Neal a possibility for Academy role

With Steve Heighway now gone from his role as Director of the Academy, a reorganisation is on the cards to fit in with the plans of Rafael Benitez. It's unlikely there will be a direct replacement for Heighway, with the structure changing instead, but rumours continue as to who will get the job closest to Heighway's old one.

According to Chris Bascombe in today's Echo, a new name as been brought into the reckoning. In fact it's not a new name to the club, it's one-time club captain and scorer of goals in two European Cup finals, Phil Neal.

Neal won eight league winner's medals, a record until this season when Ryan Giggs won his ninth, and also won four European Cup final medals. He got a penalty in the 3-1 win in Rome in 1977, and scored again in the same city when the Reds drew 1-1 with AS Roma. That game went to a shoot-out, and Neal scored in that too. He never won an FA Cup winners' medal, Liverpool winning the cup the season before he joined, and not again until the season after he left!

His time at Anfield ended in quite bitter circumstances. He'd been captain during the 1984-85 season and was unhappy that he was overlooked for the player-manager's job in place of Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish upset him further by given the armband to Alan Hansen instead of Neal when he took over as boss, and the final straw was the way Steve Nicol became first-choice full-back in his place. Neal made comments after he left about his unhappiness, but he's long since got over that upset and is a regular member of the commentary team on the official LFC website's match coverage.

The Echo say that Neal would act as "a figurehead" at the Academy, part of a new setup that would see other coaching staff join too. Rafa was given the opportunity to take part in the interviews after new owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett decided Rafa must be more involved in what goes on at all levels in the club.

Recent rumours that Gary McAllister was being linked with a role looking after the youngsters are dismissed to some extent in the article, with hints that he will be offered a role as part of the club's first-team coaching staff.

The role that Neal would get is not going to be an easy one. Neal will have to act almost as a school headmaster and would need to handle children and their parents, ensuring their welfare is being looked after, whilst at the same time ensuring that he is willing to liaise with Rafa in deciding on which players are suitable to move to Melwood, and also how the players are educated in football terms. Heighway seemed to have a problem with both keeping the youngsters and their parents happy, and keeping the manager happy.

It's not just about turning good young players into genuine candidates for the first team squad; it's also about discovering the potential talent out there. One criticism of Heighway was that he wasn't willing to scout outside the Merseyside area, but that will change when the new set-up is established. Neal, if given the job, would also be overseeing the scouts that go looking for that raw talent in schoolboy football.

Other honours won by Neal during his time at Anfield include four League Cups and a UEFA Cup. His coaching career wasn't the most successful, and wasn't helped by his role as England boss Graham Taylor's right-hand-man during the "do I not like Orange" era. He also managed Bolton, Manchester City and Coventry. With Bolton he got them promoted from Division 4 (these days known as League 2), in 1988. His last coaching role was as assistant manager at Peterborough in 1997/98.

He cost Liverpool just £66,000 when he signed from Northampton in 1974.