Liverpool’s clash with Real Madrid will be poignant for John Toshack as he fights Covid aftermath

Liverpool’s clash with Real Madrid will be poignant for John Toshack as he fights Covid aftermath


John Toshack is loved by Liverpool and Real Madrid after spells at both clubs… the Champions League final will be poignant for the Welshman as he fights through the aftermath of Covid

  • John Toshack is still fighting to get through the aftermath of his battle with Covid
  • He was part of legendary teams built by Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley in the 70s
  • Real Madrid won a LaLiga title under Toshack as their manager back in 1990
  • The two sides meet in the Champions League final in Paris on Saturday night
  • It will be a poignant match for Toshack, who is still not in a great condition 

John Toshack, who brought the wisdom of Bill Shankly to the Bernabeu in his two spells managing Real Madrid, is still fighting to get through the aftermath of Covid, which left him seriously ill in a Barcelona hospital. He is not in a great condition.

‘I was nine days completely out,’ says the 73-year-old, who woke up in intensive care. ‘More out than in. In 10 days you can lose a league. I gained a life.’

Though Toshack was part of the legendary teams built by Shankly and Bob Paisley, winning three First Division titles plus the 1977 European Cup, Madrid celebrates him just as much. Emilio Butragueno, part of the Bernabeu squad he inherited in 1989, called him every day as he began his long road to recovery.

Liverpool's Champions League final with Real Madrid will be a poignant one for John Toshack who is fighting through the aftermath of Covid and is loved after spells at both clubs

Liverpool’s Champions League final with Real Madrid will be a poignant one for John Toshack who is fighting through the aftermath of Covid and is loved after spells at both clubs

Real won a LaLiga title under Toshack in 1990, after his huge success with Real Sociedad had earned him a shot at the job. 

But Liverpool were always the club in his heart. ‘Managing Real Madrid. Great. Ten years in the Basque country. Great. But Liverpool? The best days of my life,’ he told Sportsmail a few years ago.

His first match as Real boss was against Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool in 1989, months after the tragedy of Hillsborough. Real won 2-0. He wanted to sign John Barnes a year later but Real went for Gheorghe Hagi. He did not see out that second season.

It broke Toshack’s heart that Liverpool did not make him their manager. Shankly, who signed him from Cardiff City, told him that Liverpool would have him back if he succeeded at Swansea and he felt taking that club from the Fourth to the First Division between 1978 and 1981 was enough.

Toshack was part of Liverpool's great teams of the 1970s (pictured centre in the 1974 FA Cup)

Toshack was part of Liverpool’s great teams of the 1970s (pictured centre in the 1974 FA Cup)

Toshack also guided Real Madrid to the LaLiga title in 1990 during a spell there as manager

Toshack also guided Real Madrid to the LaLiga title in 1990 during a spell there as manager

He says a telephone call came, in the winter of 1981, proposing a meeting with Liverpool secretary Peter Robinson and chairman John Smith, to discuss what at that time seemed to be the impending departure of Paisley. Liverpool were struggling and Paisley did not seem in the best of health.

But the team and the manager rallied, lifting the league trophy and the European Cup, against Real Madrid in Paris.

Toshack left British shores for Sporting Lisbon in 1984 after resigning from Swansea when the club began to run out of money, and embarked on a nomadic managerial career encompassing 13 teams in nine countries.

A new documentary, TOSH, charts his Swansea City odyssey, with players such as Alan Curtis and Leighton James giving an acute sense of what an inspirational leader he was. 

Footage of Shankly, standing outside his suburban Liverpool semi to discuss Toshack in a TV interview, reveals how much the legendary Scot thought of him. Toshack was a pallbearer at Shankly’s funeral in 1981.

A new documentary on Toshack charts his incredible spell as manager of Swansea City

A new documentary on Toshack charts his incredible spell as manager of Swansea City

There is evidence of a Shankly-esque psychology in the story of how local police booked virtually the entire Swansea squad for after-hours drinking at the local Bay View Hotel.

Two players missed the lock-in, which was ostensibly to celebrate the birth of defender Neil Robinson’s newborn baby. ‘What upset me at the time was that two of them weren’t there. I fined the two of them,’ Toshack tells the documentary-makers. ‘They should all have been there. I wasn’t happy with that.’

The Liverpool ethos was fundamental to those years, Toshack reflects in the film. ‘We’ve all had Shanks to fall back on,’ he says.

He took on increasingly obscure managerial roles as the years went by, though his illness has posed the biggest challenge of all. He was about to head to Majorca with wife, Maite, in February, when he got up from the sofa and had trouble walking. 

He was in intensive care with Covid for nine days and was intubated for six of them. 

Now back home, Toshack is able to sit on an exercise bike as he starts a gentle rehab. ‘I’ve got the toughest pre-season of my life,’ he says. ‘I don’t think I can play 90 minutes this Sunday…’

TOSH is in UK Cinemas and then available on digital download, DVD and Blu-Ray from June 6.

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