What do Margaret Thatcher, Kenny Dalglish and synth-pop troubadour, Howard Jones all have in common? Well, you’re right, each of them is in their own way a human travesty. But their connection in this instance is that they were all big in the eighties.
Do you remember that decade, the crazy hair, the big shoulder-pads, the systematic destruction of the working class? Along with all of that, it was also the decade that ‘King Kenny’ was in his full pomp.
I know that reds amongst you (those happy, literate few) will say that he also won the league in the nineties but for the sake of narrative coherence let’s just say that his successful exercise in fantasy football with Blackburn was an aberration; a deviation from the arithmetic mean (a mean that rendered him a pretty anonymous figure in the nineties when compared to his eighties heyday).
Go and watch a few matches from the late eighties and early nineties and then compare them to the standard of football in the top flight today. It’s like watching two Sunday league teams compete
So we’re agreed that Kenny was primarily an eighties man (and even if we’re not, I don’t care). And what better way to illustrate this than a quick peek at his haul of trophies during that decade. As a player he won four league titles, four league cups and two European cups. Then as a player/manager he managed a further three leagues and two FA Cups.
And let’s not neglect the jewel in his crown, the winning for ten straight years of the much coveted Liverpool Echo ‘Worst Haircut in Football’ award. To do this in the eighties, the decade that taste, if not home perming forgot is no mean feat.
However, since he was last really effective in English football, the game has changed a lot. As proof, go and watch a few matches from the late eighties and early nineties and then compare them to the standard of football in the top flight today. It’s like watching two Sunday league teams compete. It’s all long balls, flying tackles and sharp elbows.
Essentially there seems to be two basic styles of play evident.
1) Bang it long to a big number nine, who will head it down into the path of his diminutive forward partner, thus creating a chance.
2) Pass it out wide to left or right-mid, who will then whip it into the box hoping that the big number nine will meet it with his head and convert it or alternatively knock it down to his diminutive forward partner, thus creating a chance.
Thankfully, this approach to football has gradually dissipated in the top-flight over the last twenty years. Teams might employ it now and then, such as side trailing 1-0 that wishes to lay siege to the opposition’s eighteen-yard-box or a team fighting for their life at the bottom, but these are the exceptions.
Overall, the game has moved on from its ‘rough and tumble’ origins, very slowly coming to the conclusion that the reason other European countries are so much better than us is that they play in a more measured, less frenetic manner.
So it’s with a mixture of admiration, disbelief and gentle amusement that I have greeted Kenny Dalglish’s attempts to bring this style of play back to the Premiership. Here is man who looked at the developments that have taken place over the last twenty years, shook his head and mumbled ‘not for me’.
During last summer as Liverpool were hell-bent on a transfer splurge, there was a lot of talk in the papers and amongst red-shites that the new acquisitions would be the key to propelling the side from the edge of the Europa regions and into the heart of the top-four (with an eye possibly on the top spot).
Dalglish is man who looked at the developments that have taken place over the last twenty years, shook his head and mumbled ‘not for me’
And you can see why they thought this. Dalglish had managed to come and turn Roy Hodgson’s under-performing squad into a side whose second-half-of-the-season form would have put them in the top three. So in essence all Liverpool needed was a tad more quality and they’d be challenging for the league.
What many people failed to see was that during those heady days of that summer Dalglish was indeed building a side to win the league, only it was the 1982 football league and not the 2012 Premiership title. His template seemed to be option two from above (knock it out to the wing and whip it in to the big man).
It seemed that rather than build a team around the-soon-to-be-vilified-racist Luis Suarez (a player that oozes talent) he had opted instead to build it around the soon-to-be-Premiership-joke, Andy Carroll (a player that oozes a mixture of Newkey Brown and sadness).
Aside from it being an ill-fit for the modern game, the other main problem with this approach is that it is centred upon a man without any discernible talent, giving it very little chance of working in the first place. And when Carroll is dropped from the team (which is happening with increased regularity), it leaves a system without point or focus.
But for sad red-shites out there, there is a silver lining to all those clouds. By some miracle this flawed, backward system actually seems to be very suited to cup competitions. Cup ties are generally more frenetic than league games and so perhaps a bit of good-old-fashioned ‘kick and rush’ is what’s needed.
What many people failed to see was that during those heady days of that summer Dalglish was indeed building a side to win the league, only it was the 1982 football league.
And really, from one perspective this all seems quite apposite. Kenny Dalglish, the man from the eighties with an eighties approach to tactics, finding success in two cup competitions that none of the proper big clubs have really given a shit about since the eighties. When seen in that light it almost seems fitting that Liverpool might bag themselves both cups this year.
But of course before that can happen they have to face Everton in the semi. Now, some of the brighter reds amongst you will point out that what could be more ‘eighties’ than Liverpool beating Everton at Wembley?
And I agree. But by saying that, you’d essentially be validating my entire argument and tacitly accepting that Dalglish is a hopeless relic who should be consigned to the managerial knackers yard.
And to me that’s almost as sweet as winning the FA Cup itself.
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