tends towards to let the reader know it isn’t a dry book of stats that you’re reading. Unsurprisingly Bill Shankly comes across looking good, but Tomkins is not short of withholding criticism where he sees it should be levelled even at an icon. All the managers come in for a level of scrutiny and obviously from Dalglish onwards that light doesn’t always come across favourably. What is interesting, however, is the positive light in which Rafa emerges. Sure this is before the last two seasons, but even at this point I was very wary of retaining Rafa’s services because of the likelihood of him actually getting the club to make realistic progress towards trophies, which is more than what other clubs have to spend but how you manage what you have.
Tomkins’ process though of considering each manager on his own merits as much as possible in the respect of the club he inherits the funds available to him, the funds of those in competition and the sort of football context LFC found themselves in during the managerial periods. You can follow how his reading into situations leads to the conclusions he reaches.
From a football, let alone Liverpool, perspective, it is worth reading just to get an idea of the level of influence and contribution a manager can have on a club and how much he cannot influence matters when it is taken from him by other forces. There can be no doubt, though, that every manager since Shanks has been given every chance to succeed in the highest echelons of the club game. Whatever the impression people have of the owners, despite the Klinsmann approach saga, there was still faith placed in Rafa up to the end of this season. I think that was reasonable, I actually think it was rather overdue, but therein lies the nature of the game.
This book acts as a journey through the rise and fall of the club specifically through the manager’s perspective. I don’t know what the players were thinking or feeling at the time, but there is enough in the re-telling of the eras to highlight which managers were more effective than others. It’s not about finger-pointing, it is about laying out for people to assess as to which was the best manager. It’s a sign of the level of Liverpool’s success, that Roy Evans is the only manager since Shanks to have never got the side to win a League or FA Cup in his time there. That’s quite a feat – even Souness managed that poxy FA Cup win against Sunderland.
You don’t read the book just to agree or disagree with the guy, the quality of the read is that this talk has been more constructive than a lot of other experiences and sparks reminiscences and conversations of their own over some of the things mentioned. Was Owen better than Fowler? Did Rafa’s tactical changes affect the team that badly? What lessons can Hodgson use to help him avoid the failings of his immediate predecessor and go on to accomplish what Shanks, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish were able to achieve.
Thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish and has got me interested to read the other books in Tomkins’ list as well as to encourage him to write more!