Shankly shadow looms over Rafa

Bill Shankly's shadow will loom large over Anfield on Wednesday when Liverpool seek a morale-boosting Premier League win against Wigan Athletic.

Fifty years ago, almost to the day, Shankly took over as Liverpool manager when the club was a struggling second division side and spent the next 15 years establishing them as one of the superpowers of world football.

He will be remembered on Wednesday when 15 players who played under Shankly in the 1960s and 1970s, when Liverpool won three league titles, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup, take to the pitch at half-time to pay homage to the Scot.

Shankly's favourite hymn "Amazing Grace" will blare across the turf while the presence of players such as Tommy Smith, Kevin Keegan and Phil Thompson will briefly roll back the years to the club's golden era.

"Shanks is the greatest manager football ever produced," Smith, the club's former captain, told the Liverpool Echo newspaper.

"Getting together to remember him like we are doing will be an honour for every one of us who were privileged to play under him."

Older members of the crowd could be excused for becoming a little misty-eyed at the memory of a man who laid the foundations for Liverpool's dominance of English football under his successor Bob Paisley.

The present malaise at Anfield, both on and off the pitch, will provide some added poignancy to Wednesday's Shankly tribute and turn the focus even more sharply on current manager Rafael Benitez who appears further away than ever to mounting a serious challenge for the Premier League title.

Sunday's 2-1 defeat by Arsenal, their sixth of the season, left Liverpool in seventh spot, 13 points off the pace and in danger of being overtaken by the likes of Birmingham City and Fulham. They are also out of the Champions League.

While Benitez is unlikely to resort to Shankly-esque quotes about football being more important than life and death, the Spaniard knows that he, like every other Liverpool manager, will ultimately judged on league titles.

How he must wish for a couple of minutes of wisdom from the long-departed Shankly in Liverpool's old boot room.

"Everybody knows he is one of the best managers ever because he changed the club," Benitez said of Shankly who died in 1981 and whose statue, arms aloft, stands outside Anfield.

"Others may have won more trophies but Shankly was the man who changed everything."

Something needs to change soon for Benitez if Liverpool's season is not to become a long, meaningless trudge towards another trophy-less conclusion.