The Greatest Transfers #15: Crazy Horse

If you missed our honourable mentions last week then take a look see and be prepared to give me grief over Keegan (if you’re of that age range)

We start at number 15 with a man who made over 650 appearances for the Reds and won just about every trophy conceivable while at the club. He was one of few men who spanned two successful managers and the first Liverpool captain to lift the European Cup (Champions League now). That man, of course, is none other than Emlyn Hughes.

Hughes began his career in the modest surroundings of Blackpool in the mid-60s and, as the story goes, the legendary Bill Shankly was at one of Hughes’ first games for the Tangerines and was in love with Hughes from the moment he saw him. He was so in love with him that Shankly immediately made a £25,000 offer for Hughes. That was flatly rejected at the time but Shankly was given the word of Blackpool’s boss that he had first refusal on the player when the time came.

That time was early 1967 when Blackpool boss Ron Suart was sacked and Shankly decided to act with Suart acting as an advisory figure of sorts. That Hughes ended up at Liverpool was almost destined with Shankly’s obsession with buying the youngster. Hughes would recall later on how Shankly would phone every Sunday morning at half eight to tell him not to eat the fry up he was about to have because he wanted him “lean and hungry”. It was a testament to just how much Shankly thought of Hughes as a player and the boss didn’t hesitate to pay the enlarged £65,000 fee to sign him.

In fact, Shankly was so desperate for Hughes to get in the team towards the end of the 1966/67 season that he personally drove himself and his new signing to complete the signing in time. On the way, he was pulled over by the police and Shankly, undoubtedly in his own inimitable way, proceeded to tell the policeman that he was with the future captain of England and he should let them go.

Hughes would be thrown right into the team and, within five games, he was already loved on the Kop. Hughes rather unceremoniously tackled a Newcastle forward in a manner more befitting the sport with the odd shaped ball and so had the name ‘Crazy Horse’ bestowed upon him.

Hughes would go on to establish himself in midfield under Shankly with his endless stamina and enthusiasm as well as class on the ball making him one of the first names on the teamsheet. He easily survived Shankly’s cull of his first great side as the 60s became the 70s and rose to prominence as Liverpool would go on to win the league in 1973 and the UEFA Cup (the club’s first European trophy).

Towards the end of Shankly’s reign at Anfield, Hughes moved back into defence and formed a formidable duo with everyone’s favourite irritable Liverpool fan on Soccer Saturday, Phil Thompson. He was also made captain that season as Liverpool secured the FA Cup.

He would remain captain as Bob Paisley took over from Shankly and led the club to unparalleled heights. Hughes was captain as Liverpool won another league title in 1976 with a second UEFA Cup before he captained the club to European Cup glory in 1977 and 1978. However, by this point, his place in the side was beginning to look less certain as Paisley began to slowly bed young Alan Hansen into the side and Hughes was the aging horse being led from the paddock.

In the summer of 1979 and after twelve and a half years of distinguished service at Anfield, Emlyn Hughes left the club to join Wolves. He would be given rapturous welcomes when he returned with Wolves as well as later on when he was player-manager at Rotherham. Hughes would never return to Anfield in a coaching capacity with his managerial career being not especially noteworthy either.

Still, Hughes was undoubtedly one of the finest footballers Liverpool has ever had. He combined relentless energy and technical ability like few others and was even the Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1977. Hughes played 665 times for Liverpool with very few bad games in there and, for someone more defensive minded, managed 49 goals.

Unfortunately, Hughes passed away in 2004 at the age of 57 but the memories of his service and devotion to Liverpool will live on forever. That £65,000 fee is one of the best bits of business Bill Shankly ever did and that is why Emlyn Hughes makes this list.

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