The 10 best Liverpool players of the Premier League era
Liverpool is a special club: the icons are many and the pantheon is already full. The Premier League era has been one of near-misses and the occasional excruciating failure; as value therefore cannot be measured only in trophies, the concept of greatness is relatively abstract. Below are 10 players who were important to their team, their time and to the respective common objectives.
10. Pepe Reina
His heroics were rewarded by League and FA Cup success, and his performance against Chelsea at Anfield in 2007 took Liverpool to another European Cup final
There has to be room for a goalkeeper and Anfield has been a funny place for them over the past 24 years. David James struggled under the lights at a young age, Sander Westerveld had obvious flaws and both Jerzy Dudek and Simon Mignolet were similarly imperfect, despite the latter's attachment to Istanbul.
Pepe Reina made errors. Bad ones. He could, however, be excellent for long periods of time, even though he found tangible success elusive. In a FourFourTwo article from 2015, Alex Hess wrote that:
"Reina has kept goal – and done so quite brilliantly – for some of Europe’s major powerhouses. He's also been a part of some of the most medal-hoovering squads in football history. But these two things have never coincided. Call it Reina’s Law: his own excellence has largely come while playing in nearly-sides; World Cup, European Championship and, almost certainly, Bundesliga medals have been won nearly exclusively from the bench."
It's a smart summation and absolutely correct. His heroics - typically in penalty competitions - were rewarded by League and FA Cup success, and his performance against Chelsea at Anfield in 2007 took Liverpool to another European Cup final. There was, however, little to compensate him for his 285 league appearances, the majority of which helped provide his side with a defensive stability that they didn't possess before and haven't rediscovered since. He was, pur simply, a very good goalkeeper playing in a team who weren't quite good enough domestically.
9. John Barnes
The old spirit was waning by that point, but Barnes at least gave McManaman, Robbie Fowler et al. the chance to see it for themselves
By the time the Premier League began, Barnes' best years were behind him and he'd already become a different sort of player. The slaloming runs and pace were out, possession and control were in. Barnes had spent most of his career as a dynamic focal point, but by the early 1990s that role had been deferred to emerging graduates and players who subtly benefitted from his steady, veteran influence.
Aside from his tactical function, Barnes held key responsibilities in Liverpool's dressing room. In a recent interview with Graham Hunter, Steve McManaman spoke of his importance at what had been a formative stage of his own career. Barnes had won the league title in 1987/88 and again in 1989/90 and was a survivor of a more successful era.
For developing prospects to train alongside someone with that experience - and with that understanding for Liverpool's winning culture - was invaluable; the old spirit was waning by that point, but Barnes at least gave McManaman, Robbie Fowler et al. the chance to see it for themselves.
8. Sami Hyypia
His strengths, that combination of rugged defending and footballing ability, have become standard so quickly that his true value has been lost to time
Outside of Liverpool, Hyypia has been largely forgotten. That's peculiar, because he won almost everything there is to win in the game: a Champions League title, two Super Cups, a UEFA Cup, and two League and FA Cups apiece.
Stylistically, he was a transitional player. He was built like a debt collector, but that massive frame hid an impressive passing range and unlikely finesse, which are now prerequisites for centre-halves. It's possible, then, that the pace of that evolution has cost Hyypia his place at the legends’ table. His strengths, that combination of rugged defending and footballing ability, have become standard so quickly that his true value has been lost to time.
If so, that's unjust. He was virtually an ever-present in the Liverpool starting line-up between 1999 and 2006 and, while the league housed superior ball-players (Ferdinand, Campbell) and more technically proficient defenders (Terry, King, Henchoz), few offered such a broad range of abilities. He has those medals for a reason.