Joe Fagan – The First Steps to Glory
As one of England’s three premier domestic competitions, the League Cup has been a cherished prize for many a manager in its 50-year history. For some new bosses, League Cup glory has helped to kickstart a new era of success at a new club. As we look forward to the next round of this year’s Capital One Cup, FootballFanCast chronicles a few of the managers who first tasted glory in the competition, and what they’ve gone on to achieve.
When a long-time assistant takes over from the man under whom he worked, it can often be difficult for him to achieve the results of his predecessor. Just look at Steve McClaren emerging from the shadows of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England tenure and promptly missing out on the 2008 European Championships, or Sammy Lee’s disastrous stint as Bolton manager following the departure of Sam Allardyce, for example. So imagine the pressure of taking over the reins at Liverpool FC, at the time arguably the biggest team in football, from living legend Bob Paisley.
That was the challenge facing Joe Fagan when he took charge on July 1, 1983. Monumental task though it undoubtedly was, Fagan proved more than up to it – winning a treble of League Cup, First Division and European Cup in his first year as manager and following it up by reaching the European Cup final again the following season, only to be beaten by Juventus after the Heysel tragedy.
Following Paisley’s era of success, in which Liverpool won six First Division crowns, three League Cups and five continental trophies, Fagan was under immense pressure to keep the culture of winning alive at Anfield, and he did just that in March 1984 when the club sealed their fourth consecutive League Cup triumph in a replayed final against arch-rivals Everton. Having seen the first match tied 0-0 after extra time, the Reds took an early lead through captain Graeme Souness in the replay before seeing off the Everton threat for the rest of the game.
Having demolished Brentford by an 8-1 aggregate score in the second round, Fagan’s side, who were enduring a shaky start to the defence of their First Division crown, needed two replays to squeeze past Fulham in the third round (eventually going through thanks to a 1-0 win at Craven Cottage).
Another replay was required to see off First Division strugglers Birmingham City in the fourth round in December, before Liverpool yet again failed to see off their opponents at the first opportunity in the quarter-finals, Sheffield Wednesday this time taking Fagan’s men to a replay. The semi-final – which was two legs anyway – saw them progress past Third Division minnows Walsall after a 2-2 scare in the first leg at home. Including the replayed final, Liverpool played 13 matches in the 1983-4 League Cup, the most played by any team in the history of a competition which, for top-tier teams, comprises a maximum six rounds.
Fagan clearly valued the competition, however, as was displayed by his squad selections. Four of Liverpool’s starting lineup – goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, defender Alan Hansen and midfielders Alan Kennedy and Sammy Lee – featured in all 13 League Cup fixtures on their way to an astonishing 67 appearances in the season overall. Many other first-team regulars, Mark Lawrenson, top scorer Ian Rush and Souness among them, featured in 12 of the games. Overworked as the Liverpool squad was that year, Fagan wasn’t prepared to compromise his chances of collecting some silverware.
With the League Cup safely returned to Anfield for a fourth consecutive summer, Liverpool went on to retain their First Division title and claim their fourth European Cup, with a victory on penalties over Roma in the final, held at Roma’s home stadium, the Stadio Olimpico. Following Souness’ departure to Sampdoria in the summer, however, the club struggled the following season and, having finished the year trophyless, Fagan announced he was retiring hours before the Heysel Disaster which overshadowed his second European Cup final, which ended in defeat to another Italian side, Juventus.
Fagan died in 2000, a Liverpool coach for almost 20 years and a deservingly well remembered manager who, in his brief time at the helm, continued to steer the club on its path to near-perpetual success. He was the first manager to win the Treble, and to do so in his first season as a manager is an extraordinary achievement. The League Cup will always be remembered as part of Fagan’s legacy.