Dalglish the right man, but issues remain
ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.
There must be a good reason why John Henry and Fenway Sports Group have not officially tied Kenny Dalglish to a new contract at Liverpool, but I have no idea what it might be. I cannot see any reason to put any doubt whatsoever in the supporters' minds, or Kenny's mind for that matter. It is a done deal and it should be a case of finalising the small print and agreeing terms. After all, if they tried to replace Kenny now, they would have a riot on their hands.
I don't think anyone else could have had the transformative effect that Kenny has had on Liverpool since his return to the club in January. He arrived at Anfield at a time when Liverpool were going absolutely nowhere. The fans were getting a little bit despondent, understandably so, and, to a certain degree, the players were as well. Whilst I felt sorry for Roy Hodgson, when you go into a club like Liverpool you have to hit the ground running and he was unable to do that, for many reasons. You also have to understand the culture of the club.
Liverpool is an institution that is different to most clubs out there. Ever since Bill Shankly arrived at the end of 1959, Liverpool have always been more successful under the control of people who know the club, who have been brought through from within, who understand what Liverpool represents. Kenny played and managed there for so long and enjoyed some real success in both roles - as well as some horrific times of course with the events of Hillsborough.
You couldn't pick anyone on the planet with more insight than him into what makes the club tick. He has seen it from all dimensions, and from all emotions. When you arrive at a new job it usually takes time to understand the culture and get a grasp of the expectancy level, but Kenny already knew all of that. He knew the club implicitly, so from day one he could concentrate on the main thing: the team.
The result is that Liverpool now have an outside chance of getting into the Europa League, even if that particular form of European football is realistically not good enough for a club that has won five European Cups. Kenny will know that the club ultimately have bigger aspirations, but finishing in the top five would still represent a massive achievement this year given Liverpool's situation when he was parachuted in. It was expected that Kenny would steady the ship, of course, but when you consider the run he has taken them on, and the fact that only Manchester United have accrued more points in the same period, there is no doubt he has exceeded expectations.
As impressive as Dalglish's run has been though, it will not camouflage the deeper truth.” -- Kevin Keegan on Liverpool
As impressive as Dalglish's run has been though, it will not camouflage the deeper truth, and that is that Liverpool are well behind the top four at present. It says it all that if this year they qualify for a secondary European competition it will be treated as a success, whereas ten or 15 years ago that would have been seen as a failure. There is a way to go yet in the rejuvenation of Liverpool Football Club, but Kenny will know that more than most, and he will also know that wherever Liverpool finish this year, they still have the same underlying problems that existed prior to his arrival.
They do not have a strong enough squad, and at the moment, would not be the bookies' favourites to finish in a Champions League place next season. They have Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City above them, along with Tottenham, who are their target at present and are now where Liverpool were three or four years ago. There is still no new ground which remains a pressing issue given the capacities enjoyed by the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal. Liverpool fans have had a lot of false dawns - just think of Gillett and Hicks with their spades in the ground - and on that particular structural issue, only time will tell.
It also remains to be seen whether Fenway Sports Group will back their manager with further funds in the summer. Yes they brought in Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll in January, but that was to replace a £50 million striker in Fernando Torres so will not be seen at Liverpool as a major step forward in terms of ambition, even though it was the right thing to do. It is still quite a task that Liverpool have ahead of them if they are to overtake two clubs and get into that top four.
As such, it is strange to think it is now 15 years since the 4-3 between Liverpool and my Newcastle side, when we lost to a last-gasp goal from Stan Collymore in one of the most famous Premier League games of all time. All those years ago, if you had said to fans of those two clubs you would have a game at this stage of the season and it would realistically mean little to either side, they would not have believed it.