For those of a certain age, Steve Nicol will go down as one of the best fullbacks ever to grace Anfield’s turf. We had a chat with the great Scot, to talk Klopp, the Champions League Final and more.
Back in ’84, Stevie Nicol helped Liverpool to their 4th European cup in seven years, a feat of dominance only perhaps matched only by Madrid’s in today’s era.
Liverpool had an inconsistent start to the season, but with a Champions League final and top four position secured, Nicol feels that Liverpool’s upturn since Christmas can be placed firmly at the feet of one man. He says: “Without the Van Dijk signing, we’d have trouble getting into the top 4 and we certainly wouldn’t be in the Champions League final. It’s as simple as that.”Embed from Getty Images
Football’s changed since Nicol’s day. Back in the old European cup, the entrants were winners, and winners only, of their respective leagues. And preparation was, it’s fair to say, fairly more lax.
“The distraction we had was we had so long between the end of the league and the [European cup] final and we had to decide what to do. Roma decided to go to a base-camp type build-up. Locked in, up at 7, training and going to bed early.
“We went on a 4 day break to Israel and got on the ale. We just had a real good time as a bunch of players and a bunch of guys. And then we came home and trained for 5 or 6 days.”
Though preparation for games has since changed, and Klopp’s not going to take his squad on a four day bender, it’s easy to see that much like the class of ’84, the Liverpool players of today are a group of friends.
And for Nicol, this is vital.
“You can have a bunch of individuals, you can prepare for every game meticulously, but if there’s no love between players, it’ll show on the pitch.”
For Stevie, the key to making this Liverpool team a success is getting that first trophy. With Liverpool’s success in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the Scot felt that the number of winners helped ease the Liverpool team into the 1984 cup final, despite it being against Roma in their home stadium.
“You’ve got to realise that the build-up for us was different. We had the majority of the squad who had been through this before. So there wasn’t the nerves that there will be [in Kiev] because none of the current team have been there before.”
Liverpool’s opponents in the final, Real Madrid, are seen by many as a step too far for Klopp’s Reds. But Nicol doesn’t see it quite as clear cut as this.
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“I think no question Real are favourites, but not by quite as big a margin as people would say. They’ve got questions around their defence, the same as we have. And going forward, we’re as good as they are, but they’ve got the experience. It depends how we’ll handle it. They’re going for three in a row, so they are rightly favourites.”
Looking ahead to the summer, while acknowledging Karius’ upturn in form, Nicol thinks that Liverpool need to push for a proven, world class ‘keeper and to add to the backline.
“For me, it’s pretty obvious. If we can get another centre-back of the same stature as Van Dijk and a goalkeeper, there’s no question as to whether we’ll improve at the back. I think Karius has improved. He’s gone from every time the ball goes to him, you’re kinda holding your breath to being solid, but he made mistakes in that game in Roma.
“He’s not ready to be the number 1. And if we can sign a proven world class goalkeeper, it’ll make a huge difference.”
The Scottish great is full of praise for Liverpool’s midfield, however, and lauds their persistence and ability to “work their balls off and get it to the front three.”
That said, Nicol does remain realistic about the need to upgrade, arguing that: “If you can add players that can do that, but add more quality, then that’s an upgrade. We needs more numbers, just look at the bench the other night [in Rome], we had nothing to call upon.”
While the former fullback may be a realist about Liverpool’s ‘keeper and defensive situations, he is not immune to the charm of Liverpool’s front three. When comparing Liverpool’s current crop to that of 2005, he says: “I think defensively, the 2005 team was better, particularly in terms of talent in midfield.
“This midfield has work rate, they know what they need to do and how Klopp wants them to play. It’s hard to compare them. The front three, no question as to whether they’re better than what we had in 2005. I don’t care who you support, Liverpool are incredible to watch. Firmino, Salah and Mane. What a front three.
“We should disregard the fact that the 2005 midfield was better because of the way Klopp wants us to play means that we need more runners, strength in the middle of the park. It’s all because of the front 3 that he has.”
The former European cup winner was also keen to point to both the mentality of the manager and the team in the build-up to the final.
“[Klopp] will probably tell you that [losing his previous two cup finals with Liverpool] doesn’t play on his mind. It will be, but you try not to show it. It’ll be on his mind, it’s not that he won’t sleep at night, but it’ll be there
“As a player, you try not to be affected by the things going on off the field, because if you’re distracted by that, you’ll be distracted on the field. So before the game, you get there and see the fans, it’s second to none. But then you need to switch on the professional mode. When the final whistle goes, you can go back to normal, go sing with the fans. Between arriving at the stadium and meeting the fans, and the final whistle, you need to be in the right mood. You have to forget it’s a Champions League final.”Embed from Getty Images
Despite Liverpool’s popular German manager so far failing to convert Liverpool’s on-the-pitch electricity into fire, Nicol remains positive on Herr Klopp.
He says: “I’ve absolutely been impressed by Klopp. Liverpool have become a team you cant wait to watch. Regardless of whether you support them or not, the way they play is fantastic. I think if he can do something to tighten up the defence, they’ll be Premier League challengers. Can he improve? Yes. But my goodness, thank God he’s with us and not with anyone else.”
And what would a Champions League win mean to Liverpool?
“I think if we win the CL, it’ll make a huge difference to how the world view Liverpool. It’s a huge difference if on black and white paper, it says European Champions 2018. Why would players want to go anywhere else?”
Though the approaches to football have changed in so many ways, the way that mentality affects the game hasn’t. If Liverpool can finally convert a final into a cup, the future looks bright on the red half of Merseyside.