By the time Peter Beardsley was signed by Kenny Dalglish in 1987, for a then British record of £1.9 million, my obsession with Liverpool Football Club had already become all-encompassing. Along with fellow Dalglish recruits John Barnes and John Aldridge, Beardsley formed the attack of the finest Liverpool side I've ever watched live. That team was a footballing behemoth and it was surely only the European ban which prevented another Big Ears or two from swelling the Anfield trophy room still further. As it was, they collected domestic honours voraciously.
A truly sublime footballer, Beardsley had the thoroughly unenviable task of replacing Dalglish in a number seven Liverpool shirt. That he did so with such aplomb is testimony to the man's ability. The Geordie lad had wonderful trickery and saw a pass before most could react, and his record of 59 goals in 175 appearances for the Reds is a clear indicator that he knew where the net was. Beardsley was exactly the kind of creative visionary that was needed to set that Liverpool side in motion, a diminutive maestro with a deceptive toughness of mind and body. Sound familiar?
For Beardsley, Coutinho is a class above the rest of the current playing staff. In him, the former Anfield icon sees the kind of ability which prompts comparison with the finest of them all -- his former manager, Kenny Dalglish.
"I love Coutinho. He is outstanding and has unbelievable ability," Beardsley told The Echo. "He's better than I ever was and I really mean that. He's miles better than me. If he stays here for a long time, he's got a chance to be as big as Kenny -- that kind of stature. I look at his ability and I think he could be the new Kenny Dalglish. He is a very special player."
That is a stunning accolade from a fine player, who witnessed the almost other-worldly talent of the legendary Scot on a football pitch. The year before he signed Beardsley, Dalglish scored the league-winning goal, a delightfully taken volley, against Chelsea on the last day of the campaign and finished his first season as player/manager as a Double winner. It was utterly remarkable, Roy of the Rovers fare. Therefore, unlike some, who have been so quick to forget or ignore his centrality to what has made Liverpool great, Beardsley knows how magnificent a player Kenny Dalglish was. For the former England man to mention this prodigiously talented Brazilian in the same breath as The King is quite the accolade.
Beardsley, now football development manager at Newcastle United, is hugely taken with the little play-maker and watched in admiration as he "ran the game" in Liverpool's 6-0 trouncing of the Magpies last season.
"He has such a great understanding of the game," offered the former Reds striker. "Good players like that know when to get rid of the ball. On the odd occasion he gets caught, but not often. He's very clever -- he's always aware of where his team-mates are and how they want the ball. Some of his passing takes your breath away and he has a great attitude as well. it was a great signing by Brendan. I don't think anyone saw it coming and he was a real bargain."
It is gratifying to hear an ex-Liverpool star praise the acumen of Brendan Rodgers, as far too many have been mealy-mouthed and taken the easy option of kicking the man while he's down. Team-work was a strength of Peter Beardsley's as a footballer and he understands that a player who constantly tries to do the right thing, in the right way, will garner the unfettered devotion of the Anfield crowd.
"He's very much a team player," says Beardsley. "Look at the pleasure he got from the goal Daniel Sturridge scored against Stoke last weekend. It was only a small thing, but I liked that. He's happy for other people. Players like that will give the ball away at times because they take risks. But even when it doesn't quite come off, there is excitement among the fans because they can see what he was trying to do.
"A knowledgeable Anfield crowd have taken him to their hearts. They expect all their players, no matter how talented, to work hard and he certainly does that. He's an interceptor rather than a tackler but he will run and run and put people under pressure."
It is clear that Beardsley sees Coutinho as a potential Anfield great and it is curious to hear him describe the Brazilian's many attributes -- the very ones, despite his modesty, that he possessed himself. The little Geordie also has a practical view on the shenanigans that have taken place thanks to the roving eye of our current number seven, Luis Suarez. Suarez is arguably the finest footballer since the successive trio of Kevin Keegan, Dalglish and himself (sorry Paul Walsh), to wear that shirt and Beardsley adopts a very phlegmatic and conciliatory tone.
"Hopefully over the coming weeks they get him integrated back into the squad and he comes back buzzing and hits the ground running," he opined. "The healing process is underway and I think the fans will forgive him. He's going to be like a new signing when he has served his ban. It's not been easy with all the media interest, but Brendan has handled it all very well. The bottom line is you don't want to be losing your best players."
I consider myself fortunate to have watched Peter Beardsley in his prime, destroying defences with his guile, craft and precision. If he's any judge of a player, then all current Reds fans should be excited at the prospect of what Phil Coutinho can do for the team, perhaps even in conjunction with brebis galeuse, Luis Suarez. As you contemplate that, have a look at some footage of a Beardsley hat-trick in a 4-0 win against that lot from over the M62, in the final season of Dalglish's first spell. Happy days. Maybe Coutinho, Rodgers et al will bring them back.