Inspired by Steven Gerrard’s recent poor form for Liverpool, David Sheehan focuses on some of the ruthless football career endings which have occurred over the years.
“Everything ends badly, otherwise, it would never end” – Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan in the film Cocktail.
Rubbernecking. We’ve all done it. Straining your neck muscles to view the aftermath of a fender bender. Filled with a relief that it doesn’t involve you and a morbid curiosity for the heightened human emotions that are unfolding as part of the scene.
Watching Steven Gerrard be man-marked and struggle in Liverpool’s midfield this season has left me with the same sense of voyeuristic discomfort that comes from passing the aftermath of a traffic accident.
The fat lady is warming up her vocal cords for Liverpool’s captain. The end is nigh and if the current standard of performance continues, Gerrard will not be allowed to choose the manner of his Liverpool exit. That unenviable task will fall to Brendan Rodgers – he may want to reference some other ruthless football career endings for when the time comes to pull the plug…
5. Alex Ferguson drops Jim Leighton for the 1990 FA Cup final replay
In June of this year, Alex Ferguson warned business owners and entrepreneurs attending the World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Monaco that true leaders must be “ruthless” and that “winning is all important”. Ferguson’s decision to drop his goalkeeper, Jim Leighton, for the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace is surely one of his coldest decisions and illustrates that he had no room for sentimentality in his bid for glory.
Ferguson and Leighton went way back. They had been together at Aberdeen since 1978. Leighton an ever present in goal as Ferguson’s Aberdeen claimed three Scottish League titles, four Scottish Cups and the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup in a hugely successful eight year spell at Pittodrie. Leighton followed Ferguson to Old Trafford in 1988 in a £500,000 transfer.
His form in goal had become erratic during the closing months of the 1989-90 season. He was between the sticks as United conceded four against Nottingham Forest in the penultimate league game of the season and again as United conceded three after extra time in the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace.
The replay took place five days later but Leighton’s name was absent from the teamsheet. He was dropped in favour of Les Sealey who made a series of spectacular saves in the replay to help Ferguson win his first major trophy at United. Leighton would only play once more for United, a League Cup game against Halifax Town in September 1990, before returning to Scottish football.
4. Graham Taylor substitutes Gary Lineker in the 1992 European Championships
England’s Euro ’92 campaign hung in the balance as they squared up to hosts Sweden in their final group game. Graham Taylor’s men had drawn their opening two matches 0-0 against Denmark and France and would likely need a victory against the Swedes to progress to the semi-finals (the finals tournament was still played with only eight countries in 1992).
The game started well for England with David Platt putting them in front after only four minutes, a lead they held going into half time. However, roared on by a passionate home crowd, the Swedes equalised early in the second half. With England needing a goal to qualify, Taylor opted to replace Gary Lineker with Arsenal’s Adam Smith after 64 minutes.
Lineker glared at the sideline as his number went up – he was stuck on 48 goals for England, one short of Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record. Lineker had advised Taylor privately in February 1992 that he would be retiring from international football after the European Championships.
Lineker and Taylor both knew the implication of the substitution. If England failed to progress, Lineker would never get another opportunity to match Charlton’s record. Lineker jogged off and didn’t acknowledge Taylor as he took his seat on the bench.
Tomas Brolin scored with eight minutes remaining to send England home and as a consequence, finish Lineker’s England career. Taylor has always maintained he made the substitution for footballing reasons. It was a cruel way to end ‘Sir’ Gary Lineker’s England days. Forever one goal behind Charlton.
3. ‘You can’t come on the bus’ – Joe Fagan ends Phil Thompson’s Liverpool career
Phil Thompson’s dreams came true when he joined Bill Shankly’s Liverpool as a 17-year old in 1971. Thompson had stood on the Kop as a boy, cheering on his local team. By the time Liverpool were preparing for the 1984 European Cup Final against Roma, Thompson had played through Liverpool’s most successful era, winning seven league titles and two European Cups (injury cost Thompson a place in the 1977 final).
His proudest moment came as club captain in 1981 as he led Liverpool to their third European Cup victory in Paris. Joe Fagan replaced Bob Paisley as Liverpool manager at the beginning of the 1983-’84 season and Thompson found his first team opportunities limited as Fagan went with a central defensive partnership of Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson.
Thompson was still a senior member of the squad as the side prepared for the 1984 European Cup final against Roma. Liverpool travelled with 17 players to Rome. In an era when only five substitutes could sit on the bench it meant one player would remain in his suit.
Fagan named his team and subs at the hotel before Liverpool left for the stadium, with Thompson finding himself as 17th man. However, worse was to follow as the team boarded the bus to travel to the game. As Thompson prepared to get on the bus with the rest of the first team, Fagan pulled him aside and told him he wouldn’t be on the first team bus but instead travelling with the reserves and the players’ wives.
Thompson recalls being unable to speak with the lump in his throat and how he had to walk alongside the side of the bus as the first team pulled away. Thompson sat next to Paul Walsh, who had been signed for Liverpool only four days previously, on the reserve team bus. Thompson never played for Liverpool again.
2. ‘I think i’d better leave right now’ – Ferguson and Keane go their separate ways
As Alex Ferguson took the stage at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in December 2013 to accept his Lifetime Achievement ‘Diamond Award’, surrounded by former players and colleagues, one of his main stalwarts was conspicuous by his absence.
Roy Keane spent twelve years at Old Trafford under Ferguson, eight of those as club captain during a period that delivered seven league titles and a European Cup triumph, but he was nowhere to be seen on that December evening. Keane has described the relationship as ‘non-existent’ between the pair. Asked to name the best manager he had played under as part of the excellent ‘Keane Vieira – Best of Enemies’ documentary, the Corkman coolly replayed ‘Brian Clough’.
It had all been so different when Keane first met Ferguson. The 21-year old Keane was on the verge of joining Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers in 1993 when Ferguson invited Keane to his house in Manchester to sell the benefits of joining United ahead of Blackburn.
Over a game of pool, Ferguson convinced Keane to turn down Rovers and seal a British record £3.75 million transfer to Man United. By the Autumn of 2005, the relationship had soured. Keane gave an honest assessment of the United team in an interview with MUTV, which Ferguson deemed a ‘disgrace’.
Keane was summoned to meet Ferguson and David Gill at the training ground with the result being the end of Keane’s United career. Keane admitted shedding a tear as he sat in his car in the training ground car park but only for a moment. Comedian Mario Rosenstock immortalised Keane’s United exit in a parody of the Will Young hit ‘Leave Right Now’. The release of Keane’s latest autobiography promises to stoke the flames of the Ferguson feud.
1. ‘I’ve had enough. Good luck’ – Jack Charlton humiliates Liam Brady
Football is a game of opinions and in the case of Jack Charlton and Liam Brady, their opinions on how the game should be played were as different as night and day. Brady was Ireland’s footballing star when Charlton took on the Irish job in 1986.
An FA Cup with Arsenal and two Scudettos with Juventus under his belt, Brady was a silky ball playing midfielder in the mould of Mesut Ozil or Cesc Fabregas today. His pass and move style was totally at odds with Charlton’s ‘put ’em under pressure’ philosophy, which advocated shifting the ball into the opposition’s half as quickly as possible, often bypassing midfield.
Despite their differences, Brady had been a mainstay of Charlton’s first Irish team that qualified for Euro ’88, however, a red card for Brady in the final qualifying match against Bulgaria saw him miss the tournament. In the run to qualification for the 1990 World Cup, Charlton marginalised Brady.
In September 1989, with Ireland looking good for qualification, knowing that two wins from their final two group games against Hungary and Malta would be enough to secure the passage to Italy, Ireland took on Germany in a friendly at Lansdowne Road. As the clock ticked jut past the half hour mark, Charlton hooked Brady in a first half substitution.
Lansdowne Road fell silent in shock. There were harsh words in the dressing room at half time as Brady made his feelings known to Charlton, but it was over. Charlton had made his statement and Brady couldn’t take any more. He immediately announced his retirement from international football and had to watch on as Charlton’s Ireland reached the quarter finals of Italia ’90.
David Sheehan, Pundit Arena.
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