When it was announced that Kenny Dalglish was to take over as Liverpool manager following the sacking of poor old Woy, every supporter of English football’s most successful club (it’s fact, not fiction) allowed themselves a smile, a little jig, a celebratory bit of how’s your father and several pints / whiskeys / joints / lines / pies, whatever.
This situation is unique to Liverpool. Dalglish is not only the club's greatest ever player, but one of its most successful managers and a huge part of the fabric of all things red on Merseyside. He scored the winner in the European Cup final in 1978 in his first season, won eight league titles as a player and manager and crafted one of the most exciting teams in English history when he signed Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, John Aldridge and Ray Houghton in 1987.
As he prepares to make his European managerial debut for Liverpool against Sparta Prague this evening, here’s a look at what he’s done and how he has done it…
1. United The Fans
Since the Benitez era began to falter, fans on the Kop and beyond have spent as much time arguing as they have singing. This is over. Fans of United, Arsenal, Everton, City – whoever – can scoff when I say this, I really couldn’t give a shit, but the perception is that Liverpool fans have a sense of entitlement when it comes to winning things. This is bollocks. What we want, what we crave, is for our club to be run in the correct fashion.
What started with the socialism of Shankly and was horrifically shat on by a MATE OF GEORGE BUSH’S FOR FUCKS SAKE, has now returned with democrat owners and a slight scot who hails from that part of Scotland that seems to churn out great managers.
His ties to the club run deep. This is a man, remember, who went to every funeral of the victims of the Hillsborough. There might be players/managers who have, or have had, a similar connection with a club but there is no other man, Mourinho included, who could have taken the job and got every single man, woman, child and mascot connected to the club by emotional or physical ties looking in the same direction. Forward.
Whether you are old enough to remember Kenny first time around as I am, or if you are an eight/nine/ten/15-year-old being schooled in all things King by your elder relatives, you will believe in the man. I showed my eight-year-old stepson a video of Kenny’s goals and he sat, mouth agape, for the entirety. After it finished, he turned to me and said, “he’s amazing, he’d be worth £80 million today.” “Close,” I replied. “He’s priceless.” I came home from work the next day and he rushed to find me. “I’ve started a new game on Fifa 11 as a player manager, guess what my name is… King Kenny.”
Even neutrals of a certain age seem excited. James, the editor of this site, said to me. “This is ace, fuck city and fuck united, if it can’t be Leeds then I want Liverpool to be the dominant force again…”
2. The players
Ok, so it might not reflect too well upon them, but a group who had seemed like lambs waiting to have their necks cut, are now gamboling about like they’ve just been told that they’ve got a passport to Mutton-hood. And who can blame them. Dalglish’s childlike enthusiasm for the game has never waned. He celebrates every goal like he’s actually scored with arms aloft and that weird wolf-tooth glinting. Benitez never celebrated. Hodgson rubbed his face.
His use of young players has also been astute. Every fan thought Kelly was good enough, but no-one would have moved Glen Johnson to the left to accommodate him. Players like Shelvey have been given the chance in games that mean something (guaranteeing they run 90 minutes-worth of intensity in half an hour) rather than only starting alongside other youngsters in reserve and European games. This is how players should be introduced to the first team.
Dalglish also has a sense of humour. There is a glint in his eye that tells you a joke is never far away and he will spend hours with players refining technique rather than repetitive patterns of play.
Whichever formation Liverpool have played, the actual football has been the same. Pass, move into space, pass again, move again and support the man in possession by running until you drop.
Arch wanker, Robbie Savage, tweeted “game’s a bit faster now Kenny” when Agger felled Berbatov in the FA Cup match at Old Trafford. Leaving aside the fact that Dalglish himself wasn’t playing, every berk with a pedestal from which to spout their nonsense was convinced that this appointment was nothing more than tokenism and would flounder on Dalglish’s perceived tactical naivety after a period away from the game. The thing that Savage fails to understand, whereas Kenny knows, is that football really is a simple game.
So whether Liverpool have played 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, or the retro 3-5-2, the actual football has been the same. Pass, move into space, pass again, move again and support the man in possession by running until you drop. Look no further than the difference in Raul Meireles to see the effect this has on players. Kenny trusts them to do their jobs while allowing them to go and play and try the things that they practice in training. Under Hodgson, Meireles didn’t score because he wasn’t allowed to go forward.
4. Dealing with the press
Makes Ferguson look like Mary Poppins in the way he refuses to give them a morsel. Talk about other players? No chance. Extrapolate about the rest of the season after a victory? Not on your nelly. Say how glad he is to be back in Europe? No, he talked about the victims of Heysel instead. Benitez whinged, Hodgson ditto. Dalglish refuses, point blank, to indulge in any gossip or tittle-tattle that has made the club a circus over the past few years. We love him for it.
If Fernando Torres had left under any other manager he would have either been strung up or open warfare would have started. Under Dalglish no-one cares. Because it is Kenny. Simple. He knows what he is doing. Replacing the miserable, wantaway Spaniard and Ryan Babel with the ever-smiling Suarez and the brutal yet talented Carroll is Kenny to a tee. Did I think we’d spend £35m for a shagging, fighting crock? No. Did I think I’d be excited about it and spend all my spare time dreaming of the wingers we’ll buy to provide ammo for the pony-tailed beast? No.
Am I? Yes.
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