Gary McAllister: Influential Scot and Steven Gerrard’s guide on and off the pitch

JAMES NOBLE remembers the veteran Gary Mac’s time at Anfield — with a little help from Steven Gerrard.

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Today marks two decades since the midfielder — credited by the likes of Steven Gerrard as being a positive influence on his career — struck for the first time for the Reds.

It came in a 4-1 Anfield Premiership victory over Coventry City which, appropriately, also saw him tee-up a Gerrard goal. That McAllister has been the Scouser’s assistant at Rangers since his 2018 appointment as manager further evidences the trust between the two.

The then-35-year-old’s arrival on a free transfer — from Coventry, as it happened — in the summer of 2000 was met with widespread surprise at the time. Gérard Houllier — who would later describe McAllister as “my most inspirational signing” — had his faith in the veteran more than justified, though.

He may have only stayed until May 2002 but, both in the short and long-term, he left his mark. As well as being a key player in the Reds’ 2000/01 treble success, he represented a guiding light for Gerrard and others.


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Speaking to Liverpoolfc.com in 2015, Gerrard said he was “devastated” when he first heard of McAllister’s arrival, as he believed the former Motherwell, Leicester City and Leeds United man would take his place at a stage when he was still trying to establish himself ahead of Paul Ince and Jamie Redknapp.

“It made my job an awful lot harder, but when I first met him and trained with him my reaction changed because I knew he was going to help me an awful lot,” the former captain continued.

“I knew there was a player there that I could learn off both on and off the pitch. He took a shine to me and helped me a lot to progress as a footballer on the pitch but also how to be humble and be a decent person off it.

“So I owe Gary Mac an awful lot.”

On November 12, 2000, that first Liverpool goal against his former club — a team still managed by his once-international teammate, Gordon Strachan — saw him collect a loose ball on the edge of the box, neatly sidestep an opponent and fire a low right-footed effort inside the near-post to open the scoring in the 12th minute.

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There was still plenty of dynamism there, despite his relative age.

Another major facet of his and the Reds’ armoury that season was the quality of his set-pieces, though. Indeed, it was his free-kick delivery from the right that allowed Gerrard to make it 2-0 in the 50th minute with a powerful header past future Anfield stopper Chris Kirkland.

Gerrard’s fellow academy graduate, David Thompson, halved the deficit for the Sky Blues with a 35-yard stunner six minutes later, but Emile Heskey’s late double — the second of which was a beautiful 20-yard volleyed lob with the outside of his right foot — ensured the hosts took the points.

That McAllister’s influence seemed at its biggest when it mattered most that season spoke volumes.

“Everything he touched sort of turned to gold in the short time that he was here,” said Gerrard.

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“But that was a credit to how well he looked after himself, how hard he trained and the sacrifices he made while he was here — I thought he was fantastic.”

His most memorable moment, in the minds of many, remains his stoppage time Merseyside derby winner at Goodison Park in April 2001.

A pass or cross looked the only option as he stood over a free-kick more than 40-yards out. Instead, he whipped a brilliantly disguised right-footed shot beyond goalkeeper Paul Gerrard and into the bottom-left corner to make it 3-2.

He had already helped earn the first trophy of that season by converting his penalty in February’s League Cup final shootout victory over Birmingham City in Cardiff, and there were plenty more big contributions to come.

That winner against the Toffees was the first of five goals in five consecutive games for the Scot, who was 36 by now.

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He beat a certain Pepe Reina from the spot at Anfield three days later to earn a 1-0 aggregate victory over Barcelona in the UEFA Cup semi-final, converted another spot-kick in a 3-1 win against Spurs the following weekend and then scored free-kicks in 2-0 wins against both Coventry, again, and Bradford City.

After coming off the bench, he also delivered the set-piece which led to Michael Owen’s 83rd minute equaliser in the 2-1 FA Cup final success over Arsenal on May 12.

It was the UEFA Cup showpiece four days later where his impact would be clearest, though.

Within the action-packed 5-4 victory over Spanish side Alaves at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, he played a part in four of the Reds’ goals.

Markus Babbel nodded home the opener from his fourth-minute free-kick. His typically cool penalty made it 3-1 in the 41st minute. Robbie Fowler latched onto his pass to make it 4-3 in the 73rd.

Then, finally, his teasing inswinging free-kick was flicked into his own net by Delfi Geli in the 117th minute to give the Merseysiders the golden goal required for them to claim their first European trophy since 1984.

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In the craziest of seasons, the Scot represented a cool, classy, experienced head as the Reds secured the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup — as well as Champions League football for 2001/02.

Perhaps understandably, the midfielder made fewer notable on-field contributions in his second and final campaign as a player at the club.

He was still considered an influential presence, however, in a season in which Houllier’s men won the Charity Shield and UEFA Super Cup, secured a second-placed Premiership finish behind Arsenal and reached the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier club competition.

After 87 appearances, nine goals and 11 assists in his two seasons at Anfield, McAllister returned to Coventry in a player-manager capacity in 2002. Something that, once more, seemed unsurprising given his understanding of the game.

“He was a top footballer who could pass and move. He had great vision, a lovely touch and as I say to you, all the top midfielders are one or two steps ahead of most on the pitch,” reflected Gerrard.

After spells in the dugout at Leeds, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, he briefly returned to Anfield as an assistant to Brendan Rodgers in 2015.

Following the Northern Irishman’s departure in October of that year, he took up an ambassadorial role with the Reds, before he joined forces again with his old pal Gerrard in Glasgow in 2018.


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