We worry about our heroes, daft as it may sound. They become an extension of our families, discussed over dinner on familiar first name terms, thought about in moments of daydream, with achievements memorised in minute detail beyond that afforded to birthdays and anniversaries. We live and breathe our passion for what they do through them, and we are loyally defensive of them.
I suspect, then, that I was not alone in having a guarded feeling of happiness on Saturday January 8, 2011, upon waking up to the news that Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish had been appointed to the position of Manager of Liverpool Football Club, on an interim basis to the end of the 2010/11 Season. Make no mistake, change had to come, and the club was rapidly fading towards oblivion under the management of Roy Hodgson. Hodgson has proven himself over many years to be a master at overachieving with mid-low division clubs … Liverpool are neither.
Yet, I worried about Kenny’s legacy. Here was a man, admittedly a legend of the game and a hero of supporters, who had been out of competitive top flight football since May 2000. Here was a man, who admittedly under the most extremely mitigating circumstances at Liverpool in 1991, who had walked away from management on 2 occasions citing health and fatigue as primary causes. It would have been easy to question whether a decade away from management had reduced this Merseyside King to the mere rank of Prince or even Baron.
Could anyone, even Kenny Dalglish, rescue this once great sporting establishment from the darkest depths that it had seen since 1954, when the club was relegated to the old Football League Division 2?
Moreover, would his legacy be tarnished by potential failure? After all, even royalty can be stained. However, any nagging concern was quickly eliminated, watching Kenny walk down the sidelines at Old Trafford to take his place on the visitors’ bench on January 9th. He was relaxed, happy and in all honesty just looked as if he should be there. Although Liverpool lost to their bitter rivals in that FA Cup tie, the performance was a cut above anything they had produced in the weeks previous.
I have no axe to grind with the Daily Mail’s Ian Ladyman, and I certainly would not wish upon him the embarrassment that he should be feeling today. I refer to a piece that he wrote on December 31, 2010, some 8 days before Dalglish’s return, some few days after a shameful home defeat and performance against bottom of the table Wolverhampton Wanderers.
But it is 15 years since he managed successfully — winning the Premier League at Blackburn — and almost 20 years since stress forced him out of Anfield after a 4-4 FA Cup draw with Everton in February 1991. Quite simply, Dalglish has been away from the sharp end of football too long. The game has changed in many ways since he won Liverpool’s 18th and most recent title. Many young players, particularly the foreign ones, would not be inspired by the mere mention of his name or his presence in a room. Some — as dreadful as it sounds — would not even know who he was.
He would later describe the potential return of Dalglish as a ‘romantic notion’. What he forgot is that Dalglish is a winner, and winners do not deal in romance. And yes, he is famous for that beaming smile, but has anyone actually ever stopped to think why? He’s a winner, and he has much to smile about. If anyone for a minute thought that Dalglish would walk back into the hot seat of his beloved Liverpool without all of the passion and determination which made him one of the game’s legends, they are more misguided than our friend at the Daily Mail. To be fair to Ladyman, he merely echoed what some had momentarily thought.
It took a mere 3 weeks for Dalglish to stamp his authority. It would have been easy for him to hide behind the previous regime and his predecessor Hodgson and say that he was powerless to stop Fernando Torres leaving the football club. Instead, he was very marked in saying:
The most important thing is the club. More important and bigger than any individual, no matter who has been through it previously and who will in the future. The club is the club. I will never forget that and anyone who does is being a wee bit stupid and irresponsible.
And when Dalglish was backed with £58 million to sign Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, let us have no illusions, Fenway Sports Group had already signed their line on the contract. Results have, with rare exception, spoken for themselves, and injuries to key players has allowed Dalglish to blood young talent who would previously not have imagined the opportunity of first team football so early in the piece. The likes of Jon Flanagan, Jack Robinson and particularly Jay Spearing have thrived, and the talents of internationals like Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodriguez has blossomed.
Ironically, his record signing, Andy Carroll, has featured minimally due to injury, as has been the case with his talismanic captain Steven Gerrard. However, Suarez has become the new darling of the Kop, and Dirk Kuyt has become the striker signed from Feyenoord in 2006, as opposed to the hard working midfielder into which he had ‘developed’.
Rarely has a club undergone so rapid a transformation in so short a period of time. From being stranded in the lower echelons of the table, Liverpool now stand a mere victory on Sunday away from European Qualification. A team who quite stunningly attracted only 35,400 on New Year’s Day, now has the fans queuing like at no time since the halcyon days of the 1970s and 80s.
Dalglish has undoubtedly been the catalyst, and architect in chief. However, the club’s new owners deserve a great amount of credit at early stage. They have listened, learnt quickly, understood the club’s traditions, and are trying to do things the ‘Liverpool Way’. Most importantly, along with Dalglish, and his impressive assistant Steve Clarke, they have brought the Liverpool way into the 21st Century. Press conferences now seem to revolve around the club’s next opponent, and not whatever story the tabloids are trying to generate. In fact, there are no ‘stories’ emanating from Anfield, just fact, ironic as it may sound as a well worn catchphrase of Benitez.
Even now, with all the plaudits, Dalglish’s feet remain firmly on the ground. He is well aware, despite the recent excellent run of form, that significant investment is required in the squad. Moreover, there is much dead wood that may be left to float away from the Mersey. However, despite the Ladyman theory that many youngsters may not know who he was, the name of Liverpool and Dalglish is suddenly a very attractive proposition for the world’s finest.
Those Liverpool supporters old enough to remember, can look back at he summer of 1986 – one which saw the arrival of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley to join the only recently signed John Aldridge, and soon to be joined by Ray Houghton. Dalglish … dour? Not as far as I can recall. He is not afraid to play 3 centre halves if the need arises, but my memory of Dalglish’s first tenure is of some of the most gloriously attacking football that Anfield has seen. Judging by the impact of Suarez, and some of the football produced in recent weeks, he has every intention of following the same blueprint.
Nobody can belittle what Sir Alex Ferguson has achieved during his time with Manchester United. He came south of the border to knock Liverpool off their perch. He has, with a 19th League Title surely to be collected on Saturday, removed Liverpool from their perch. But instead of falling to the ground, the Liverbird gathered new wings, and is likely to fly back in that direction with the express intention of reclaiming it.
Far from Manchester United and Liverpool fans using this as an excuse to revile each other, they should savour the potential of these two intense rivals flying at each other hammer and tongs over the next few seasons under the guardianship of these 2 legendary Glaswegians.
Football wants a successful North-West. In fact, apart from 2 clubs, nearly all of football wants a successful Liverpool. Simply, when they have suffered, they have done so with dignity, notwithstanding the latter days of the Hicks / Gillett era, and when they have won, they have done so with humility.
Liverpool may not win the Premier League next season, and I certainly will not predict such a thing. It is neither the Dalglish or Liverpool way. However, there are a lot of people extremely excited to see the development of this ‘new’ Dalglish side.
In his autobiography ‘My Liverpool Home’, Dalglish candidly admits to a long time yearning to return to the seat that he vacated. There is a feeling amongst both neutrals and those with a vested interest that the King of Anfield has unfinished business to which he wants to attend.
If Liverpool had asked me to carry on as manager the moment I returned from Florida, I’d have jumped at the chance because my batteries were recharged.
It was May 1990 when Liverpool last lifted their ‘bread and butter’ as the great Bill Shankly described the League Title. Totally unrelatedly, it was September 1990 which saw the start of a sitcom called the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Well it’s time for the Prince to step aside, because reenergised after a 20 year break, the Fresh King of Anfield is ready to enter stage-right.