Kenny Dalglish, the player and manager who won every trophy available, numerous times, has returned to Liverpool Football Club after a 20 year sabbatical. The air of optimism has returned to a club beset by negativity, player power, boardroom bust-ups, crippling debt and even worse results. Two managers sacked in six months, unheard of at Liverpool. Relative quiet on the Kop. The game has changed, tactics have changed, the pace of game, the fitness of players, the press are more intrusive and, by the standards set by the previous incumbent Roy Hodgson, the time you have is limited. But can King Kenny bring back success, or in the short-term, stability to the most successful club in English footballing history?
If Robbie Fowler is God, then Kenny Dalglish is Darwin. One requires a certain degree of faith, a look past the failure and frailties. You’re required to ignore the inconsistencies and irrationality. The other is the leading light. The best of his generation. A true genius. A natural. He did things no one else could do. He brought out a beauty in things you didn’t see before. He was right.
Listening to a radio debate yesterday about Liverpool’s new caretaker manager I was intrigued to hear the ‘News’ of the World’s Andy Dunn claiming that Dalglish felt he never gets the recognition he deserved for his achievements as a manager. So what did he achieve? Four league titles (3 at Liverpool and 1 at Blackburn), two F.A. Cups (at Liverpool), one F.A. Cup final appearance with Newcastle, and perhaps often overlooked, a runners-up spot in the Premiership with the Toon. No mean feat at that club. He also failed at Celtic, finishing second which is basically the same as relegation in the SPL (although he was only manager for 18 games). The difference, in relative terms, is second place just isn’t good enough for Dalglish. He won’t want recognition for a F.A. Cup final appearance, or two runners-up spots in the Premiership. That kind of recognition doesn’t appeal to winners. He won four league titles in eleven seasons in the top division (36% of the time). His teams have finished runner-up five times (45%). So, with three different clubs, he finished in the top two 81% of the time. Not bad. In percentage terms, I’d suggest he’s up there with the very best of all-time? He is also the only manager in the last 30 years to win the league with two different clubs. Again, not too shabby.
“But he’s outdated, and has been out of the game too long”
It’s easy to paint Dalglish as someone who has been out of the game for too long (and back in the summer I shared some of those concerns), but since then, having spoken to those closest to him, I’ve come to see things differently. I appreciate that his work at the Academy since 2009 has acted as a refresher course (as were his discussions with Rafa Benítez), and if you have a great footballing mind, you can adapt. Dalglish was always a thinker. And with his son, Paul (who has managed in Major League Soccer), a big fan of the fast-pressing game of Pep Guardiola, the family is very much in touch with the modern game.
The article goes on to analyse his record at Blackburn and during his first spell as player/manager with Liverpool. It’s well worth the time to read the whole thing.
He hasn’t got the funds he had previously. He hasn’t got the players according to the majority of the footballing press. The squad is poor, and the club is heading for disaster by appointing a man based on romance and history. But Dalglish demands more, and taking his record into account, usually gets his own way.
Liverpool FC were on the verge of administration only three months ago. The team was playing long ball. They couldn’t scrape together consecutive victories with any regularity, they couldn’t even score when they played away from home. Humiliating cup defeats, sulking players, no new stadium, strange new owners, alien new directors of football (common, popular and effective everywhere else in the world, just ask Pep Guardiola), but, and this is the fundamental point, the crowds started to drop. The fans couldn’t take anymore. They had no belief, no hope, no vision and no future. Until the return of Dalglish?
He might not bring about miracles, but he has brought unity. Something Liverpool have not had since Hicks and Gillett started arguing. Since they started undermining the manager at the time (Rafa Benitez) by approaching Jurgen Klinsmann. The list continues until Hodgson was sacked. He was brought in by the old regime, the results were the worst since 29BC or BF(owler) or 1956. He was the wrong man, with the wrong tactics, at the wrong club, at the wrong time. A bad mix.
Now the club has a fresh start; new owners with a new long-term vision (read ‘Moneyball’ by Micheal Lewis for a rundown on their methods), a ‘new’ manager who understands the club, and a new assistant in Steve Clarke. Clarke worked under Mourinho, he’s ambitious, will know the ‘modern game’ and has had success in the Premier League. Is he being groomed to takeover and work under Commoli in a couple of years? He’s worked around another up and coming manager (now Porto manager) at Chelsea in Andre Villas-Boas (Jose M’s chief scout) and like this article suggests, certainly wants a crack at management. Remember who took over from a legend, with no managerial experience, and went on to lift trophies at a rate comparable with Ferguson, Wenger and Paisley, oh yes… King Kenny. I’m not sure about Clarke as future manager, but that has to be the mould. Young, talented and with a vision. Ferguson had a vision, to restore United to former glories. Wenger had a vision, to play attractive football, live within a viable financial structure and promote young players from within. If Dalglish, Clarke and J. W. Henry can create a mix of the two visions above, then nevermind a Darwin, God or the King, he will have done something no manager has ever achieved. Remove Alex Ferguson from that ‘fucking perch’. The impossible. Just ask God (or Dalglish with Blackburn) how hard that is.
(There may have been a little bias in this article)