This week we look at a player who was once Britain´s most expensive defender. We also have man who could quite possibly claim the accolade of Britain´s most unstable defender, and a defender with the dubious distinction of being the first player to be sent off in two World Cups. We also look at a World Cup winner who failed to cut it with the reserve team, and a substitute goalkeeper notable only for his idiocy.
20. Phil Babb
Babb became the most expensive defender in English football history when he completed a £3.6 million move from Coventry in September 1994. To be fair, at the time it looked like money well spent. Babb had a burgeoning reputation, owing in no small part to some stellar performances alongside Paul McGrath in the Irish defence at the World Cup that same year.
That was one side to Babb´s game, a slick defender who could show moments of superb athleticism. Indeed, it was surely his composure and ability to read the game that had attracted manager Roy Evans in the first place. However, Reds fans were to get to know an altogether different side to Babb.
This was the ponderous, absent-minded version who, on certain days, looked as though he felt all this chasing around after a football lark was beneath him. He would really have rather been somewhere else-most likely on a Hawaiian beach, in an all-white linen suit, sipping rum cocktails and regaling local women with crude tales from his days as a footballer.
A footballer with a superb eye for an own goal, Babb´s tendency to switch off at vital moments was cruelly exposed in the most horrific manner imaginable against Chelsea in 1998. Babb would become surplus to requirements with the arrival of Gerard Houllier at Anfield, and a loan to Tranmere was eventually followed by an unlikely move to Sporting Lisbon. He returned to England to finish his career with Sunderland. He retired in 2004.
In May of this year, Babb was appointed manager of Non-League side Hayes and Yeading. Some interesting insights as a TV pundit suggest a successful managerial career may not be beyond him.
19. Neil Ruddock
Graeme Souness bought Ruddock in 1993 for £2.5 million. The former Spurs man was Souness´ type of character; brash, tough and strong in the challenge, the Scot clearly hadn´t reckoned on Ruddock´s potential for off field self-destruction.
In fact, Ruddock was to frequently wreak destruction on many of those who got in his way during his Liverpool career. Soon after his arrival at Anfield, he fractured the cheekbone of club legend, Peter Beardsley. There was also his infamous tackle on Andy Cole-in a reserve game- which left the Manchester United striker with two broken legs. Add to that his brawl with Robbie Fowler-which left the young forward with a broken nose-and you have a picture of a man who was slowly losing control in a dressing room desperately in need of mature characters.
There will be many a fan that will find Ruddock´s antics endearing or memorable, but the fact remains that his all-round approach and lack of professionalism was an indicative attitude in a squad of players that promised so much, yet delivered so little.
The young Manchester United squad that beat Liverpool and Newcastle to the title in 1995/96 went on to define football for a generation. Liverpool´s array of rising young stars are remembered simply as “The Spice Boys”.
While Ruddock can hardly be blamed for all of that, his career after football has involved dining out on the tales of misbehavior and indiscipline that festered throughout the club during a period which held great promise. Ruddock´s Anfield career owes much to the willingness of former manager Roy Evans to turn a blind eye to his various indiscretions. It is difficult to imagine his rival up the road in Manchester ever being so indulgent. History, eventually would write its own judgment on the two approaches.
18. Rigobert Song
With World Cup 2014 just around the corner, we can all look forward to some silly stereotypes being bandied around by the “experts” across various terrestrial TV channels. You´ll never be able to “count out the Germans”, Brazil will be critcised for lacking the flair of the great 1970´s side (until they win it), Messi will be unfavorably compared to Maradona (until he wins the Golden Boot) and England´s “penalty jinx” is sure to rear its ugly head again. And of course, all African teams will be described as naïve whenever they concede a goal.
There can be little more irritating than listening to a pundit in sympathetic tones of condescension, telling us how the uncultured, undisciplined African sides need to develop further if they are to compete on such a stage. Forget for a moment, that the vast majority now play in Europe´s elite leagues. African players have always been, and will remain, “naïve”. It has become football´s N word.
While such offensive stereotypes are clearly the work of pundits somewhat adrift from reality, perhaps Rigobert Song should shoulder some of the blame. Song became the poster boy for the hot-headed African defenders during his career.
A player who could arguably have patented his own version of the two-footed lunge, Song had the dubious distinction of being the first ever player to be sent of at two different World Cups.
Signed in the summer of 1999 by Gerard Houllier, Song´s arrival coincided with a period when the team looked considerably vulnerable at the back. Well actually, there wasn´t much coincidence involved at all. Song´s defending during his time at Anfield could politely be described as “wretched”.
Song´s all action style had endeared him to the ´Reds faithful for a time, but it quickly became apparent that he was too much of a liability to warrant a regular starting berth.
He was sold to West Ham in 2000 as a rather underwhelming replacement for Rio Ferdinand.
On another note, Song once had the temerity to laugh at Jamie Carragher´s technique in training. The Reds legend soon floored him with a crunching tackle, remarking “You´re not f***ing laughing now, are you, you soft c***.” Ouch!
17. Charles Itanje
Largely an irrelevance during his time at Anfield, Itanje´s only notable contribution at Liverpool was to upset the families of the Hillsborough victims at the 2009 memorial service. Itanje was caught sniggering and attempting to joke with teammates during the ceremony and was reported to the club for his conduct.
He was suspended for 14 days, and would never play for the club again. Was unceremoniously dumped out on loan to Greek side Kavala, before being released by the club.
16. Bernard Diomede
In compiling lists of this nature, the thought has popped into our head that a countdown of the worst players to ever win a World Cup needs to be undertaken. This eureka moment came when we came to contemplate the presence of Bernard Diomede in the Liverpool squad from 2000-2003.
Diomede started each of France´s opening group games at the 1998 World Cup, a victorious campaign he had little to do with. Still, with a World Cup Winners medal, Liverpool fans had every right to be somewhat optimistic about his arrival.
Signed by Gerard Houllier for £3 million in the summer of 2000, Diomede turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. He managed a miserable total of five games in three seasons at Anfield before finally being loaned out to Ajaccio. Needless to say, the club didn´t offer him another bite at the cherry at Anfield.
The hapless Diomede also had to endure the ignominy of being derided by fellow sportsmen in France. The 2003 rugby World Cup squad named their cockerel mascot in his honour. “ I thought it was a joke,” remarked Diomede. As far as his Anfield career went, the joke was very much on LFC.