Paul Walsh can play teams on his own some days. When he's buzzing and bubbling he whizzes around the field like a cartoon character with the ball tied to his boot. It's like watching a film that's running too fast. You want to slow it down in order to appreciate all the tricks he's getting up to. He might beat a defender on the outside, then turn back and go inside him and then beat him once again for luck.
I bet he used to stay out in the street long after the other kids had gone in for their tea, just running with the ball past the lamp-post up the kurb, down the kurb and back around the lamp-post. He looks like he was born with the ball at his feet. He is an individualist. He'll never break the record for giving the most number of passes in a game. If a team-mate makes a run to support him, the chances are that Paul will use him as a decoy and go it alone.
One of his finest games for Liverpool was as a lone striker in a European cup tie in Poland against Lech Pozna. Ian Rush was recovering from a knee operation, and Joe Fagan asked Paul to run himself into the ground in a one-man attack. It was the Polish defenders who were run into the ground. He was fantastic. But it was a job he was ideally suited to do. He had a ton more ability than any of them, he was quicker and nimbler than any of them, and he seemed to like working alone.
Nethertheless Paul is well aware that he will never achieve anything of lasting significance in football without the help of his colleagues. We are always encouraging him to draw upon the assistance of his team-mates more. But we would never dream of taking away his license to dazzle. The moment yout ry to curb the the natural instincts of a person, you are tying one hand behind his back. A Paul Walsh who was forbidden to tease and torment defenders with his close control and mobility would be a gagged Paul Walsh.
If you have a player who is very fast, but tends to run out of breath before the end of a match, you don't stop him running altogether. You'd be taking his best card away from him. No instead, you stop him from running when there's no need to run. You instruct him to save his breath when he can, to pace himself, and use his speed in bursts. Similarily, we want Paul to swivel and jink away from opponents in the area of the field where he can be most effective, in the third of the pitch closest to their goal. It's all a question of striking the right balance.
Many may regard him as a rather inconsistent, erratic sort of player. But you have to remember that he is a lad who is constantly trying to pull off something spectacular and decisive. If Kenny told him to stop dribbling with the ball, he'd probably pack in the game and become a monk. We've been a little disappointed with his goals tally, and it makes you wonder time from time if we are cramping his style. I remember a match against Norwich at Anfield last season when Paul was going through bit a of a lean spell. He didn't start the game particularily well, but midway through the first half he scored a terrific goal out of nothing. It was almost as if the Kop roar woke him from a deep sleep. He was quite unstoppable from that moment on, and proceeded to score a hat-trick.
Another couple of months went by before he scored again, but once more the chains came off and he played out of his skin for a spell. I am now of the opinion he will always be a better goal-maker than a goal-taker. He is maybe a little happier and little more dangerous when he is just outside the penalty area, rather than in the thick of six yard box action. But I must admit it was his goalscoring that first impressed me. He took our eye with a never say die display at Anfield in a 6-0 hammering that Luton took in October 1983. I was sent to watch him on three occasions following that, and saw him score a total of six goals. He knocked in one against Spurs, a couple of more at Watford in cup replay, and a senstaional hat-trick at Stoke. I was getting as carried away as the crowd by the end. He had me off my seat with some of the tricks he was pulling off. A forward will be judged by the number of goals he has next to his name at the end of the season, and Paul's total suggests he is not yet sufficiently lethal in front of goal.
He possesses the talent to thrill supporters and compel managers to select him, but only when that talent is channelled for the benefit of his teammates. Sure he can play teams on his own some days, but he'll find it so much easier to play teams with a little help from his friends.
Copyright - Clive Tyldesley from his book "Bob Paisley's personal view of the First Team Squad of 1986-87".
"He's a lad who actually enjoys running. He's like one of those toys with the long-life batteries. You just switch him on, put him down the pitch and watch him go! Our Anfield Aussie has had a crack at just about everything. He's an avid photographer, he takes guitar lessons, he's learning an extra language, he's written a song and directed a video to go with it. I'm half expecting to into training one morning and tell me he's just come back from the moon!"
Bob Paisley on Craig Johnston