Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Dalglish an appointment out of time
"You want to move the club forward back to where it was before" - Kenny Dalglish, April 2012.
The concept of the past being Liverpool's future was one of the contradictions of Kenny Dalglish's second coming. Once the finest of strikers, he assembled a side that struggled to score. The Kop's darling managed a team who sent their supporters home frustrated by their inability to win at home. His charges were, until an awful first hour in the FA Cup final, terrific in the knockout competitions but, by Anfield's high standards, terrible in the league. A man who can be funny, even charming, in private proved needlessly hostile and invariably awkward in public.
A unifying figure when he returned, initially as caretaker manager, 16 months ago, had become divisive. Among his adherents, Dalglish was the answer, a galvanising force who had been let down by Damien Comolli and underperforming players and suffered at the whims of the woodwork, opposing goalkeepers and the Football Association.
For others, especially outside Anfield, he was the problem, crying misfortune instead of accepting Liverpool's failings, a manager whose policy of buying British had been a costly catastrophe and whose results, once so encouraging, deteriorated to the level that only Aston Villa, Blackburn and Wolves took fewer points in 2012.
"Disappointing" was the word owner John W Henry diplomatically used. It was an understandable understatement. The last 19 league games have yielded only 18 points. That should be unacceptable for Liverpool, just as eighth place, 47 goals and 52 points are nowhere near good enough. Hence the dispassionate decision taken in Boston. If the sacked manager's name were not Kenny Dalglish, this may have been uncontroversial.
Instead, it is the bravest move Fenway Sports Group could have made. Dalglish, rightly, commands huge loyalty at Anfield; many have memories of the Scot delivering victory in the 1978 European Cup final; still more, and still more significantly, recall the humanity, humility and dignity he displayed after the Hillsborough disaster. His is a greatness that extends beyond 172 goals or 515 games in a red shirt.
Pity, then, the successor who has to compete with a legend. Unless the next manager gets immediate results, the Dalglish diehards will call for the return of their King. They will be disappointed: American owners have shown they are Republicans. A Boston Tea Party has led to their declaration of independence from the Merseyside royalists. New World sensibilities have been imposed on a traditional club.
And as director of football Damien Comolli, head of sports science Peter Brukner and director of communications Ian Cotton had already discovered, they are ruthless. The level of FSG's disappointment with Liverpool's season should be obvious, the feeling that they deem the last 12 months a wasted year very clear.
Dalglish has been guilty of a series of misjudgements, both major and minor, over a troubled year. The mishandling of the Luis Suarez affair damaged the club's reputation and the team's season. His prickly persona was more of an issue in an age of 24-hour rolling sports coverage than it was in the analogue days of the 1980s; a man who, as Henry said, "personifies everything that is good about Liverpool" contrived to alienate and annoy in front of a camera.
His transfer dealings made it hard for FSG to trust Dalglish with funds this summer. Given the chance to perform a high-budget overhaul, he compiled a squad lacking a reasonable alternative to Lucas as a defensive midfielder or a clinical finisher. It was a group where almost all the finest performers were already at Anfield, the majority of the weak links the recent arrivals. There were too few signs that enough were playing for the manager in a dispiriting end to the campaign.
Meanwhile, the excessive fees paid for Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam reflect poorly on Comolli. But the actual assessment that they had the talent and temperament Liverpool demand was the manager's mistake; they formed part of the case for the prosecution of Dalglish. The question has to be posed if the 61-year-old has the knowledge of foreign football required to recruit abroad; until comparatively recently, during his extended break from the frontline, he was still confusing two Premier League strikers with similar names but of very different capabilities.
Some complained that Dalglish had too little power; arguably he had too much. The manager was reluctant to heed advice - wearing the Suarez T-shirt was a particularly imprudent move - and at times his instincts betrayed him. For him, his way and the Liverpool Way were one and the same.
And yet this was not the 'Liverpool Way'. That was an incomparable tradition of winning. This was their poorest league season in half a century and came in an era when, unless in exceptional circumstances, the Premier League and the Champions League are the true barometers of progress.
After initial improvement when Dalglish replaced Roy Hodgson, Liverpool regressed. After a year of expensive underachievement, they are further away from contention in May 2012 than they were in May 2011. And so Fenway Sports Group will take a very different approach, almost certainly targeting a younger, more progressive manager. The sense of sadness that a job Dalglish had wanted to regain for 20 years should be removed from him after one should not disguise the necessity of a change at the helm. This is no time for sentiment.
Dalglish, the perfect appointment in 1985, was an imperfect choice forced upon the owners, 26 years later. The game had changed, and he proved a man out of time. Liverpool have made a decision to part company with their glorious past. The nostalgia trip is over. Now they have to accelerate into the future.
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