By Sachin Nakrani
IT’S now over a week since Dirk Kuyt announced he was leaving Liverpool to join Fenerbahce and I for one still haven’t got over the news. Dirk, leaving, Liverpool. Please
God tell me it ain’t true.
Anyway, in tribute to the great man I have put together a ‘LFC’ cult-heroes XI’, a team that finds a place for the Dutch maestro alongside other notable triers who have represented our club in recent years. Their levels of talent and overall contribution may have been limited but their dedication to the cause was not, with each of them leaving Kopites smiling through their frustrations.
The time-period the team covers is 1989 to the present day, the years in which I have been supporting the club. Remember; they may not have been great but I loved them all.
GK Jerzy Dudek (2001-2007)
It is perhaps harsh to include Jerzy in a ‘cult XI’ given his heroics in Istanbul, but what we witnessed that night was a moment of redemption for a player who had lost his way. Jerzy arrived at Liverpool in August 2001 as one of the most highly-regarded goalkeepers in Europe and in his first season at the club he was indeed exceptional. But it all started to go wrong for the ‘Big Pole’ during the 2002/03 campaign, with a nadir reached during that defeat to United in December 2002. Dudek played on but his reputation never fully recovered and it came as no shock when he was replaced by Jose Reina after the 2005 Champions League final. His place in Red hearts was assured though, the smiling, humble hero of arguably our greatest ever night.
RB Rob Jones (1991-1998)
I saw Jones at an Oasis gig at Earls Court in September 1997 and, under my breath, told the guy I loved him. I still do. Without doubt Jones remains the best full-back I have ever seen play for the club and had it not been for a catalogue of terrible injuries, most notably to his back and left knee, he surely would gone on to double the 183 league appearances he made during a seven-year spell at Anfield.
Jones, signed for a measly £300,000 from Crewe during the early weeks of the 1991/92 season, started as he meant to go on, playing Ryan Giggs out of the game in his debut for Liverpool at Old Trafford. He was a right-back but moved to left wing-back during Roy Evans’s time as manager and continued to shine. During it all there was also a fair few England appearances and, had it not been for the injuries, he may well have kept Red Nev out of the national team. His time was brief but Trigger will never be forgotten.
CB Sotiros Kyrgiakos (2009-2011)
It is generally accepted that if you pay peanuts you end up with monkeys, but occasionally a small fee can lead to a big player. That certainly proved the case when Rafa Benitez shelled out £2m for an unknown but striking-looking centre-back from AEK Athens in August 2009. Negativity surrounded Kyrgiako’s arrival, he was deemed the personification of Liverpool’s increasing lack of mite in the transfer marker under the debilitating ownership of Tom and George, and to an extent that was indeed the case, but the Greek international was no waster and during a dark time in the club’s history, he consistently put in hope-filling performances, a fearless, bearded hulk of a man who stood up to be counted when many of those around him went into hiding. He left for Wolfsburg last summer but will always be welcomed back to Anfield.
CB Stephan Henchoz (1999-2004)
As is the case with Dudek, it is perhaps harsh to deem Henchoz a cult player given his contribution in the treble-winning campaign of 2000/01, as well as the part he played in getting the club to 2nd place the following season, but there was something so marvellously chaotic about Henchoz’s demeanour and style of play that it is hard to deem him as a genuine star of the club’s recent past, as is so easy to do with his defensive partner during his time at Anfield, Sami Hyppia. Henchoz played with a constant grimace on his face, seemed to think defending meant chucking your body or, as was the case in the 2001 FA Cup final, your arm in the way of the ball, and generally appeared overly-fussed with the generally business of being a top-level pro. For all that and more, I simply adored the Swiss stopper.
LB Djimi Traore (1999-2006)
My mate saw Djimi play in a pre-season game at Sunderland prior to his first season at the club and, once back at school, reported back he had just witnessed the new Lillian Thuram. Oh how we laugh now. God bless Djimi, he was a trier, but rarely in Liverpool’s history has there been a player so comically bad, incapable, it appeared, of ever being in full control his own movements. There are so many moments to mention but few if any top that disco-dancing mess of an own goal at Burnley in January 2005. The man from Laval never recovered from that but, to the chagrin of Evertonians, he can forever call himself a Champions League winner. Truly, truly, remarkable.
RW Dirk Kuyt (2006-2012)
The excitement when Dirk came on as a second-half substitute against West Ham on a warm Anfield day in August 2006 was tangible. Here, we all thought, was our next Hunt, Rush, Aldridge and Fowler wrapped in one, a lethal finisher who was going to propel us to glory.
He hadn’t been able to stop scoring for Feyenoord, securing 83 goals in 122 games for the Eredivisie side before a £8.5m move to Anfield and, it was expected, he would simply go on in that vein.
But the Dutchman never reached that level of potency in a red shirt and after it became apparent that he was not going to cut it as a lethal Premier League finisher, Rafa decided to move him to a wide-right role, where his unrelenting industry and ability to ghost in for crucial strikes in crucial games made him a key asset.
What came through strongest, however, was his genuine love of the club and its fans and watching on from the Kop and elsewhere you always got the sense that Dirk was running himself in the ground for you. That may be a farcically romantic notion, but it is one worth holding on to as we say goodbye to a man who would have been an asset to Liverpool in any era. Shanks, for one, would have adored him as much as we all did.
CM Igor Biscan (2000-2005)
Apparently Igor was wanted by Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid. He was one of the hottest young midfielders in Europe, Gerard Houllier told us, and, at £5.5m, would prove to be an absolute steal for Liverpool.
The truth, as we all know, proved rather different. This was no Croatian colossus standing in front of us but instead a rather cumbersome, occasionally clumsy man-child who could never offer a legitimate threat to Didi Hamann as the team’s defensive rock.
He toiled away, however, and every so often put in an eye-catching display, nowhere more so than away to Deportivo during the 2004/05 Champions League group stages when a man-of-the-match display secured Rafa Benitez’s side what would prove a crucial 1-0 win. With his doleful eyes and continuous look of pained angst, it was difficult not to love Igor, despite him being ever-so-slightly shit.
CM David Thompson (1996-2000)
The phrase ‘crowd favourite’ is all too easily thrown around to describe players who get the occasional thunderous round of applause from supporters but in Thompson’s case the love from the Kop was undeniable. The boy from Birkenhead was one of us, no doubt, a roving, relentless presence who appeared born to play for Liverpool for years to come.
His, however, was a fire that burnt brightly but briefly and as quickly as Gerard Houllier brought him into the side, he was sold to Coventry prior to the 2000/01 season. His career went into drift from therein, with Thommo going on to play for Blackburn, Wigan, Portsmouth and Bolton prior to retiring through injury in November 2007, aged just 30. His was a career I would have loved to seen flourish at Anfield.
LW Mark Walters (1991-1996)
Yes, I know, a bonkers choice. But Walters has a particularly special place in my heart given it was his two goals that steered Liverpool to victory in the first ever game I saw at Anfield; a 2-1 win against Blackburn on 13th December 1992.
The match was notable for being Kenny Dalglish’s first back at his spiritual home since he had resigned as Liverpool manager the previous year but was ultimately decided by the winger in the No14 shirt with two clinical strikes at the Kop end.
If I remember correctly, he went on to also scored a rather important goal against Auxerre. Crap Walters may have been but forgettable he certainly is not.
CF Titi Camara (1999-2000)
Here’s a challenge for you: Think of Titi Camara without allowing a grin to spread across your face.
Impossible isn’t it?
He was the smiling assassin, one of the clutch of players Houllier signed prior to the 1999/00 season and, along with the likes of Hyppia and Henchoz, made an instant impact for the club, scoring on his debut in a 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday. Another goal followed soon after at Elland Road and before you could say “Allez Titi” the Guinea international had become a crowd favourite.
He tugged at the heartstrings in October 1999 after crashing to his knees following a goal against West Ham that came only hours after he had been informed of the death of his father and, overall, there was a sense that whenever Titi was on the pitch, something special could happen.
As it was, he proved a short-burst impact player and was sold to West Ham in December 2000 after drastically fallen out of favour with Houllier. “He is the only player I know who has got injured without playing,” said the Frenchman of his less-than-robust striker. But 10 goals in 37 games was not a bad return for a supposed dud. He came, he saw, he gave us a right good time.
CF Neil Mellor (2002-2006)
Another player of limited ability who gave everything he could for the red shirt and on one evening eight years ago, scored a goal which would go on to play a crucial role in Liverpool’s fifth European Cup success. Mellor’s 81st minute strike against Olympiakos provided the platform for Steven Gerrard to seal a famous victory on a rocking night at Anfield and for that alone, the Sheffield-born striker will always have a place in Kopites’ hearts.
Also, of course, there was that late, late winner against Arsenal, which at the time felt like a precursor to a glut of more goals but instead proved, as did the strike against Olympiakos, that this was a player who was never going to quite cut it at the very highest level. Mellor’s love for Liverpool has always been clear, though, seen most obviously now by his regular contributions to LFC TV. He left but came back and I for one am pretty happy about that.
Those are my choice, then. Gone on, admit it, you love them too.