Liverpool striker explains on-pitch row and makes big prediction for Darwin Nunez

EXCLUSIVE: Theo Squires speaks to former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor about the highlights of his career with the Reds and Jürgen Klopp’s current attacking options.

Former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor speaks exclusively to the ECHO about the highlights of his career with the Reds and Jürgen Klopp’s current attacking options.

Only 13 players have scored on their debut for Liverpool in the 21st century, with Darwin Nunez the latest addition to an illustrious list.

But if it hadn’t been for the much-maligned El Hadji Diouf, there could have been another.

It was the fourth round of the League Cup at Anfield and Gérard Houllier had named a much-changed team for the match against Championship side Ipswich Town, including eight players from the team which had lost at home to Manchester United a few days earlier. in the starting lineup.

Diouf was one of these players. Lens’ £10 million summer signing was effectively expected to replace the legendary Robbie Fowler after Houllier’s controversial decision not to sign loanee Nicolas Anelka permanently.

The Senegalese, who had scored just three goals in his first 17 appearances, was already starting to show signs of cracks at the club.

The striker’s striking partner that evening was 20-year-old Neil Mellor.

Houllier recognized the prolific goalscorer at academy and reserve level, who had scored 46 goals in 44 reserve games the previous season, making his Liverpool debut against Tractor Boys.

The young striker inevitably dreamed of crowning such a significant event with a first goal.

With the Reds leading 1-0 thanks to an early goal from Tommy Miller, Mellor thought his moment would soon come after he was brought down in the penalty area by defender Mark Venus in front of the Kop.

Houllier had chosen him for the penalty shootout that evening and it was the opportunity for him to open his account straight away in front of the legendary Liverpool stands.

Diouf had other ideas. He ignored the coach’s instructions, grabbed the ball and took the penalty himself to equalize.

He had also scored the winning penalty as the Reds progressed to the quarter-finals after a shootout victory, with Mellor watching from the bench having already been substituted.

Of course he would score his first goal later in the tournament, scoring in the semi-final first leg defeat against Sheffield United.

But it was Diouf who leveled the score at Anfield before impressing in a 2-0 win over bitter rivals Manchester United in the final.

Mellor was an unused substitute against the Blades at Anfield and was then left out of the matchday squad for the showpiece match at the Millennium Stadium.

Of course, who knows if things would have gone differently if Diouf hadn’t denied the young striker the moment, without any guarantee that he would have scored even just from twelve metres. But looking back more than 20 years later, the night he made his Liverpool debut remains a surreal and bittersweet experience for Mellor.

important roles, but it was nice to have a part in an important season for Liverpool, and Olympiacos was a special night.

Like his debut, Istanbul was bittersweet for Mellor. Injured and therefore unable to contribute, he watched helplessly from the stands together with his unused teammates.

He could then belatedly celebrate with his colleagues on the pitch after Fernando Morientes was forced to produce his passport to prove his identity and convince a steward to let them join the Reds in celebration.

But the highlights of the celebrations in Istanbul prevented him from joining the Liverpool squad for the victory parade on Merseyside after his flight failed to return to Liverpool in time.

“It was beautiful, it was nice to share this moment with my teammates,” he said. “I ended up seeing them every day, having breakfast with them, training with them, playing matches.

“They were my friends. And they reached the pinnacle by winning the Champions League. I wanted to be on the pitch with them to share this, and Morientes helped us all get on the pitch.

“Being on the podium while Steven Gerrard lifted the trophy was a memory I will never forget. It was great to share it with the fans in Istanbul.

“But we missed the parade. This is a sore subject, this is a sore subject. We missed him. There were two separate flights.

“They were moved and 16 or 17 were on another flight. We got back to Anfield before them but missed the parade.

After half a season on loan at Wigan Athletic, Mellor was sold to Preston North End in August 2006 for £1.5 million.

His injury 18 months ago ultimately meant he was no longer part of Benitez’s plans.

And he wouldn’t even have discussions with his manager to decide his future, as his own experiences shed a different light on the brutal nature of footballing transfers.

“I think fans feel like when you leave a club a manager will say to you: ‘Thank you for everything’,” Mellor said. “But I didn’t talk about it with Rafa at all.

«He was the scout leader. He asked me which club I wanted to sign for. I was no longer part of Liverpool’s plans due to the injury I suffered.

Here’s how the release happened. “Okay okay. Football is like that.

There is no emotional goodbye to say thank you very much. There are many stories of players leaving like this, and unfortunately for me this was one of them.”

Now working in media for Sky Sports and LFC TV, Mellor can follow his former club closely.

And being a former striker himself, he is thrilled with the amazing options Jurgen Klopp currently has available to him.

Like Mellor’s former teammate Diouf, Darwin Nunez has struggled to learn English since joining the Reds last year.

But the Uruguayan’s situation became child’s play for the controversial Senegalese more than two decades ago.

And confident that Nunez has everything he needs to become a great striker after improving his defensive side of the game,

Mellor made a big prediction about Liverpool’s new number nine.

“Their attacking options are brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Mellor said.

“If they want to be successful this year, I think it’s important for Liverpool to have everyone fully fit so they can fire on all fronts.

“Nunez, we talk about the problems in learning the language, but if he learns the language even better, this will help him.

“The fans love him. He is aggressive, fast, strong and loves to score goals. He’s everything you want from a centre-forward.

Now he takes care of the defensive part of the game, which is what the coach expects from him.

“All of a sudden he’s really improved as a player and he’s going to score goals. I hope he stays injury free.

I look at 20 goals and I think he is a player who can overcome that hurdle for Liverpool this season.

With the Reds trailing 1-0 to an early Tommy Miller goal, Mellor thought his moment was about to come after he was brought down in the box by defender Mark Venus in front of the Kop.

Houllier had selected him for penalty duty that night, and this was his chance to open his account at the first time of asking in front of Liverpool’s iconic stand.

Diouf had other ideas. Ignoring manager instruction, he grabbed the ball and took the spot-kick himself to equalise.

He’d also scored the winning penalty as the Reds progressed to the quarter-finals after a shoot-out victory, as Mellor watched on from the bench after already being substituted.

He would get his first goal later in the tournament of course, scoring in a semi-final first leg defeat to Sheffield United.

But it was Diouf who levelled scores on aggregate back at Anfield, before impressing in the 2-0 victory over bitter-rivals Manchester United in the final.

An unused substitute against the Blades at Anfield, Mellor then did not make the matchday squad for the showpiece clash at the Millennium Stadium.

Admittedly, who knows if things would have turned out differently if the young striker had not been denied his moment by Diouf, with there no guarantee he would have even scored from 12 yards. But looking back, over two decades later, it remains a surreal and bittersweet experience for Mellor from the night he made his Liverpool debut.

“He was a player who had to prove his price-tag,” Mellor said of Diouf in an exclusive interview with the ECHO. “I won a penalty, I was on penalties. Gerard Houllier, sadly no longer with us, had said I was on penalties.

“But he didn’t speak English, Diouf, so maybe he didn’t understand that I was on pens. We were losing 1-0 at the time. It wasn’t to be for me, but I should have been on pens.

“It didn’t really work out for Diouf at Liverpool. In the dressing room, his relationship with big characters didn’t work out.

“I didn’t socialise with him, I just didn’t socialise with him. We were in different social circles. The fact he didn’t speak English didn’t help him integrate into that dressing room.

“What might have been for me that day, unfortunately, making my debut. At least I won the pen, I did win the pen.”

Fortunately for Mellor, there would be other memorable moments.

After Diouf was  end Mellor’s season just weeks later after he underwent surgery on both knees, with such a setback ultimately the beginning of the end of his Liverpool career.

Yet he’ll always have that famous Anfield European night against Olympiacos.

“I think that’s the highlight, just because of what we went on to achieve that season,” he said, referencing Liverpool’s famous 2005 Champions League final win over AC Milan. “We didn’t know at the time how important it would be.

“It was nice to play a part. Any team that succeeds, you’ll have some players that played a big part and some players that played a small part. My part was small, against Olympiacos.

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