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Marsh does not regret his spell with Reds heroes

WHEN Mike Marsh headed Liverpool's equaliser against Auxerre eleven years ago, most pundits were predicting the start of a flourishing Anfield career.

Instead, the Kirkby midfielder was sold within 18 months and his admirers were left to ponder what might have been.

While his pal and fellow rookie Steve McManaman went on to establish himself as a Liverpool regular and claim Champions League glory with Real Madrid, for Marsh the road from Anfield led to West Ham, Coventry and Southend.

A serious knee injury finally ended his professional career at the age of 28. Now he plays for Accrington Stanley in the UniBond Premier League after spells at Kidderminster and Southport. It's a far cry from European competition and one might expect there to be a tinge of regret in the 33-year-old when he looks back on his career and considers what might have been. ``Not at all,'' insists Marsh.

``I got paid to play football for Liverpool and that was unbelievable for me. Looking back, maybe in hindsight I underachieved when I was there. I broke into the team at a difficult time. There were lots of injuries, lots of new players coming in and a new manager. ``Maybe if I'd broken into a settled side with the likes of Steve McMahon, Ronnie Whelan or Jan Molby alongside me on a regular basis, things would have gone differently. Unfortunately that wasn't the case and, without any disrespect, I ended up playing alongside the likes of Paul Stewart.''

It is widely assumed the sale of Marsh in 1993 to West Ham was instigated by then manager Graeme Souness, who was roundly criticised at the time for allowing a young gem to leave Merseyside.

The truth, however, is slightly different.

``There's a misconception about why I left,'' says Marsh.

``I actually asked to leave Liverpool. I didn't mind playing second fiddle to the likes of Whelan or McMahon and that calibre of player because you can't argue they were better players than me. But when it came to not getting into the side when I thought I was better than the one who was in, I decided it was probably time to move on.

``Again, I don't want it to sound as though I'm having a go at someone like Paul Stewart, but I suppose when the manager pays over pounds 2m for a player he's always going to play him. That's understandable.

``Jamie Redknapp told me his dad fancied signing me for West Ham and I told Graeme if I wasn't playing regularly I wanted to go. He swapped David Burrows and myself for Julian Dicks.

``I grew up after I made that decision. Before then I'd never been anywhere outside Kirkby and I could get to training in 10 minutes.

``I had six years at Liverpool and I was very settled. I think the biggest drawback for me at Liverpool was I was such a massive fan of the club. I went from watching them and playing for Kirkby Town to training with them. These players were my heroes one minute and team-mates the next. It took me a few years to realise exactly what I was doing there.

``I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Maybe if I'd gone somewhere else first and then joined Liverpool when I was bit older things would have gone better for me.

``People mention Steve McManaman because he made his debut at the same time as myself and we were good mates and still are. Macca has done superbly well and I've nothing but admiration for him. He's a top drawer player and deserves his success. But as I say, I' ve never regretted my decision because it was the right one at the time.''

Marsh remains as fervent a Red now as he was before and during his Anfield days.

A season ticket holder, he can relate more than most to the young hopefuls who are currently trying to establish themselves in Gerard Houllier's side.

``It's always difficult for youngsters trying to get into a team like Liverpool,'' he says.

``You look at someone like Steven Gerrard and he'd get into any side in the world. It's good see a young lad like Neil Mellor chomping at the bit to get in too, but it looks as though he has to score a hat-trick every week to stay in the team.

``I always think it's a shame when you hear a bit more groaning when a local lad makes a mistake. It's always been a bit like that for some reason, and I don't know why.

``I remember Macca could dribble past three defenders, throw a dummy and score and still he wouldn't get his name sung. I think it's a bit like that for Michael Owen now. Sometimes you think the local lads deserve a bit more patience.''

With Auxerre and Liverpool preparing to meet for the first time since Marsh's contribution led to a memorable win, the recollections of that famous victory will have another positive impact.

``My only regret is my two kids don't remember seeing me play for Liverpool,'' said Marsh.

``Now when I see the club meeting the likes of Spartak Moscow or Auxerre I can tell them `I played against them!' ``It's going to be a hard game tomorrow. Auxerre are a team which appears to have come from nowhere in recent years to become an established European side.

``When we played them they took us by surprise and they battered us in the first game, but there is a bit more known about them now.

``I think Liverpool are underachieving at the moment because they have everything they need in place but for me they're just not doing it. But I fancy us to nick a draw away and then take them at home.''

Copyright - Chris Bascombe

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