The great Bob Paisley, to this day, is the most successful manager to have managed Liverpool Football Club. During his nine years at the club (1974–1983), he won the Football League First Division 6 times, English League Cup 3 times, Community/Charity Shield on six different occasions, the UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and most famously winning the European Cup 3 times within four years (1977, 1978, 1981) averaging 2.2 trophies per season.
It all started under Bill Shankley, another Liverpool legend. Bob Paisley was his first-team coach and a well-respected staff member for his knowledge at Liverpool Football Club, having been there since 1939 for his tactical experience. But there was one match in particular, whilst Bill Shankley was in charge, that would change Liverpool Football Club. Forever.
After a 1973 European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade, Liverpool's boot room became intrigued by Red Stars' style of play. Bob Paisley had noticed how comfortable and effective their opponent's central defenders were on the ball, and this was at a time, especially in England, where central defenders were seen as hard men and not technical players. Bob Paisley knew he could change that at Liverpool and get the team to be more possession-based, but at the time, Liverpool never had the personnel to do so. Still, he had an idea, and that was to turn Phil Thompson, a midfielder, into a ball-playing-central defender, and immediately Liverpool started to build from the back, which was something new to the English leagues.
Under Bill Shankley, Liverpool Football Club was successful, but if Liverpool wanted to get their hands on the big European trophy, things would need to evolve. When Bill Shankley stepped aside, to his surprise, Bob Paisley was then appointed as the next Liverpool manager and was the beginning of Liverpool's most successful period. With Bob Paisley now in charge, this meant he could implement his tactical ideas and make Liverpool a possession-based team that could compete for the Champions Cup. which is what happened. And it was the start of a beautiful relationship between Liverpool and the Champions Cup, know today as UEFA Champions League.
Since the European Cup started, only Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti, and Zinedine Zidane have won the competition three times. What is extraordinary is that Bob Paisley never saw himself as a "real manager," but as someone as a fix until a real manager came along. But this shows the type of genius he was. A humble genius. But what made him a tactical genius?
Tactically, he set up with a 4-4-2, which also could transition into a 4-4-1-1. Kenny Dalglish's intelligence allowed this to work effectively, and Bruce Grobbelaar was also a pivotal addition to the squad. He was okay with his distribution, aiding the possession football and giving LFC the ability to play out from the back. And if one of the centre backs were being closed down, they could play it back to the keeper to kill the pressure, though, back then, the keepers could pick up the back pass.
“The top Europeans showed us how to break out of defence effectively. The pace of their movement was dictated by their first pass. We had to learn how to be patient like that and think about the next two or three moves when we had the ball.”
They were a team who liked to press and put pressure on their opponents but even more so if they identified a star-player. Bob Paisley was a great judge of players ability, and he could recognise and spot dangerous players, and Liverpool would then try to mark that player out of the game. The teams pressing play was a man-orientated one. Though they were a possession-based footballing side, they never had possession just for the sake of it and were quite offensive within their play. Bob Paisley had players such as Souness and Callaghan who could pick out a superb pass and set Liverpool on a counter-attack if needed.
The full-backs were required to get further forward, but one flank could be seen as more attacking and direct depending on the personnel than the other. Phil Neal (Liverpool's most decorated player) was a player for Paisley who loved to forward and overlap.
In midfield, Liverpool often had a player able to break in behind the defence and become a supporting act for the strikers, helping them penetrate. The strikers could drift out wide, and this allowed that central midfielder to break forward. McDermott, in particular, was very effective at this under Bob Paisley and was an intelligent player.
Bob Paisley preferred to channel play centrally and would have players operating in central areas but constantly looking for space to be an option to receive the ball. Players could be seen drifting out, then in or in then out, and this made it hard for the opponent's teams to pick up a player. But their narrow play also helped them off the ball and made it easier for them to trap their opponents into wider areas, and the full-backs are vital as they often leave their defensive position to engage in a battle on the flank.
In the UK, Liverpool was miles ahead of the rest, and it would take a little while before other teams in the league started to catch up with what was then football ahead of its time. This fluid system was hard for their opponents to deal with, and due to players roaming and swapping positions, it was hard to man-mark any Liverpool players. Besides the good football, Liverpool were also grafters. This could've been seen as a benefit when playing in Europe as teams who may be more technically gifted than Liverpool had to be just as determined, which hardly any side was.
Lastly, Bob Paisley never had a personality like some of the great mangers. Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, to name a couple. But he had extraordinary knowledge of the game and often made the correct decisions. Bob Paisley - The Humble Genius.