Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kenny Dalglish - The Scorecard So Far

This blog was fairly scathing with regard to King Kenny's appointment mid way through last season but it is clear that Liverpool have made progress since his arrival. What is arbitrary however is how Roy Hodgson would have fared given the same backing from the new owners but it is possibly a non sequitur in any respect as it would never have happened.

The suggestion that Hodgson could have done a comparable job will have the Kop faithful apoplectic and it does look on the surface at least as if Dalglish has done a decent job since his return to Liverpool. Hodgson was doomed from the outset as he was never accepted by the fans, indeed he never really understood the size of the undertaking in managing Liverpool, that no matter how bad the situation was or how poor the squad was by comparison, that finishing 2nd - never mind 5th or 6th - to Manchester United was entirely unacceptable for a club that had been Britain's and at one point Europe's finest by some distance.

It is clear that since his return to the club in a managerial capacity, Dalglish has been a master of the media and of PR with regard to the fans. Dalglish has at every opportunity talked of 'respect of the club', played up players who have an understanding of 'the club'.

Even last night after the Carling Cup match he spoke of the players performance being 'a great credit to the football club'. Lets be clear, he was talking about a win over Brighton in a meaningless cup competition yet he never misses a chance to rally the fans around 'the club'.

Dalglish is also more than happy to bristle with subdued anger when the press question his version of events, he is fostering a siege mentality, all centred around 'the club'. He refuses to talk about referees' decisions that hurt 'the club' but at the same time sows the seeds of henious injustice against 'the club' that he knows will be lapped up by the loyal fans as they close rank against outsiders with him.

In doing so, Dalglish has done two things, firstly he has given Liverpool fans back their self respect and returned the identity of Liverpool FC to the Merseyside faithful. Liverpool are still owned by an American sports tycoon but they no longer feel like an offshoot of a baseball or a hockey team, they are themselves again and for that Dalglish should be much praised.

The second thing he has achieved is to buy himself time by having the fans so firmly onside. For all his public proclamations about ambition and the desire for success, Dalglish privately will know that this Liverpool team are years from challenging for the title, indeed with the resources available to the teams above them it may be a harsh reality that Liverpool cannot challenge for the title again until something changes regardless of the progress they make.

The relative affluence of ManYoo, City and Chelsea are outside of Dalglish's control and indeed  that of John Henry the owner. The measure of Dalglish's success as manager can only be done so by the progress of his team and on that we can deliver a verdict so far.

In terms of League position, Liverpool have improved for certain and that is the bottom line. Matches that were drawn or even lost previously are now being won. Their record against their peers and sides above them is a mixed bag with excellent wins against ManYoo last season and away to Arsenal this. This is offset with a tendency to receive hidings from Spurs - who rarely it must be said hand those out to top six sides.

In the transfer market, things are less positive it would seem for Dalglish. Whilst probably Comoli's fault rather than his, Liverpool missed out on the apparently excellent Phil Jones. Dalglish did not wish to to sell Torres (which would have been another mistake) and then invested the money in 35M Andy Carroll who has not fired since his arrival. Luis Suarez has been excellent so far but again he does not look like someone who will score a huge amount of goals despite his undoubted ability and overall contribution. Downing is a solid enough signing but does not spark the imagination and Jordan Henderson is a leap of faith at best with Charlie Adam only slightly better off than that.

With the exception of Suarez, Dalglish has mainly 'bought British' again conjuring images for the fans of former glories and the many home nation greats that Dalglish played amongst such as Souness, Hansen, Rush, Whelan and others that he brought to the club such as Barnes and Bearsdsley. It is a policy that has served Liverpool well in the past but the reality is the game has changed.

That is not to say that British players are necessarily sub standard but there can be no doubt that there is a technical deficiency at large within British football. If you are buying the very best, the likes of Rooney, Gerrard and Ashley Cole then you are buying real world class players but comparing the relative abilities of the players he has bought versus the competition he wishes to emulate the picture looks bleak.

For Carroll you can compare Edin Dzeko or Didier Drogba, for Henderson try Michael Essien or Anderson, for Downing you could suggest Nani or Valencia and for Adam there is Juan Mata, Luca Modric or David Silva - it is not pretty reading. It is also worth nothing that Carroll is far and away the most expensive player on that list, Downing cost more than Nani and Henderson only 6M less than Michael Essien.

What Dalglish has achieved is to return Liverpool's backbone in terms of mentality, but on the pitch the manner in which they were brushed aside at both Stoke and Spurs suggests that a 'British mentality' and 'understanding and pride and in the club' will not be enough to return Liverpool to the summit of the British game. It has been a reasonable start for Dalglish but more is needed than simply a dry wit and Kop friendly soundbites - No Nonsense.