Liverpool failed to challenge seriously for Premier League titles in the early 2000s because of their transfer policy, insist Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville.
In a special edition of Monday Night Football, both Carragher and Neville looked back on Liverpool's 4-3 defeat by Leeds in November 2000, a season where Gerard Houllier's side in fact won three trophies: the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup.
Though Neville admits he feared Liverpool would get close to Manchester United around that time, as United went on to claim a third straight Premier League trophy, their great rivals were never able to taste league success domestically.
And both believe that was down to recruitment…
Nev: Liverpool winning bugged me!
While Neville was concerned about Liverpool's progress, Carragher felt Manchester United would spend big on specific targets if they needed to progress, whereas Liverpool's spending either fell short, or was spread across more players...
Neville: "It bugged me a little bit, I remember it bugging me! I came off my sunbed in Malta to watch the FA Cup win over Arsenal… and I think every time Liverpool won a trophy, it annoyed us. We'd be thinking: 'Are they getting closer again?' It was the one we would fear. But it would always feel like you were getting closer but would dip off a bit. For me, at Liverpool, it always felt like every time you got close you either lost players or you didn't' recruit well.
"It didn't always feel like you couldn't quite go for the best players in the transfer market. It always felt like you were toying with it. If the market was at £15m, you were at £8m, if the market was at £25m, you were at £16m. You were never quite up there with them."
Carra: "That was the story of that team. The next season, we bought one player in John Arne Riise. Gerard Houllier felt the team had done so well, and didn't need much changing.
"I think at that time, if things didn't go well for Man United, you had an ability to spend big. Like Rio Ferdinand for £30m in the summer of 2002 after Arsenal won the league. For us, we'd spend that money on four players, and you needed them all to work."
Carra: Arsenal signings were superstars, ours just very good
After the 2000/01 season, Arsenal improved, winning the title in 2001/02, and again in 2003/04 with the Invincibles. Carragher believes Wenger's transfer dealings were genius, whereas Liverpool trailed behind…
Carra: "I think we were spending similar to Arsenal, and the big difference between Houllier and Arsene Wenger, though I adore Houllier, Wenger was a genius in the transfer market.
Notable Liverpool signings in early 2000s
|Igor Biscan (00/01)||£5.5m|
|Christian Ziege (00/01)||£5.5m|
|Nick Barmby (00/01)||£6m|
|Milan Baros (01/02)||£3.6m|
|Jerzy Dudek (01/02)||£4.85m|
|John Arne Riise (01/02)||£4.6m|
|El Hadji Diouf (02/03)||£11m|
|Salif Diao (02/03)||£5m|
|Florent Sinama Pongolle (02/03)||£2m|
|Anthony Le Tallec (02/03)||£3m|
|Bruno Cheyrou (02/03)||£3.7m|
"We signed Emile Heskey for £11m, Wenger signed Henry for £11m. If we signed Nick Barmy for £6m, they signed Robert Pires for £6m. They also got Sol Campbell on a free at that time. They just became superstars, whereas ours became very good players.
"You see Christian Ziege involved there [against Leeds]; I think he was possibly the highest paid player in the Premier League and after that game, it felt like the end of him playing left-back for Liverpool, and he ended up playing left midfield.
Neville: "That is what has shocked me about Jurgen Klopp in the last few years; before you went for Alisson and [Virgl] van Dijk, Liverpool still weren't spending the big, big money, and then it's like, oh, Alisson and Van Dijk were signed for huge money and that's the final piece of the jigsaw."
Why did Liverpool fail to win a Premier League title under Gerard Houllier in the early 2000s? Comment with your thoughts below...
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Carra: 00/01 was the best time
Nevertheless, Carragher feels the 2000/01 season was his favourite as a Liverpool player, trumping 2004/05 and the Champions League victory because their success was spread over the season.
Carra: "I always say that season was my favourite season. The reason being, people would expect me to say 2005, but that was one moment in a way.
"It's a season where you're winning every week, and though the trophies don't come until the end of the season, everyone would come in the training ground in a good mood, bouncing in. So that was my favourite season."