Time for Reds to raise the cup at Wembley

The League Cup is not the competition it once was but Liverpool will hope victory in the final can boost their season.

    The legends and youngsters of Liverpool FC celebrate League Cup success over Bolton in 1995 [GALLO/GETTY]

    With their club returning to a Wembley final for the first time in 16 years, Liverpool fans are automatically reminded of the infamous 'white suits' FA Cup decider when the Merseyside club lost to an Eric Cantona-inspired Manchester United in 1996.

    But there may be more relevance to a less remembered Wembley showcase the year before.

    On that occasion, Liverpool were successful in lifting the 1995 Football League Cup – the same trophy which they are targetting against Cardiff City on Sunday.

    And like 17 years ago, it was a team from the second tier – Bolton Wanderers – that Liverpool had to beat. They won 2-1 in a game remembered as Steve McManaman’s match because of the two goals scored by the Liverpool midfielder.

    "They need to treat Cardiff with respect but not too much respect"

    Former Reds boss Roy Evans

    "There are definitely some similarities between the 1995 final and this one," said Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager who took the Reds to Wembley that season and the following year against Man United when they donned Armani cream suits at the suggestion of goalkeeper David James. 

    "It’s a game that Liverpool will be strong favourites to win, but one that they will have to prepare just the same as if they were playing any of the top teams. They need to treat Cardiff with respect but not too much respect." 

    When Liverpool lifted the League Cup in 1995, it was their first silverware in three years. If they win against Cardiff, it will be their first major trophy since the 2006 FA Cup.

    "When we won in 1995, it was brilliant because we saw it as a big step forward," Evans said. "It’s the same this weekend under Kenny. Winning a trophy will help the club get back into the swing of things."

    Playing at Wembley will add prestige to the occasion for Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard who was with the Reds as they collected four major trophies – two FA Cups and two League Cups – in the five seasons that English domestic finals were held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

    Gerrard admitted this week that he wished that the Cardiff finals had been at Wembley where he made his England debut 12 years ago. He’s also captained his country at the re-built Wembley.

    Memory lane

    Seventeen years ago at the old Wembley Stadium, the League Cup was sponsored by Coca Cola and carried more value than today’s tournament, which sees the big clubs routinely field lesser sides in the early rounds.

    Liverpool had scraped by Arsenal in the quarterfinals before accounting for Crystal Palace 2-0 over two legs in the semis.

    It was a Reds’ team in transition with old timers like Ian Rush and John Barnes playing alongside promising youngsters including McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler, who was still a week away from his 20th birthday.

    Evans had taken over from the unsuccessful Graeme Souness the previous year and brought in experienced defenders John Scales and Phil Babb. The year they were in the League Cup final, they finished an improved fourth on the table with 74 points.

    "These days qualifying for the Champions League is important, but back then, winning the League Cup was still a big deal and clubs wouldn’t dream of fielding under-strength teams," Evans said.

    "Soon after we took a 2-0 lead in the second half, Bolton scored and had their chances over the last 20 minutes. I remember one late free kick from them that just went over the bar." 

    Evans was so impressed with two of the players from a feisty Bolton side – the Merseyside-born duo of Jason McAteer and Alan Stubbs - that he tried to sign them. But only McAteer would make the move to Anfield, with the Republic of Ireland midfielder playing more than 100 games between 1995 and 1999.

    Monkey off their back

    Despite their precocious squad and the promise of their Wembley appearances in 1995 and 1996, Liverpool are remembered for their chronic under achievements in the 1990s. It wasn’t until Frenchman Gerard Houllier took over during the 1998-1999 season that the Reds stared to turn things around.

    Houllier’s highlight was winning a trophy treble, including the UEFA Cup, plus a place in the Champions League, in 2001.

    Former midfielder Dietmar Hamann, who tasted success in 2001 with Houllier and in 2005 when the Reds lifted the European Cup under Rafa Benitez, says the significance of the 2012 Carling Cup final can’t be underestimated.

    "They haven’t won anything for a few years so I think it’s very important to get that first trophy under your belt with a new manager and a pretty new team"

    Dietmar Hamann

    "I think it would be very important to get that monkey off their back because the longer you don’t win anything the harder it gets," Hamann said.

    "They haven’t won anything for a few years so I think it’s very important to get that first trophy under your belt with a new manager and a pretty new team."

    Hamann played in a losing FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium for his former club Newcastle against Manchester United in 1999, but is better remembered for his impact coming on as a second half sub in the 2006 FA Cup final at Cardiff.

    Liverpool were trailing 2-3 to West Ham, but would end up winning 3-1 on penalties with the tall German converting the first spot kick.

    "Winning another Cup final would give Liverpool a boost," Hamann said. "It could even help them in the league as well because a top-4 finish is what Liverpool needs more than anything."

    For sure, the 2012 Football League Cup is no Mickey Mouse trophy to a silverware-starved Liverpool side, who have become grateful for small mercies.

    * Jason Dasey is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever , the world's first international soccer podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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