Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British football’s greatest manager

Ian Herbert 2017 Bloomsbury
June 18, 2018

Bill Shankly casts a long shadow at Anfield. To such an extent that, even now, there are those convinced that he led Liverpool to their three European Cups between 1976 and 1981.

In part, perhaps that’s also due to the nature of the man who replaced him. Bob Paisley didn’t have his predecessor’s oratory skill and didn’t command the same cultish following. As a result, history doesn’t treat them in nearly the same way.

Ian Herbert’s biography is impressively thorough and those looking for intimate descriptions of the side’s dressing-room between 1974 and 1983 need look no further. It’s all here: the squabbles, the oddly prescient tactical instructions, and the inner mechanics of the Boot Room. The depth is tremendous.

Paisley’s journey to that fabled corner is also fascinating. In a sense, his story is typical: his playing career stutters to an unglamorous halt and he’s left unsure of how to fill the remainder of his working life. But, determined to remain in football, he takes a circuitous route into the club’s hierarchy. He builds the Anfield dug-out, he becomes an unlikely master of injury recovery, and – generally – seems willing to do whatever everyone else won’t to continue to be of use.

Interestingly, at no point does he seem destined for management. In fact, upon Shankly’s retirement he, having graduated to second-in-command, tries to talk his way out of the position. Understandably so, maybe, because as Shankly’s emotional counter-point he seemed to oppose many of the qualities upon which Liverpool had been built. He didn’t preach blood-and-thunder football, he wasn’t prone to Churchillian speeches and neither was he capable of fostering the kind of player relationships which, according to accepted wisdom, most commonly bred success.

Instead, Paisley is presented as a contemporary deep-thinker. Someone willing to change a winning formula in search of greater success and who achieved it via an approach which, almost half-a-centry later, looks well ahead of its time. Yes, Shankly set Liverpool on the path to acquiring their modern identity, but the success which followed was by no means inevitable. In fact, it arrived courtesy of a series of critical footballing corrections.

Quiet Genius makes that case in a compelling and readable way, and is essential to understanding that period of the club’s history.

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