Liam Brady: The inside word from Celtic was that Van Dijk had it all...

Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest were already a good side when they came up to the old First Division in 1977. But they weren’t the finished article.
Liam Brady: The inside word from Celtic was that Van Dijk had it all...
Liverpool’s purchase of Virgil van Dijk was a key component in this side evolving from a good team into a title-winning great team. Picture: Simon Stacpoole
Liverpool’s purchase of Virgil van Dijk was a key component in this side evolving from a good team into a title-winning great team. Picture: Simon Stacpoole

Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest were already a good side when they came up to the old First Division in 1977. But they weren’t the finished article.

We beat them early in the season at Highbury 3-0 on September 3 — I had to look it up.

But in the following weeks, Clough brought in Peter Shilton and his influence was instant. They never looked back.

Shilton’s presence and communication skills tightened up the whole defence and he could be relied upon for saves at important times too. Forest lost just twice more in the league that season — they beat Arsenal 2-0 at the City Ground, incidentally.

And that team won the league title and two European Cups.

They might be accumulating the trophies in a different order, but something similar has happened at Anfield, where the magnificent Alisson Becker transformed a rising team that just needed a few final additions.

When he arrived from Roma, Liverpool evolved from a brilliant side into a unit that became sure of itself. Alisson’s air of calm has given his back four a confidence they had lacked. Crystal Palace mightn’t have made it into his penalty area on Wednesday, but the assertiveness that allows Liverpool squeeze the life out of teams starts from Alisson.

They’d still be in the Champions League, too, had he not missed out against Atletico Madrid.

Back in the autumn of ’77, Clough also added the midfield maestro Archie Gemmill. And if Klopp hadn’t to wait until January last season for the final piece of his jigsaw, Liverpool would probably have just wrapped up back-to-back titles.

It was summer of 2015 that I mentioned Virgil van Dijk to the powers-that-be at Arsenal. Whenever I watched Celtic, he was so cool and commanding and my connections in Scotland all assured me this fella was a hell of a player.

The word from inside Celtic was they had to sell, that he was itching to get into the Premier League, and that there was a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ in place that he could go.

I wasn’t scouting for the Arsenal first team then, but I passed the info on. And a lot of clubs must rue what they let him slip through their hands. Nobody moved, not Liverpool, United, Chelsea. Van Dijk hadn’t yet made his Dutch debut and I’m guessing there was a reluctance to judge him on Scottish standards.

What a mistake it was by several clubs to let Southampton take him for £13m.

His part in Liverpool’s triumphs aside, he has helped his national team find themselves again and he’s now unquestionably the best in the world.

A born leader, he doesn’t flap, doesn’t lose the head, rarely gets sent off or even booked. He’s got it all, he’s fast, has good defensive instincts, doesn’t dive in. He can run with anyone, gets his body across and is such a physical force that once his body is between you and the ball that’s it, game over.

He’s a walking coaching manual for centre-backs.

The only time I’ve seen him make a mistake is when he gets a little too casual. He’s up there with greats like Franco Baresi from my era. Another of those ball-playing centre-backs who look so cool under pressure.

VVD and the Brazilian keeper have made Liverpool a great football team, a team that has run away with the Premier League playing brilliant football. A team that compares with any of the great sides who have won the division.

And those two giants at the back are poster boys for Liverpool’s recruitment. Sometimes, to reach the next level, big money must be splashed. And when it does, you have to get it right. Leicester are the only club to touch Liverpool in terms of the quality of their recruitment in recent years.

Of course, Klopp isn’t operating on the shoestring budget Brian Clough had at the start of his Forest reign. But Liverpool can’t throw money around like the Manchester clubs.

Sure, Klopp has had some fortune. How blessed was he to find a prospect like Trent Alexander-Arnold in the academy while he was piecing together his team. The lad is easily the best right-back in the league, if not in Europe.

Give Brendan Rodgers some credit too.

Klopp didn’t take over a broken team in the way Mikel Arteta has done at Arsenal. And he has Rodgers to thank for Philippe Coutinho, who was sold to fund the two most important signings.

But that’s been the key, how Liverpool have used money wisely, scouted brilliantly, and got signings spot on. They’ve hardly made a bad one, in contrast to many of the top clubs.

The thrilling Mane-Firmino-Salah line is the best attack in Europe, a genuine unit, who complement each other and combine so well.

In midfield, Klopp likes a specific type. You can argue they could use more creativity in there at times. But I couldn’t see somebody like David Silva play in his middle three.

Klopp goes for hardworking players with pace, but they are all capable. I thought Jordan Henderson might be in trouble when Klopp came in, but he’s responded to the challenge and has been a vital cog in the machine.

Fabinho, Keita, Wijnaldum: they’ve all become better players since joining, they’ve all contributed. They’ve got more from Oxlade-Chamberlain than Arsenal managed.

All their assets are appreciating, which puts them in the perfect position to sustain this success.

The players seem happy, committed to the club. There’s no sign of issues with resigning players, unlike other clubs where contracts are running down. That doubt about top players can create a bad atmosphere, but there’s no smell around Anfield.

If they did want to deal in the market now, many of their top assets would fetch £100m. If he wanted to, Klopp could easily flip a top player to keep everybody on their toes.

But I don’t think he even needs to do that. He can tweak things a little, add a partner for van Dijk perhaps, a better back-up keeper.

Forget, for a moment, how good Liverpool are. It’s hard to dislike any of them, their character. They’ve got that element of grit you need, but don’t get into trouble with referees, feigning injury.

I don’t think Klopp stands for that kind of gamesmanship, and that’s partly why they are such a popular, pleasing team.

I don’t see these guys losing the hunger after one title. Klopp has already shown at Dortmund he can keep the fire burning.

Back in ’77-’78, Cloughie’s genius interrupted a Liverpool dynasty. We might just be looking at the start of another one.

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