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FOOTBALL: FOWLER MY LEADER; Robbie and Rush the hitmen in Anfield's Nineties all-stars.

Bill Shankly kicked it all off in the Sixties of course, but Liverpool ruled English football in the Seventies and Eighties.

In 18 stunning seasons Anfield celebrated 11 Championships and finished runners' up six times.

There were also European championships and domestic triumphs in the years of glory.

But it's been a frustrating seven-year itch since their last Championship crown under Kenny Dalglish back in 1990.

And the Anfield trophy haul has markedly slowed down since then, just the FA Cup in 1992 and the League Cup in 1995 for England's most successful club side.

But Roy Evans' current outfit are now threatening to bring back the good times to Anfield with a twin assault on the Championship and Europe.So who are the outstanding stars of the Nineties? A fascinating new video, an official FA release 'Liverpool FC The 90s' (Quasar Films, pounds 10.99), sets out to find the answers.

Helping to provide them are four former Anfield stars, defenders Jim Beglin and Mark Lawrenson, midfielder Jan Molby and ace striker Peter Beardsley.

Beglin is now a popular and successful TV and radio pundit, Lawrenson is Newcastle's defensive coach, Beardsley is back playing at Newcastle and Molby is Swansea player-manager.

Goalkeeper wasn't a problem, with David James unanimously seeing off Bruce Grobbelaar and Mike Hooper.

But the choice of full-backs provided much more debate although Rob Jones, who has had injury trouble this season, ultimately held off current regular Jason McAteer to clinch that right wing-back slot.

Molby was a Barry Venison fan saying: "I think he was a bit of an unsung hero at Liverpool, but I feel Rob just did a little bit more than Barry."

Two other current senior men, left-backs Stig Inge-Bjornebye and Steve Harkness, come into the reckoning, along with old favourites Steve Staunton and David Burrows.

Beglin says: "I feel Steve Staunton had that little bit more than any of them in every part of his game and he could score goals.

"But what I think killed Steve at the time was his versatility and he never really held down one position."

And what of current centre-backs like Dominic Matteo, Neil Ruddock, Phil Babb and Mark Wright and ex-players John Scales and Glenn Hysen?

Well, one current and one former centre-back made it into the Nineties All-Stars.

Beglin says: "The guys who have followed Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson must hate the comparison, because how can you live up to that kind of ability?

"My first choice at centre-back would be Wright who has come back so well from different injury problems."

Molby says: "Matteo is just coming into the team and obviously has a great future. But I'd put Scales and Wright in there together because if you've going to play a 4-4-2 formation you want a little bit of pace at the back."

Liverpool have always had an abundance of midfield talent - Jamie Redknapp, Steve McMahon, Steve McManaman, Michael Thomas, Molby, Ray Houghton, Mark Walters, Paul Stewart, Ronnie Whelan, John Barnes and Mike Marsh.

In the end, two golden oldies were selected along with two of the present- day heroes.

Molby says: "If we are starting wide on the right, the two candidates would probably be Steve McManaman and Ray Houghton.

And Lawrenson says: "The thing about McManaman is when you look at the Liverpool side I think a lot of the opposition Premiership managers say 'Stop McManaman playing and you stop Liverpool.'

"And that's a great compliment to Steve when you consider Stan Collymore, Robbie Fowler, Barnes and Redknapp are all in the team."

Beglin chips in: "You must have a hard player. I played with McMahon and know how good he is. He is marvellous on the ball, great awareness, vision and a good passer.

"But when it really came down to it with games in the balance, Macca's presence could disrupt the opposition.""

Present-day skipper John Barnes is still earning rave reviews and Molby agrees: "He's playing as well as anyone in the country."

Up front there was another big battle with Peter Beardsley and Collymore probably the most notable absentees. Others up for selection included Dean Saunders, Nigel Clough and Ronny Rosenthal.

But really it was no contest for the strikers, with Fowler, already 100 goals to the good, and old master Ian Rush - Liverpool's record goalscorer with 344 - getting the vote.

Molby said: "There are three outstanding candidates, Fowler, Rush and Beardsley. But I feel Peter did his best work in the late 80s."

So, six of the current squad make the experts' team of the 90s. How many will last into the 2000 side? Only time will tell.

David JAMES

LAWRENSON: "David James is my keeper. When he came he was like a kid and had to do a lot of growing up. He's done that and gone on to play for England."

BEGLIN: "He had it rough initially and it took time for him to settle. But his confidence has just grown with his run in the side - he hasn't looked back. He looks in control, in command, is a good talker, an excellent shot-stopper. Liverpool got an absolute bargain."

Rob JONES

BEGLIN: "A tricky one, between Rob and Jason McAteer. In the current team, 3-5-2, he's probably the best right-wing back you've got. Jason loves to go foward but doesn't make my team because I think Rob is better defensively and all-round has the better game."

MOLBY: "Rob has done magnificently well and everything he's gone on to achieve after arriving from Crewe, including playing for England, he's deserved."

Steve NICOL

BEARDSLEY: "Stevie Nicol. In my first season there, Steve and John Barnes were unbelievable. In the first five games Nico scored seven, including a hat-trick in my first game at Newcastle. As a left-back he's the most consistent they've had, certainly in my time.

MOLBY: "I'd say Nicol. Although his better years were in the 80s, he did enough in the 90s to be ahead of all the others."

Mark WRIGHT

BEGLIN: "He's come back from a broken leg at Southampton, and a serious achilles injury at Liverpool. I admire anybody who can do that and get back on song. Excellent in the air, very good on the deck and a marvellous timer of the tackle. A great influence on everyone around him - a real leader."

MOLBY: "He's as good a centre-back as we've had, and as he's got older and wiser, I think he's got better."

John SCALES

LAWRENSON: "I like Scales because he just gets on with the job, a limited amount of fuss. Doesn't give people time or space to play. Always makes good decisions and first and foremost is a defender."

MOLBY: "Always a player I admired even when he was at Wimbledon. And when Liverpool managed to get him I thought he was a great buy for the club and he proved it during his brief time there."

Steve MCMANAMAN

Beardsley: "McManaman but Ray Houghton is close. Macca has the edge the way he runs at people, creates and scores goals, skill and ability on the ball. Ray scored a lot of important goals and created a lot - but not in the way Macca does."

Beglin: "McManaman is phenomenal. I wouldn't fancy coming up against him because there are not many players who can keep control of the ball at speed."

Steve MCMAHON

BEARDSLEY: "In the middle I'd have Steve McMahon and Ronnie Whelan. I played with them and they got it just right. The balance was there. Macca made the runs and Ronnie sat in the middle and helped him. They're probably the best pair, in the centre of midfield, that I've played with - they really were top class. I think everyone knew about Macca mixing it. But he wasn't naughty, he was hard."

Ronnie WHELAN

BEARDSLEY: "Ronnie was very under-rated, not by the players, but I think by the fans."

MOLBY: "Ronnie did extremely well, always a player I enjoyed playing with. You could always rely on him and he'd be in there, sort of protecting the back-four."

LAWRENSON: "A very gifted footballer. He could score, and did so on big occasions. He could put his foot in and was very good making decisions defensively."

John BARNES

LAWRENSON: "People are saying 'Oh, he's lost pace, and again he had an achilles injury but watch Barnesy play. He doesn't give the ball away, sees thing early - his vision is as good as Dalglish. Great touch and never lets people get near him, even if he's marked."

BEGLIN: "Immense strength, you can't shake him off the ball, great skill and what a dribbler. A genius and the first name in my team."

Robbie FOWLER

MOLBY: "Robbie has it all, he can be the best there's been at Liverpool if he wants it badly enough. He can be as good as Kenny and score more than Rush."

BEGLIN: "I think he still can improve his all-round game, getting involved in build-ups. Rushy had it all in that respect. When it comes to scoring there's nobody better apart from Shearer. But Fowler is positive, direct. He sees the posts and goes for them."

Ian RUSH

BEARDSLEY: "You couldn't better Rush and Fowler - I think the only person in the last 15 years who could get in, other than them, would be Dalglish."

LAWRENSON: "Rushy and Fowler - the Sorcerer and his Apprentice. Both natural scorers, poachers. Rushy is the best striker in 15-20 years - when you talk about him you're talking Greaves and Law. And Rushy was an outstanding team player, defensively great too."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Wiechula, Frank
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 14, 1997
Words:1595
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