Alan Hansen, Defender and Pundit, Faces Health Setback

Alan Hansen, Defender and Pundit, Faces Health Setback

For a five-second illustration of what made Alan Hansen the outstanding central defender of his and indeed many other generations, you need only to go to the footage of a Liverpool dismantling of Everton at Goodison Park in November 1982.

In the eleventh minute of a game Liverpool were to win 5-0, Everton’s Andy King plays a ball in to the feet of David Johnson only for Hansen to read the pass and steal the ball in front of his opponent with a yard to spare. Johnson looks bemused. 

Side stepping a scything attempt to tackle from Steve McMahon, Hansen strides into the Everton half before playing a perfect 20 yards pass between the opposing central defenders for Ian Rush to run on to and score. It was the opening goal of the game and Hansen seemed to have the whole thing mapped out in his head before anybody else had even woken up to the possibility.

And this was Hansen, a centre half who could have played just about anywhere. Somebody like Pep Guardiola would have loved him. He could have played in midfield, for sure, without much instruction. He could have been a splendid overlapping full-back. Maybe not at centre forward, though. As his former central defensive partner Mark Lawrenson always says, Hansen was not a fan of diving around and falling over and getting his kit dirty. The way the great Scot played the game, he didn’t often need to.

Liverpool have confirmed legendary defender Alan Hansen (right) is seriously ill in hospital

Hansen (right) was the outstanding central defender of his generation and shone for the Reds

Hansen (right) was the outstanding central defender of his generation and shone for the Reds

‘That’s totally how it was,’ Lawrenson told Mail Sport three years ago.

‘I would be covered in crap after ten minutes. Alan would be standing there. Pristine, not even sweating. But already the best player on the field.

‘Football was just so easy for Alan, too easy really. It never felt very fair.’

News of Hansen’s sudden and serious ill health this weekend will have devastated everybody at Anfield. He is not 69 until Saturday. Lawrenson loves him, so do Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness. Hansen was a founding member of one of English and European football’s great dynasties and is revered for that and an awful lot more.

To one generation, Hansen is associated largely as a brilliant and ahead of his time Match of the Day pundit. He worked for the BBC for 22 years between 1992 and 2014.

‘He was probably the first person that went down the more analytic route, a path now followed by so many,’ said current MOTD host Gary Lineker last year.

‘He was a brilliant pundit.’

But it was his stellar career as a player that earned him the right to sit in that chair with such authority for so very long. He won 17 major trophies – including three European Cups and eight old Division One titles – after arriving for £100,000 from Partick Thistle as a gauche 21-year-old in the summer of 1977.

Hansen was fortunate in that he walked straight into a Liverpool team managed by the late Bob Paisley that had come within an FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester United of doing the treble the previous season.

Hansen was a founding member of one of English and European football’s great dynasties

Hansen was a founding member of one of English and European football’s great dynasties

After retiring, Hansen joined Match of the Day and become a brilliant and much-loved pundit

Hansen made that team better, though. He made every game of football he ever played in better, or at least it felt that way as Liverpool swept all before him during 14 years with his one and only English football club.

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BREAKING NEWS

Liverpool legend and former Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen, 68, is seriously ill in hospital

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A naturally talented golfer, Hansen represented Scotland boys and actually stopped playing football between the ages of 15 and 17 as he considered turning pro. In his retirement, he has regularly trod the esteemed links of the Southport coast – Hillside, Royal Birkdale and others – and plays that most complicated game of all just as effortlessly and sanguinely as he did the sport through which he eventually made his name.

Hansen has always been one of those who seemed to find his chosen pursuits a little easier to master than everybody else. The expression of vague and contended amusement he wore on the football field was one that followed him in to the TV studio. It always felt as though only a percentage of it was ever for show.

Strangely, he said after leaving TV work behind and fading happily in to the shadows ten years ago that the Match of the Day work made him increasingly nervous. It was one of the reasons he stepped away. Never once, had it ever appeared that way.

It was the same on the field. Beneath the seemingly effortless elegance, Hansen did worry about his football. After a couple of early mistakes in a defeat against Manchester United, Paisley took him to one side as they were about to board a train to London and told him: ‘I am too young to have a heart attack’. A new diet instigated by the club soon saw Hansen put on a couple of stone and over time – helped, Hansen thought, by his efforts in training ground 5-a-side games where heading and tackling were not always important – he became the bedrock of a frugal Liverpool defence that always underwrote much of the more headline-catching football being played by Souness, Dalglish, Rush and others further up the field.

Hansen (right) helped Liverpool to immense success, ending just three seasons trophyless

Hansen (right) helped Liverpool to immense success, ending just three seasons trophyless 

Hansen won only 26 Scotland caps and had a difficult relationship with his national team

Hansen won only 26 Scotland caps and had a difficult relationship with his national team

On Merseyside, Hansen’s quietly ruthless style of football was perfectly suited to Liverpool at a time when they were consistently better than everybody else. As his confidence and influence grew, so did his stature at the club. Sharp-tongued when he needed to be, Hansen formed a sporting and social alliance with Dalglish and Souness that for a golden period had the Liverpool dressing room in the palm of its hand. According to my colleague Ian Herbert’s excellent biography of Paisley, Hansen roomed with the left-back Alan Kennedy for a while, the balance of the relationship being such that the Geordie often used to bring his team-mate breakfast in bed.

Hansen had the medals to back it all up by the end. He won league titles for three different Liverpool managers. Paisley (four), Joe Fagan and Dalglish (three). Only when Dalglish became manager did the two men – along with Lawrenson and Irish midfielder Ronnie Whelan – stop car sharing on their way into Melwood from the coast.

The final season before a knee injury forced Hansen’s retirement at the age of 35 in the summer of 1991 was one of only three in his decade and a half on Merseyside that saw Liverpool fail to win a trophy. His final league title of 1990 was to be the club’s last until Jurgen Klopp got a 30-year itch scratched in the Covid-summer of 2020.

To many Hansen’s legacy remains beyond compare. Souness even took to calling a TalkSPORT radio debate from his car three years ago to take issue with Martin Keown’s claim that Hansen and Lawrenson spent too long funnelling the ball back to the goalkeeper in era when the backpass law had not yet been introduced.

‘There’s never been a better footballing centre-half than Alan Hansen and Lawro wasn’t far behind him,’ said Souness.

‘I played with them for about 300 games. I know how good they were. You couldn’t get the ball off them. They were midfield players in disguise, that’s how technically good they were.’

Souness and Hansen played together for Scotland. Hansen, though, won only 26 caps and had a difficult relationship with his national team, especially after Sir Alex Ferguson took over following the death of Jock Stein in 1985. Hansen won the League and FA Cup double with Liverpool in 1985/86 but Ferguson chose not to take him to that year’s World Cup in Mexico. Some felt Hansen lacked commitment to Scotland. He simply said his troublesome knee precluded his availability at times.

So it will always be in Liverpool red that we will remember him. Playing in an era before names were written across the back of football shirts, Hansen was always immediately recognisable. Just shy of 6ft 2in with hair as dark as tar, Hansen could look awkward as he ran.

Hansen with his wife Janet. The pair have been married since 1980 and have two kids together

Hansen with his wife Janet. The pair have been married since 1980 and have two kids together

Hansen is much-loved in Liverpool and beyond and the football world will pray for his recovery

Hansen is much-loved in Liverpool and beyond and the football world will pray for his recovery 

Sometimes, as he carried the ball forwards with his head up, he could appear as though he was quite desperate to get rid of it. Maybe it was because of an acute sense of his role in the team, because he knew there were better and more suitably equipped players waiting for it ahead of him. Or maybe he was just waiting for the right moment. Usually, that moment came to him before anybody else had quite worked it all out.

Hansen didn’t really do waste. Didn’t waste the ball or words on a Match of the Day set or indeed in a newspaper column he wrote for a long time in the Daily Telegraph. We haven’t, as it happened, heard anything at all from him since he left the BBC a decade ago. He’d had enough and – unlike so many not blessed with his modesty – once he had decided to go, it was for good.

He was not short of approaches from the media as Liverpool prepared to lift the Premier League trophy four summers ago. He had been the last Liverpool captain to do it, after all. He declined everyone, his reasoning being that if he spoke to one outlet he would have to speak to them all.

It was an honourable way of looking at it but not necessarily correct. For once Hansen had misjudged it. He could just have picked one. Just picked one perfect pass. Straight to the target. Maximum impact. That was the way he always did it. Liverpool and everybody connected with British football will pray for his swift recovery now.

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