Friday, March 11, 2011

Kenny Dalglish - A Report Card So Far

So King Kenny has been back in the chair for just over two months since the ill fated tenure of Roy Hodgson was terminated. This blog and many other 'informed' observers felt the move was a mistake, possibly akin to Mike Ashley bringing back 'Wor Kev'. Two fallen clubs entering a time warp in a desperate attempt to fast track themselves back to former glories in the case of Liverpool and former perceived glories in the case of the Toon. Whilst it was easy to draw the two parallels, the actuality of the situations has so far been vastly different.

Both clubs draw on a fierce sense of identity. Liverpool's famous This is Anfield sign above the tunnel could be mocked as foolishly arrogant for a club so steeped in the mire. The history and stature however of Liverpool endures much in the way that ManYoo's did in the 70s and 80s despite their chronic woes. Dalglish and Keegan are also different people. Both enjoyed phenomenal success as players but only Dalglish in his previous incarnations at Liverpool and Blackburn has enjoyed managerial success at the highest level even with the advantages he held of inheriting one of Europe's greatest ever club sides and then Jack Walker's gold plated chequebook. It is interesting to note that Dalglish also failed at Newcastle where the level of disfunction seems to be the greatest of almost any club imaginable.

Liverpool's fall from grace is also very different from Newcastle's who simply aren't the big club they think they are. Liverpool through the nineties and early turn of the century were not a bad team and they still won trophies. Where they failed was they simply weren't as good as ManYoo and they suffered by comparison. Arsenal then entered the golden age of Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira and then there was the rise of Chelsea. The problem accelerated and came to a head with the internal strife associated with Hicks, Gillett and Benitez leading them to briefly stare at the abyss in the Autumn of last year.

Liverpool are a long way behind in many respects with a stadium of inadequate size and a poor squad. They do however have several things on their side not least an unswervingly loyal support, the irony being that they kept turning up in their droves despite all the Hicks and Gillett protests. Also, even at this low point in their history there is an unending desire by players to play for the Reds. Those European Cups have not been forgotten.

Dalglish so far has played things very smart and no one should be surprised at this as the man has always been nothing if not shrewd. Dalglish understands Liverpool like almost no other and his constant references and soundbites about 'respect for the club' has galvanised both the fans and the players  - and that is the difference between he and Keegan who simply manages to get the supporters excited.

Liverpool are not going to pull up any trees this season, they simply aren't good enough and results like last night against Braga show the lack of depth palpably. What Dalglish has managed to do however is motivate the team and in many instances get the best out of them. Wins against Chelsea and ManYoo have been the stand out performances. Dalglish at the moment (like Hodgson) sets his team out to get a result, he knows he isn't managing the Liverpool of the 80s and he cannot set out to dominate matches. Unlike Hodgson however he encourages a cool air of expectation whilst tempering expectation at the same time. He does not get beat 2-0 by Everton and call it the best performance of the season, nor would he not defend his star striker for fear of upsetting Alex Ferguson. As mentioned above, Dalglish understands the club, he knows that Liverpool cannot win every game right now but he tells the fans and the players that is where they should be aiming, that Liverpool should not settle for second best - and they love him for it.

It is clear that Dalglish wants the job on a permanent basis and whilst that long term solution is a very different situation to his part time appointment, there can be little doubt that Dalglish has done nothing but enhance his credentials so far. There can also be little doubt that a poll right now amongst Liverpool fans would have an approval rating for him that only George Dubbya Bush at a Texas gun owners club could top.

If Dalglish is given the job, then two things will shape his chances of success, those are the financial backing that the 'new and improved' American owners give the club and his working relationship with Damien Comolli. This blog still remains highly sceptical of Dalglish's ability to accept transfer policy being dictated by a 38 year old bespectacled Frenchman who has never played football at the highest level (call me controversial and we would also add we have nothing against people with glasses).

Whilst the Liverpool front line for next season of Suarez and Carroll gives genuine hope the reality is that there is little else to cling to. Pep Reina remains possibly the best goalkeeper in the country but has been agitating for a move. The back line needs revamped even with the emergence of the exciting Kelly at fullback. The midfield once Gerrard is taken out looks decidedly average and the reality for the England captain now is that injuries and age now suggest that his best days are behind him and that forty plus games a season may now be to big an ask. Liverpool would be well served by his international retirement if he wishes to prolong his career in the same way that Shearer or Scholes did, there does seem little chance of that however and it also seems unlikely that Liverpool would wish to cash in finally on their talisman and leader even if Mourinho and Real do come calling.

Manchester City definitely and Chelsea possibly will spend again this summer, Tottenham also will be flush with cash from their Champions League run. ManYoo have many problems but are a long way ahead still, as are Arsenal. Two decades after his first stint, it is funds and transfer policy which will dictate whether Dalglish can be a success again and not his understanding of the club - no nonsense.