Goal.com's Top 50 English Players: Phil Neal (33)

Goal.com continues its countdown of England's greatest players. At No. 33 is Liverpool's legendary medal-magnet, Phil Neal...
No.50 - John Terry
No.49 - Tony Currie
No.48 - Terry Butcher
No.47 - Gerry Hitchens
No.46 - Paul Ince
No.45 - George Camsell
No.44 - Wayne Rooney
No.43 - Jackie Milburn
No.42 - Roger Hunt
No.41 - Rio Ferdinand
No.40 - Wilf Mannion

No.39 - Frank Lampard
No.38 - John Barnes
No.37 - Nat Lofthouse
No.36 - Eddie Hapgood
No.35 - Chris Waddle
No.34 - David Platt

Phil NEAL

Born

20/02/1951
Irchester, Northamptonshire

England

50 caps, 5 goals

Clubs

Northampton Town
Liverpool
Bolton Wanderers


As Fabio Capello continues to flit through the Premier League ranks looking for the ideal man to fill England's right-back slot, he must be wishing he had a guy like Phil Neal at his disposal.

There were few more reliable players than the Irchester native in his day. Lively, aggressive and hugely dependable, he remains one of the most decorated players in the history of the English game.

He made his name with Northampton Town in the old Fourth Division - he was there when the Cobblers were famously thrashed 8-2 by Manchester United in the FA Cup, with George Best scoring six goals.

After six years and 187 league appearances for Northampton - an impressive tally for a 23-year-old - Neal was snapped up by Liverpool in 1974. He holds the distinction of being Bob Paisley's very first signing, and his arrival heralded the beginning of a glorious new era at Anfield - or rather, the smooth transition from Bill Shankly's reign.

CAREER HIGHLIGHT

European glory in Rome

His very first game for the Reds came in a tightly contested Goodison derby that ended 0-0. Having played most regularly at left-back during his debut campaign, he soon displaced an aging Chris Lawler and ended the 1975-76 season as the first-choice right-back - and champion of England.

Neal would go on to win no less than eight First Division titles with Liverpool - a record surpassed only recently by Ryan Giggs - as a mainstay in defence, playing alongside the likes of Emlyn Hughes, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson.

Amazingly, he never won the FA Cup during his time on Merseyside (the club claimed the trophy in 1974 and 1986 - the years just before and after he left, respectively). However, there might not have been space for such a medal on his mantelpiece, given his astronomical success in continental competition.

Having overcome Club Brugge to take out the UEFA Cup in 1976, Liverpool went on to snare their first European Cup the very next season - with Neal scoring the decisive penalty in the final. He was there as the Scousers downed Brugge once more to make it back-to-back triumphs, and when they edged out Real Madrid three years late.

The last of his four European Cup medals was won in 1984, when Joe Fagan's side faced Roma on their own patch. It was fitting that it should take place at the Stadio Olimpico, the scene of Liverpool's first triumph; and it was equally appropriate that Neal should play a starring role, netting twice - once in open play, once in the shootout.

BEST USER COMMENT

"perhaps the best english right-back of all time! great!" - charlton | london
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Unfortunately, his international career brought far fewer major trophies. Making his England debut in a 2-1 win over Wales in 1976, Neal went on to claim 50 caps - only Gary Neville has won more at right-back - in a tour of duty that lasted seven years. He would later become Graham Taylor's assistant manager with the Three Lions, although his lack of tactical input (demonstrated in the documentary, An Impossible Job) made him something of a laughing stock.

Two years after calling it quits with England, and one after his heroics in Rome, Neal left Liverpool. With the arrival of the ultra-versatile Steve Nicol, he decided to join Bolton Wanderers as player-manager, eventually hanging up the boots in 1989. (He remained boss of the Trotters until 1992).

In all, Neal amassed over 700 league games during his dazzling career, and only Ian Callaghan, Emlyn Hughes and Ray Clemence have featured more often for the Reds. He also played an astonishing 471 consecutive competitive games for the Anfield club, stretching from October 23, 1976, to September 4, 1983. An expert penalty-taker, he amassed more than 90 goals throughout his club career.

Nowadays a more often found on the television screen than the playing field, Neal will always be remembered as an energetic, tenacious full-back who was a critical member of one of the most successful club sides in history. Although an incredibly team-oriented performer, the great Kenny Dalglish once described him as "the best player I ever played with". Is there any higher praise than that?

HONOURS

English League Championship (1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986)
UEFA Cup (1976)
Charity Shield (1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982)
European Cup (1977, 1978, 1981, 1984)
European Super Cup (1977)
Football League Cup (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984)

DID YOU KNOW
... that Phil Neal's son, Ashley, was on the books at Liverpool but had a promising career cut short by injury?

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