BRIAN BARWICK may have never achieved his boyhood dream of playing for Liverpool but he did play a starring role in helping the club get into the Champions League.
In January 2005 the lifelong Red from Childwall started work as chief executive of the Football Association and was still settling into life in Soho Square when he faced his first major challenge.
As Rafa Benitez’s side made serene progress in Europe, Liverpool were struggling on the domestic front with Everton threatening to deny their neighbours a top-four finish.
Barwick could foresee a problem if Liverpool went all the way in the Champions League.
“I had spotted very early on there was a potential conflict that could come along,” he said.
“Everton were doing really well in the league and I wasn’t convinced Liverpool would catch them. At the same time Liverpool were doing well in Europe and there was no automatic entry into the following season’s Champions League for the winners.
“I thought there could be a situation here where five into four doesn’t go and the context was that I had been in the job about two minutes.
“During a coffee break at the spring meeting of UEFA I went to see the General Secretary (Lars-Christer Olsson) and marked his card. I said ‘I think we might have a problem a bit further down the track as we might have five teams qualifying for the Champions League’.
“I explained that Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal would qualify but that rather than Liverpool as usual, it looked like Everton would instead. Then if Liverpool won the Champions League we would have a problem.
“He just threw it back at the FA and said you can’t have five and that’s it up to the home association to decide who gets the four places.
“There had been a previous case where the Spanish federation had replaced fourth placed Real Zaragoza with Real Madrid who had finished fifth but won the Champions League.
“I said we wouldn’t get involved in that. I’m a big fan of meritocracy and if Everton finish in the top four they deserve to be in it. I could see a professional and personal conflict.
“I was known as a dyed-in-the-wool Liverpudlian – never hidden the fact, pointless trying.
“Now, as we faced the last few weeks of the 2004/5 season, that lifelong support for the Reds could possibly blow up in my face if I was not able to steer a positive and neutral course though the quagmire of football politics and do what was right for all sides.”
As Liverpool famously defeated Juventus and then Chelsea to set up a final showdown with AC Milan in Istanbul, while Everton wrapped up fourth place, it was an issue that wouldn’t go away.
And in the aftermath of the Reds’ dramatic triumph, the clamour to get the club back into the Champions League reached fever pitch.
“It was a really tricky, diplomatic situation,” Barwick said.
“After the final UEFA were still convinced it would somehow go away because they thought we would accept the fact the rule wasn’t in place to ensure the winners got to defend the trophy.
“Rick Parry, Liverpool’s CEO, threw the problem both the FA’s and UEFA’s way. And so we began a period of hasty negotiations with key people in Geneva. FA chairman Geoff Thompson’s quiet diplomacy and FA executive David Davies’ energy helped as did the phone calls and political pestering but the clock was ticking.
“We kept the pressure up. Phone call, followed email, followed visit – and eventually UEFA cracked.
“On June 10th, they announced that Liverpool FC would be allowed to defend the title in an ‘historic’ one-off decision which would allow five English clubs to enter the following season’s Champions League. And that, from now on, the European Cup winners would gain automatic qualification, if need be, at the expense of the side that finished fourth in the Premier League.
“It was a delicate situation and took a lot of political diplomacy to get it across the line but we did it.
“It meant Liverpool had to start in the first qualifying round but they were in. As a Reds fan, with a rare seat at football’s top table, I had helped them qualify for it – from sitting behind a desk!”