Gerard Houllier's 'most inspirational signing' with the Scot credited with helping Liverpool talent like Steven Gerrard mature into world-class players.
Gary McAllister set for welcome return to Anfield
"When Gary McAllister joined Liverpool, I was not alone in the dressing room in wondering what Gerard [Houllier, the manager] was doing. He seemed an odd buy. OK, he was once a terrific midfielder for Leeds United and Scotland, but McAllister was now thirty-five, his best days surely behind him … I rang my agent, Struan Marshall, who knew McAllister well. 'Stru, what's all this about?' I asked.
"'Don't worry, Stevie,' replied Struan, 'Gary Mac will be brilliant for Liverpool, and for you as well. Listen to him. Learn from him.' 'Sod off, Stru' I said. 'McAllister can learn off me!' How wrong I was." - Steven Gerrard - My Autobiography.
When Gary McAllister arrived at Anfield in the summer of 2000, modestly introducing himself to players and staff as if he were a newcomer to the game, Steven Gerrard had played 44 times for Liverpool, scoring once. When the Scot departed with the grace of one of his midfield passes, Gerrard had embraced the Uefa Cup, FA Cup, League Cup, European Super Cup and Charity Shield, ran close to a Premier League title, and completed his first 10-goal season.
On the days that Liverpool played away from home, the 20-year-old future captain would judge his run to the team bus "so I could sit next to McAllister, absorbing advice". He sought guidance on overzealous tackling and unnecessarily ambitious passing.
While reassuring Gerrard that judgement would come with experience, McAllister suggested that the youngster ensure that every misplaced Hollywood ball be followed by a percentage pass that retained possession - and avoided external critique.
In a relationship Gerrard likens to a family tie lies part of the reason why Gerard Houllier describes McAllister's free transfer as his "most inspirational signing". The French schoolteacher and the Scottish senior student raised a core of domestic talent that included Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen, Danny Murphy and Emile Heskey to maturity.
The pair return to Anfield tomorrow evening as Aston Villa's management team with McAllister as self-effacing as a decade ago. Inquire about the example Houllier asked him to set to the youth of Liverpool and the query is turned on its head.
"Yes, Gerard had mentioned about the way I went about my training," McAllister said. "Little things that I was being brought in for; trying to show an example of how to prepare and work during the week leading up to games. But you've got to remember that the thing for me arriving there at that age, I was absolutely inspired by the younger players at Liverpool.So as much they have said that I have helped them a little, the younger players there helped me a great deal. It was a pleasure to go in and train with some of these, well, they're world-class players."
McAllister is more comfortable crediting Houllier for a courage to deploy youth that has manifested itself again in the Frenchman's first three months at Villa Park. Marc Albrighton is a regular on the right wing, causing particular pain to Manchester United when the two sides met last month.
The disarming passing of Barry Bannan has been brought into a central midfield role to such effect that Franco Baldini, assistant to Fabio Capello, the England manager, expressed dismay at his Scottish nationality.
Moving Ciaran Clark from centre-back to midfield delivered two goals against Arsenal, while Chris Herd and Jonathan Hogg have made Premier League debuts. All are 21 or under.
"It's OK spotting and picking them out, it's having the bottle to play them," McAllister said. "And you can see already with Gerard there is no hesitation of playing them.
Forty-six on Christmas Day, the Scot's analysis of a coaching career that began as Coventry player-manager, before a sometimes traumatic 11 months managing Leeds United, is admirably honest.
"I've learnt a great deal from Gerard; he is ultra-professional, very thorough, and probably the hardest working guy I have ever met," he said. "Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if I had my chance again when I was finishing [playing] I would have liked to have jumped in beside somebody of Gerard's experience and stature. Looking back, this would be a better route. It would equip me better."
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