After transforming his side’s fortunes last season and investing significantly over the summer, expectations were high for Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool heading in to this season. Unfortunately, the season has not played out as the Anfield faithful had hoped it would. The Reds have been something of a Jekyll and Hyde side: still unbeaten in cup competitions and well on course for a domestic cup double, but infuriatingly inconsistent in the Premier League and far from where many had expected them to be. They slumped to their fifth defeat in their last six league games – an uninspiring, lethargic 2-1 loss at home to relegation battling Wigan – and fans are beginning to turn on the very man that has long been revered as royalty at Anfield.
Whilst ifs and buts are mostly meaningless, performance-wise there has not been much wrong with the way the Reds have played this season. All they have lacked for the most part is an instinctive, competent striker to put away some of the endless chances they have created and help turn all the good football in to wins. You can count on one hand the number of games LFC have come away from and, on the balance of play, not dominated possession and created enough good chances to have won it comfortably. Again, unless you actually win the game anything else is irrelevant, but up until this recent slump in league form, most fans seemed to accept that it was just a case of fine-tuning rather than ripping it all up and going back to the drawing board. However, football is a results game and the recent results have been poor. Fourth has been out of the question for a while, and with Europa League football already guaranteed next season, it seems the players are focusing on the FA Cup and are just going through the motions in the league. Of course it is the manager’s job to motivate the players, but there is only so much he can do.
Regardless of how other teams value it, we’ve won the League Cup this season (winning away at Stoke, Chelsea and Man City in the process) and have a very good chance of adding the FA Cup to that. Is silverware no longer acceptable? Is winning trophies no longer our raison d'être? Yes, like most of our fans I long to be back in the Champions League competing against Europe’s elite; I yearn for those world famous European nights at Anfield. I want to see us be in a position to entice the best players to Merseyside. However, I’m pretty damn sure I prefer to see us lifting trophies around Wembley. I’m absolutely positive that I want us to continue to be the most successful club in the country. Do you think looking back on their careers, players would rather reminisce on getting schooled in the Nou Camp by Barcelona than look at their medal collection and think back to all the trophies they won? I very much doubt it.
Bar Suarez, our big money signings have not been good enough, not by a long shot
Still, the future is not all bleak. This is a long-term project and, as with most things, it requires a bit of patience and faith. We’ve seen a radical transformation at the club over the past eighteen months, and to throw in the towel and call for change at such an early stage just seems counterproductive. Let’s see how the rest of the season pans out. Let’s see if another cup final at Wembley is on the cards. Let’s see if some of the youngsters are given a chance to show they’re worthy of competing for a first team place. Let’s see if, when we eventually get all of our best players fit and on the pitch together, the King can’t replicate the sort of success that was the norm during his prime. He deserves that much, doesn’t he?
Despite his perpetually prickly treatment of the press since he got the job full-time, and the vehement defence of his players and club, Dalglish is fully cognizant that Liverpool’s league form – despite generally playing well all season – is far from good enough. His refusal to publicly slate the team is not an acceptance of their substandard performances or poor results; it is, rightly or wrongly, his way of attempting to manage the pressure on the team not only from the club’s worldwide fan base but also from the general public. Whether this approach does more harm than good is up for debate but he unquestionably knows, both as a player and a manager, what it takes to win big trophies at this club.
Is he judged more leniently by ours fans than his predecessors were? Yes, undoubtedly. Has he earned that right through his achievements at the club not only during his previous tenure - leading us brilliantly through both the highs and the lows of the 80’s – but also through the fantastic football and mostly great results over the second half of last season? You bet he has. Am I revelling in and does the thought of King Kenny leading us the glory again making me all giddy? Guilty as charged. Football has changed dramatically since his pomp, of that there is no question, but that does not mean Dalglish is incapable of adjusting his philosophy to incorporate the demands of the modern game.
Still, this is not a defence of Dalglish based purely on blind faith and hope. Changes are needed if Liverpool are to make the required progress to, at the very least, get back in to the top four. Major questions need to be asked of Kenny. Why does he continue to persevere with the struggling Jordan Henderson on the right of midfield? Why after spending such an absurd amount of money to sign him, and after defending him all season, and after he finally starts to show some good form, has Carroll not been starting regularly over the past month or so? Why does he not make substitutions earlier to give them a chance to properly impact the game? And perhaps the most important question that needs addressing: Why did you spend so much money on overrated homegrown players?
The transfers are a huge concern. The club have splashed the cash over the past few transfer windows but are yet to see much return for our money. For once, put aside all the talk of net spend and sabermetrics and look at the facts: we have spent over £100m already during the FSG era, and bar Suarez, our big money signings have not been good enough, not by a long shot. Enrique and Bellamy have been fantastic signings and Sebastian Coates has shown glimpses of his talent in his few appearances but, over £70m was spent on Andy Carroll (the 8th most expensive signing EVER!), Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam, and you can make a very strong case that when all our players are available, none of that quartet would get in to our best starting eleven. Not good enough. Not by a long shot.
In a time when impending FIFA financial fair play regulations are looking to put an end to the sort of injudicious spending that has ruined many a football club, wasting such vast sums of money which, at this point in time, Liverpool appear to have done, is unforgivable. Of course you do have to consider how big a role Damien Comolli, the club’s director of football, played in the signing of the aforementioned players, but out of the two, whoever thought that our signing thus far represented value for money should have his control over transfers vastly reduced. Take Newcastle for example; a club who despite losing many of their best players over the past year, have made a series of prudent signings such as Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse - players who impressed in big leagues and were available for extremely reasonable prices; players who any sporting director worth his salt should have at least made a play to sign – that have seen them leapfrog Liverpool and push for a top four place. If you want to see Bill James’ revolutionary ideology executed to perfection, look no further. Not rocket science, is it?
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