One of the perks of doing my Pan The Pundits series on our sister site, Tales From The Top Flight, is that it reminds me of one of my favourite players from my childhood who just so happens to be the BBC’s best pundit: Danny Murphy.
A product of the famed Crewe academy, Murphy was snapped up by Roy Evans in the summer of 1997 with nearly 150 games under his belt at 20. His initial struggles meant that he was almost sold in 1999 but, in one of many inspired moves early in his reign, Gerard Houllier sat Murphy down and told him to buck up his ideas.
It worked an absolute treat.
For the next four years, Murphy became a stalwart of Liverpool starting line-ups, his technical ability and penchant for goals making him a fan favourite. 44 goals in 249 Liverpool games is a really solid record for a midfielder more known for his passing and technical skills than anything else.
It wasn’t the number of goals either but the quality and importance of his goals. We all remember his love for scoring against that red lot from Manchester and they’re still some of the sweetest goals to watch back. His winners at Old Trafford are legendary. The free kick in December 2000 to secure Liverpool’s first win there in a decade and United’s first home defeat in two years was so picture perfect. The cheeky chip over Barthez five minutes from time a season later was just as beautiful if not more so. They’re not his best goals though. There’s one at Anfield against Leeds from 2003 where play continues after an incident and Murphy just pelts one in off the bar with such ferocity and accuracy the whole stadium erupts. YouTube it and find me a more satisfying goal, I dare you.
What impressed me most, even as a youngster, was just how often Murphy would pop up in dangerous areas of the pitch to receive the ball. He was never afraid to get on the ball and try something. He never shied or shirked his responsibilities. He was the sort of player every team would love to have. He was the jack of all trades that always produced and always tried. For any kids out there who never saw him play, think Adam Lallana.
His sale in 2004 shocked me. Charlton got an absolute bargain at £2 million and it left many scratching their heads. Why did Benitez want rid of such a good player? I have read in the past that were rumblings that Benitez felt that Murphy was a disruptive influence which left me confused reading it. Steven Gerrard even admitted that he never understood why Murphy was sold by Benitez. It sticks in the craw even more when you go on to remember that both Salif Diao and Igor Biscan got Champions League winners medals the season Murphy left.
For me, Danny Murphy was the type of player I wanted to be like when I was a kid. Not the biggest, not the strongest, not the fastest but the most intelligent. The one that picks up the space and plays the passes. The one that’s working hard but looks like he’s hardly working.
A true unsung hero that deserves far more praise.