3 Sept 2011

What might have been: No 5 - How Liverpool wasted the talent of a true footballing genius

In January 2001, Gerrard Houllier signed one of Europe's most renowned and exciting creative players. Liverpool fans everywhere rejoiced at the prospect of having such a rare talent in the team, the ideal player to complement Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler. Joy quickly turned to frustration though as Houllier criminally underused the player and inexplicably wasted his considerable talent.

My excitement level rocketed when it was revealed that Liverpool were trying to sign Jari Litmanen; Finally, a skillful, creative player on the same level of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley was coming to the club.

I was also nervous – Litmanen was not a Houllier type player at all; Houllier had a preference for physically strong players, and seemed to value stamina and graft above skill and creativity

These fears were well-founded. For some inexplicable reason, Houllier wasted Litmanen’s talent by repeatedly dropping him and never and never really allowing him a proper run in the team.


  • 22/9/01 - Scored a superb winning goal against Spurs at Anfield
  • 26/9/01 – Scored the winner against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League
  • 30/9/01 – Dumped on the bench against Newcastle
  • 23/12/01 – Scored against Arsenal

  • 26/12/01 – Scored against Aston Villa
  • 29/12/01 – Dumped on the bench against West Ham

  • 02/03/01 – Scored against Fulham
  • 06/03/01 – Dumped on the bench against Newcastle
  • 19/03/01 – Scored against Roma
  • 24/03/01 – Dumped on the bench against Chelsea
  • These are just Litmanen’s goals – he also provided a number of assists in various games, but this was not good enough for Houllier, who seemed hell-bent on obstructing the player’s momentum at every opportunity.

    At one stage, there were rumours of a training ground bust-up between Litmanen and Houllier, which could account for the manager’s failure to play him regularly.

    Whatever the reason, Litmanen was restricted to a mere 19 starts (all competitions) in one and a half seasons, and he was substituted in 14 of those starts.
    • Total appearances: 43
    • Starts: 19
    • On the bench: On the bench 24
    • Subbed: 14
    • Goals: 9
    • Assists: 7

    • Subbed in 74% of starts
    • Subbed/on the bench in 88% of appearances
    Despite his momentum continually being disrupted, Litmanen still managed to score and create a number of important goals. Who can forget his fantastic long range effort against Spurs, or - after coming on as a sub - his vital individual goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League quarter final second leg.

    The most galling thing about the misuse of Litmanen is the fact that Liverpool had the players to accommodate him in the team; Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Nicolas Anelka all at the club at the same time - Just imagine the exciting possibilities!

    Imagining ‘what might have been’ was what fans had to do most of time, as Litmanen was often dumped in favour of the lumbering, technically inept Emile Heskey.

    Whenever I chat with other fans about Litmanen, I invariably hear the same response: he was a flop; he didn’t do the business; he didn’t fit in at the club etc. For me, Litmanen was very far from a failure at Liverpool. He rarely, if ever, gave the ball away; he brought fluidity and real creativity to the team, and whenever he was given the chance, he contributed to the cause.

    And let’s not forget, Litmanen’s time at Anfield coincided with club’s most successful period under Houllier: winning the treble and then finishing second in league in his only full season.

    After the 2001-2002 season, it was clear that Litmanen was on his way out of the cub. Houllier also got rid of Nicolas Anelka, which was another hammer blow for the club.

    I truly believe that if Houllier had not been so pigheaded and had kept Litmanen and Anelka, and actually allowed them to play together regularly (along with Michael Owen), the 2002-3 season would have been much more successful than it was.

    Looking back now, it was an exciting time to be a Liverpool fan in 2001-2002 season. Litmanen, Anelka , Owen and Fowler in the same team; Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher growing into the superb players they would become; a fantastic defensive partnership of Sami Hyppia and Stephane 'handball' Henchoz; steady, and experienced pros like Gary McAllister and Dietmar Hamann adding experience and strength to the team.

    Alas, we’re left to ponder what might have been. And it could have been amazing.

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    Jaimie Kanwar


    1. Jamie I generally think you talk shite. But you are right about Litmanen....Ged genuinely wasted an awesome player.

    2. Agree with the above but this is undoubtedly spot on - Litmanen was class; at Ajax, at Barca but not at Liverpool and that was Houllier's fault entirely

    3. litmanen was past his best which was top class, houlier ruined plenty. do you still back hicks and gilett,

    4. Talk about being damned with faint praise (!) ;-)

    5. I totally agree with you, Jaimie. Litmanen was class.

    6. Jari was a great player signed too late like David Speedie

    7. Litmanen was class while he was in Liverpool. Houllier totally wasted his talent. 

    8. The goal above. I was at that friendly in Amsterdam and luckly for me at that end too. Litmanen was wasted!
      Fowler scored a good goal the next day too even though we lost to Ajax.

    9. Ahhh Litmanen! Wonderful player!!!!!

    10. I was studying in Finland when Jari Litmanen was at Liverpool and the rumour I heard back then was that Jari, being a true Reds fan wanted to move to Liverpool much earlier in his career. Roy Evans allegedly had a chance to sign him after he sold Stan Collymore but for some strange reasons opted to sign Karl-Heinze Riedle instead. Failure to sign Litmanen back then when he was at his prime, has to be one of the biggest mistakes we've made in the last 20 years, which ranks along with Grame Souness' mistake of even failing to watch a certain Eric Cantona play back in the early 90's when Michel Platini suggested the then volatile young player to him, and Gerard Houllier's diabolical mistake of signing El-Hadji Diouf instead of Nicolas Anelka.