'I thought he was a lunatic' - Former Coventry City boss on Gary McAllister's Liverpool bombshell

Gordon Strachan has admitted he thought Gary McAllister was a “lunatic” when the midfielder told his then Coventry City manager that Liverpool were interested in him.

McAllister was 35 when he joined the Reds on a free transfer in 2000 in a shock move after his Sky Blues contract expired. But while such a move raised eyebrows at the time, the verteran quickly silenced his doubters, which included a young Steven Gerrard, to emerge as a vital member of the Liverpool side that won the treble in the 2000/01 season and establish himself as a modern day club legend.

Coventry captain at time of his departure, McAllister had scored an eye-catching 13 goals in all competitions during his final season with the Sky Blues to attract the interest of the Reds in the first place, despite entering his twilight years.

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As a result, Strachan admits that he did not believe that his compatriot stood a chance of joining Liverpool when McAllister asked him about the possibility of a new contract at the club just a couple of months before leaving.

“I remember him coming in, about April, he says: ‘What about a new contract?’” Strachan recalled on Football’s Greatest podcast With Jeff Stelling when reflecting on the five best captains he worked alongside during his career. “I said: ‘Oh right, okay’, because he was getting looked after.

“And he said to me: ‘Because I’ve got a chance here’, he was about 35 at the time, he says: ‘I’ve got a chance of going to Liverpool’.

“And I kind of went: ‘Aye, alright then!’ I think: ‘Lunatic - he’s never going to Liverpool!’

“I said to the chairman: ‘He thinks he’s going to Liverpool! Forget it, he’s not going Liverpool!’ And he did!”

McAllister and Strachan are old friends, having played together at Leeds United for five years - where they won the old First Division in 1992 - as well as with the Scotland national team, before reuniting at Coventry.

Strachan had joined the Sky Blues as player-coach in March 1995, with it agreed he would succeed Ron Atkinson as manager in the summer of 1997. A 31-year-old McAllister would make his own move to Coventry in July 1996, signing from Leeds in a £3m deal.

And Strachan has admitted he tapped up his compatriot to persuade him to move to Coventry. “I took him to Coventry. Ron (Atkinson) wanted him,” he said. “Couldn’t believe we were going to get him. I said: ‘I think Gary wants to move on now’.

“Yeah (I persuaded him), so FA, you can get me now if you feel like it. I was poaching players, I’m not caring now. I’m past the stage of caring.

“But only because he is a good friend. He came along and was great. He ended up being at Coventry and having fantastic success there with a right good side.”

Meanwhile, Strachan also offered insight into the hard work McAllister put in throughout his career to make a transfer to Liverpool possible in the first place.

“He’s been a mate of mine for a long time,” he said. “We’re best of mates now. I love him, absolutely love him.

“I have had arguments with him. Howard (Wilkinson), if he was picking two teams (in training) used to put me and him against each other, my team against his team, because he knew the intensity of this, because we didn’t want to get beat by each other. And it worked in training, and even running.

“He’s a wonderful, wonderful man. He’s had blows that have formed his character over the years. He’s clever. Going to Leeds, he realised that he had to be fitter. He had to be stronger.

“If you ask him now, he’ll say that if he didn’t go to Leeds he would probably have finished at 31. And he played at 37 with Liverpool, and been the man of the match (in the UEFA Cup final).

“Only because he was clever enough to understand, ‘I need to get fitter, I need to be stronger’. And because he got fitter and stronger, his ability, which was phenomenal, and his concentration stayed longer…

“Gary McAllister was a far better player physically and intelligence-wise at 35 than he was at 21, because he could take information in and make himself better…

“We were part of that by keeping him fit and making him stronger (at Coventry) and all of the rest of it, but I think he scored a ridiculous amount of goals, him and Robbie Keane, that year.

“And he went there (Liverpool) and he was a success again. Wonderful. And it just shows, if you really want to work at your fitness and work at your professionalism, you get it at the end of your career. At 36, being man of the match in a European final is wonderful.”

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