By 90Min
August 05, 2019

Bob Paisley is number 10 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next two weeks.


The great Bill Shankly is credited with turning Liverpool's fortunes around throughout the 60s and early 70s, and deservedly so. He took a team floundering in the second division, and returned them to the top of English football, aiming the bow for a period of unparalleled success.

The Reds had only begun to accomplish that greatness when Shankly stepped down in 1974, however, if the wrong man was chosen to take to the main stage next, then the likelihood is that the European legacy which today defines Liverpool FC would never have left the ground. 

It's just as well, then, that the man who was chosen to fill the immeasurably large boots left vacant by one of the greatest ever, represents perhaps the greatest managerial appointment in the history of football. The man who had gates erected in his name at Anfield alongside those built in Shankly's honour; one Bob Paisley. 

Christopher Furlong/GettyImages

And that's not because of the immense forward progress that was achieved in the years to come, but because of the insurmountable pressure that was so effortlessly shouldered to ensure a near-seamless transition from one untouchable legacy into another. 

Paisley's senior coaching career started at the beginning of Shankly's Anfield tenure, but his Liverpool story starts long before. He had been a fixture at the club as far back as the late 1930s, when he spent 15 years as a formidable left half before moving into off-field roles as a physio and then as reserve team manager throughout the 1950s. 

When the time came for Shankly to take over in 1959, then, Paisley had cut his teeth, and his depth of knowledge and high standing within the club saw him appointed assistant manager in order to ease the transition. 


Career Honours

Football League First Division (1976/76, 1976/77, 1978-79, 1979/80, 1981/82/ 1982/83)
English League Cup (1980/81, 1981/82, 1982/83)
Community/Charity Shield (1974, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982)
European Cup (1977, 1978, 1981)
UEFA Cup (1975/76)
UEFA Super Cup (1977)

In many ways, while Shankly picked the team and handled the motivational side of the job, Paisley was the tactician. 

Although he would later prove to have assets more valuable to his management than his tactical knowledge, it was one of his tactical observations towards the end of the Shankly era that proved just how far ahead of his time he was, as he noted in a European tie that Red Star Belgrade's use of ball-playing centre-halves was their undoing in a 1973 European Cup tie. 

This was something alien to English football, as virtually every team at the time; including Liverpool with Tommy Smith and Larry Lloyd; playing with two destroyers at the heart of defence. Paisley's solution was simple, recommending that midfielder Phil Thompson be played at centre-back alongside the intelligent Emlyn Hughes.

The result was a more possession-based approach to building from the back that took the place of the high-octane attack-at-all-costs football that would soon become redundant.


"It's not about the long ball or the short ball, it's about the right ball."

Bob Paisley


When handed the reins after Shankly's retirement in 1974, it was this shift of styles that he looked to implement, and while it didn't achieve immediate success; his first season yielded only a runners-up award and a Community Shield; it would prove to be the long-term blueprint that would see the Reds finally add the European Cup to their expansive honours list. 

Paisley's true managerial strength would soon come to light after taking the hot-seat. While his tactics were generally spot-on, he didn't see himself as a tactician. He based his management on his ability to judge a player, feeling that if the 11 players fit the basic system and were intelligent enough to read the game themselves, then tactical coaching could be kept to a minimum.

Getty Images/GettyImages

Over the next few years, he would take a hands-on approach to recruitment, and opted to bring in Ian Rush, Bruce Grobbelaar, Mark Lawrenson and, most notably, after Kevin Keegan threw his plans up in the air with a transfer request, one Kenny Dalglish. And it was the signing of the latter that was the final piece of the puzzle, as his subtlety and ability to read the game allowed Paisley's 4-4-2 to shift into a 4-4-1-1. 

It would take opposition managers years to catch up with that development. 

You could talk about what Liverpool accomplished during Paisley's nine-year tenure for years  and never get bored of it. In a period when the European Cup was immeasurably harder to win than it is now, with only league winners gaining qualification, Paisley became the first man in history to win the trophy three times, with only Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane matching that feat since. 


"If you're in the penalty area and you don't know what to do with the ball, put it in the net and we'll discuss the options later."

Bob Paisley


It's his European legacy that defined his time at the club, forging the relationship between Liverpool and the European Cup that defines them even to this day. But domestically, there was only one season under Paisley in which Liverpool finished lower than second, dropping to fifth in 1981. They won the league six times in less than a decade, having claimed it three times in 15 years under the legendary Shankly. 

And yet, even despite the success he achieved, Paisley never once felt that he was an adequate replacement. His humble, understated nature summed up in clear terms by something he is frequently quoted as having told his players upon arrival: "I'm only minding the shop until a real manager comes along."


Teams Managed


Liverpool 1974-1983

Paisley knew when a player was past his sell-by date, ruthlessly moving on the likes of John Toshack, Tommy Smith and Ray Clemence when he felt they no longer fit the team. There was nothing unfair about this approach, however; he applied the same treatment to himself. 

In 1983, after 20 major trophies in nine years - making him statistically the second most successful manager ever, with his 2.2 trophies per season bettered only now by Pep Guardiola - he went out on top, calling it a day after bringing his final first division home, and handing the  reins to Joe Fagan. 

Alex Livesey/GettyImages

His quiet, humble personality means he will perhaps not be remembered as fondly as Shankly, or another countryman in Sir Alex Ferguson. But either man would happily tell you that any comparison is utterly redundant; Paisley's legacy stands up to any, and dwarves most.


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Number 49: Vic Buckingham - How an Englishman Discovered Johan Cruyff & Pioneered Total Football

Number 48: Claudio Ranieri: A Ridiculed Tinkerman Who Masterminded One of Football's Greatest Ever Achievements

Number 47: Bill Nicholson: Mr Tottenham Hotspur, the First Double Winning Manager of the 20th Century

Number 46: Sven-Goran Eriksson: The Scudetto Winning Shagger Who Never Solved the Lampard-Gerrard Conundrum

Number 45: Sir Alf Ramsey: The Man Behind the 'Wingless Wonders' & England's Sole World Cup Triumph

Number 44: Antonio Conte: An Astute Tactician Whose Perfectionist Philosophy Reinvented the 3-5-2 Wheel

Number 43: Kenny Dalglish: The Beacon of Light in Liverpool's Darkest Hour

Number 42: Massimiliano Allegri: The Masterful Tactician Who Won Serie A Five Times in a Row

Number 41: Sir Bobby Robson: A Footballing Colossus Whose Fighting Spirit Ensured an Immortal Legacy

Number 40: Luis Aragones: Spain's Most Important Manager, the Atleti Rock and the Modern Father of Tiki-Taka

Number 39: Herbert Chapman: One of Football's Great Innovators & Mastermind Behind the 'W-M' Formation

Number 38: Carlos Alberto Parreira: The International Specialist Who Never Shied Away From a Challenge

Number 37: Franz Beckenbauer: The German Giant Whose Playing Career Overshadowed His Managerial Genius

Number 36: Viktor Maslov: Soviet Pioneer of the 4-4-2 & the Innovator of Pressing

Number 35: Rafa Benitez: The Conquerer of La Liga Who Masterminded That Comeback in Istanbul

Number 34: Zinedine Zidane: Cataloguing the Frenchman's Transition From Midfield Magician to Managerial Maestro

Number 33: Luiz Felipe Scolari: How the Enigmatic 'Big Phil' Succeeded as Much as He Failed on the Big Stage

Number 32: Jupp Heynckes: The Legendary Manager Who Masterminded 'the Greatest Bayern Side Ever'

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Number 29: Udo Lattek: The Bundesliga Icon Who Shattered European Records

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