My Best Town and Liverpool XI: John Wark
Monday, 4th May 2020 09:59
In part 29 of the series, Kieron Dyer catches up with Blues legend John Wark, who selects the best XI from his spells with Town and Liverpool before Dyer runs the rule over his team.
If I was picking my Ipswich team the only change I would have from the XIs picked by other players from my era is that Russell Osman would definitely start in my team at centre-half alongside Kevin Beattie.
For me, Russell gets in ahead of Terry Butcher because he was unbelievable with both feet at playing out from the back.
This is the best XI drawn from the Ipswich and Liverpool squads I played in.
Goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar - It really is a toss-up between him and Paul Cooper. Still to this day I cannot believe that Paul Cooper didn’t win a cap for England. But Grobbelaar had everything, he was a great shot-stopper, had good distribution, he’d come for crosses. The only thing that let Grobbelaar down was that because Liverpool were so successful he would get bored. And when he would get bored he would come out and try and tackle the right winger!
Right-back George Burley - George was quick, his service was unbelievable from front to back. His crossing was second to none and no one could get by him defensively, I’d never, ever see George get done.
Left-back Phil Neal - Again it was a toss-up between Phil Neal and Mick Mills. But I think Phil had more going forward with excellent delivery. He could score goals, he was a great crosser of the ball, so I’d have him at left-back but only just ahead of Mick.
Right centre-half Alan Hansen - Alan Hansen reminds me of Virgil van Dijk in today’s football where the game just seems so easy to him, so effortless. Quick, a great defender, good on the ball. A Rolls Royce of a player.
Left centre-half Kevin Beattie - Powerful, quick, strong. He and Hansen would be the perfect combination, between them they’d have everything and would be an absolute nightmare for strikers.
Right midfield Frans Thijssen - The great thing about Thijssen was that when the team was tired we used to just give him the ball so we could have a rest! You’d just give him the ball and he would keep it for a minute, taking on about six players. He’d go one way and six players would chase him and he’d just drop a shoulder and change direction and leave all six in his wake. A world-class player and he’d be in the team.
Centre midfield Graeme Souness - The complete midfielder, he had everything. He’d score goals, create goals, had a great passing range, could do the ugly side of the game, could be very, very mean. I won 29 caps for Scotland and for 28 of those I had to play on the right of midfield because Souness was in my position in the middle.
Left midfield Ronnie Whelan - Once again it’s a toss-up, this time between Ronnie and Arnold Muhren. I’ve picked Ronnie Whelan because he scored more goals. They both had an unbelievable range of passing. Ronnie was a nasty bugger as well and could do the other side of the game a bit more than Muhren, and he was a midfielder who was getting 10 goals a season, which was quite special.
Number 10 Kenny Dalglish - The best player I’ve ever played with. Scored goals, created goals, could link up play, could run channels, strong as an ox. If you look at Liverpool’s history and the calibre of player that they had, Kenny Dalglish was voted their greatest player of all-time. You don’t really to say any more than that.
Striker Ian Rush - A typical striker. There were games when he didn’t play well but he’d score a hat-trick. In his worst season for Liverpool when I was there he scored 26 goals, and he missed eight-to-10 games with injury. By the way, I top-scored that season with 27!
Striker Paul Mariner - Unplayable. I can remember in the tunnel before the game when we were playing Cologne, Mariner was squaring up to their centre-halves saying ‘I’m going to f-ing do you all!’. He would go out on the pitch and absolutely man-handle centre-halves. I said Souness was the complete midfielder, Mariner was the complete striker who could do everything.
I was excited to hear John Wark’s team, I always had the idea that he was going to do an Ipswich/Liverpool best XI as his best Town XI would be the same as everyone else’s from his era.
I’ve said before that I think Russell would fit into today’s football with ball-playing centre-halves so highly regarded and that of all the Ipswich centre-halves from that great period he was probably the best on the ball.
Warky played for the two dominant teams in the 1980s, so it’s interesting to see how many Ipswich players he feels would have meshed well with the Liverpool side.
What strikes me with both Grobbelaar and Cooper, when you think of goalkeepers, you think of height and neither of them were the tallest, but they were athletically gifted with great spring.
In the eighties and nineties Liverpool were the team I liked in the top division and it made me laugh that he said Grobbelaar would get bored because he always used to do something mad. I can remember loads of times when he would come haring out and do something daft. Warky says it was a close thing between him and Paul Cooper and he would have been happy with either of them.
At the centre of the defence he’s gone for Hansen and Beattie. Hansen was the captain of the Liverpool team in the mid-eighties and as Warky puts it, a Rolls Royce of a player. When you’re leaving out Mark Lawrensen, Phil Thompson, Russell Osman, Terry Butcher and Allan Hunter, that just goes to show that Liverpool and Ipswich were blessed with unbelievable centre-halves.
That man Beattie pops up all the time in these XIs. When Bobby Robson says that the two best players that he ever worked with were the Brazilian Ronaldo and Kevin Beattie, you don’t really have to say any more than that.
Something which might be a bit of a surprise for Ipswich fans is that Warky’s gone for Phil Neal at left-back ahead of Mick Mills.
They both had wonderful careers, both England internationals. The reason he picked Phil Neal over Mick Mills is that he felt he was better going forward, better at crossing and had better delivery, while he feels Mick Mills was probably better defensively. But Warky loves goals, so you can see why Phil Neal is in the team. And at right-back it’s no surprise to see George Burley, another picked by all his Ipswich contemporaries.
I love the story that when the Town players were tired they’d just give the ball to Thijssen and he’d give you a rest because he’d keep the ball for a minute. That just shows you how gifted he was at carrying the ball.
A lot of players are playing him as one of the three in midfield, but he could easily play as a winger. Since we’ve been doing these XIs it doesn’t seem like we’ve been blessed with that many wingers as most teams have been in diamonds or systems like 4-3-2-1, but Thijssen could have been a winger. Probably the best dribbler the club has ever had.
I did laugh when Warky said Graeme Souness could do the nasty side of the game. He was my manager at Newcastle and there were a couple of times when he joined in in training, in the five-a-sides, and he seriously used to try boot everybody. He just had this competitive spirit and because his legs weren’t so great he used to try and two-foot people and all sorts.
Warky says he’s got a mean streak, I’ve seen that first hand. Every time he came near me I just played one or two-touch because there was no way I was dribbling round him!
And it shows how great Graeme Souness was that in Warky we’re talking about the best goalscoring midfielder probably in the history of the game and he had to play 28 of his 29 games for Scotland on the right because Souness was in his position.
He’s selected Ronnie Whelan ahead of Arnold Muhren. I’m not going to lie, it’s shocked me that Muhren didn’t make his team. Again, Warky says it was a toss-up and he went for Whelan because he scored more goals.
I should have asked him whether Ronnie Whelan would have got in the Dutch team that won the European Championships in 1988 when they had Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten. Warky might say he would but I’m not so sure, however, I’ve not played with him so I can’t really argue. I just think Muhren looked more sexy on the eye, that’s why I would go for him. But that’s the only one which surprised me. I would definitely have gone for Muhren on the left of midfield.
Kenny Dalglish is the best player that Warky’s ever played with and has been voted the best player in Liverpool’s history.
I’ve been having this debate about Ipswich’s greatest player. Kevin Beattie has been voted the greatest player but I think Warky is, which is no disrespect to Kevin Beattie, God rest his soul.
I think Kevin Beattie is the best player that we’ve ever had in our history but I would say that in Manchester United’s history Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player they’ve ever had, there are no arguments about it, but is Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United’s greatest player?
I don’t think so. I don’t think he had the longevity or the career for Manchester United that a Bobby Charlton or a George Best or even an Eric Cantona had.
And for me, I think John Wark is Ipswich’s greatest ever player just because of the longevity of his career and his honours, both with the team and individually.
He won the PFA Player of the Year while playing for Ipswich. No other Ipswich player has ever won the PFA Player of the Year. The players that have won that have been Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Kenny Dalglish, people like that. The elite of the elite. And John Wark has won that while playing for Ipswich. I don’t think in our lifetimes we’ll never see another Ipswich Town player win the PFA Player of the Year.
He then comes back twice more after his spell with Liverpool and he wins a promotion and ends up playing centre-half, he scores all these goals.
Yes, I think Kevin Beattie is certainly the best player, talent-wise, ability-wise, that Ipswich have ever had, as I said earlier, Bobby Robson worked with hundreds and hundreds of world-class players and he said that Kevin Beattie was in the top two of those that he worked with.
But I just think for a body of work over a career I think John Wark is the greatest ever Ipswich Town player, the player that had the greatest impact on Ipswich.
I was amused when Warky says Ian Rush was a typical striker who sometimes played well but still scored a hat-trick. When he said that the first person who came into my mind was Alan Shearer.
I played loads of games with Alan Shearer and there were so many times when he couldn’t control the ball or he was having one of those games where everything was coming off his shins, but he still came off the pitch having scored two goals and he’s won the man of the match award. I’m left thinking ‘How’s that possible?!’.
But that’s goalscorers, they just have an impact and they just stick the ball in the back of the net. It’s an instinct. I played with Shearer when he was probably not in his prime and his legs had gone a bit but in that penalty box there was no one quicker over two to three yards to get to that ball to put it in the back of the net. Just instinct, just knowing where the ball was going to be.
It’s incredible to think that in Ian Rush’s worst season he scored 26 goals and missed around 10 games. That is remarkable.
Paul Mariner partners Rush with Alan Brazil the man left out from the available strikers. Mariner is the link-up player and it was probably between Brazil and Rush for the other role and as Rush is Liverpool’s all-time top scorer with 346 goals you can’t really argue with that selection.
I think Mariner and Rush would be an absolute nightmare to play against, power, pace, goals, just everything, “unplayable” as he said of Mariner and I just think that whole strike force with Dalglish in behind would be too much for any defence to handle.
The midfield has a bit of everything, very attacking full-backs as well, which you can have when you’ve got Beattie and Hansen as the centre-halves.
I think you could have both full-backs attacking, both the two midfielders either side of Souness attacking with the front three and you could just have Souness, Hansen and Beattie mopping up behind, dealing with anything coming the other way. The only thing you’ve got to worry about is Grobbelaar getting bored!
Photo: Action Images
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