When I was a kid, my idol was Kevin Keegan. When Keegan announced he was leaving Liverpool FC, I was devastated. He was irreplaceable.
We would NEVER be the same. How could he do this to me?
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Bob Paisley signed some Scottish lad called Kenny Dalglish from Celtic. I’d heard he was good, but surely there was no way he was going to replace King Kev? Well, I was just about as wrong as I could be, as Kenny Dalglish became the undisputed greatest player in the history of our fabulous club.
Kenny Dalglish the manager took the reins in May 1985 and went on to build on the foundation laid by Shanks and Bob, to help us win 3 more titles (one as player/manager), and 2 FA Cups in only 4 full seasons. Kenny left in February 1991 for very good reasons we’re well aware of. I think it’s no exaggeration to say that Liverpool FC has never been quite the same since.
Around about this era, there was another Glaswegian taking over a team 30 miles away. He was employed by the club in November 1986. He won his first title in 1993. Why am I talking about Demento you may ask? Well, because while King Kenny and him were managing Liverpool FC and ‘them’ at the same time, Liverpool won 2 English League titles, and ‘they’ won a big fat zero! It was only when Kenny was forced to stand down as manager, and Liverpool never ever adequately replaced him, did the other team from down the East Lancs gain the momentum.
So now, after almost exactly 20 years of (mainly) disappointment, the King is back! AND IS HE BACK!
I was home in Liverpool for Christmas with my 13 year-old son, and excitedly took him along to watch Liverpool play the bottom team, Wolves. For 90 minutes we both sat there in almost total despair as I witnessed the worst Liverpool display I have ever seen (and that is no exaggeration!) It was the game where the unrivalled patience and loyalty of Liverpool fans finally reached breaking point as the sarcastic chant ‘Hodgson for England’ was heard loud and clear. Several days later, I witnessed Anfield 10,000 fans below capacity. Things really WERE that bad. To rub it in, the anti-Liverpool media were gleefully predicting our impending relegation and total demise of the club. We were the new Leeds, they said. And how they hoped they were right.
But that was then… and this is now!
The sacking of Roy Hodgson and appointment of King Kenny was a master-stroke of the owners, albeit one that was staring them in the face. The fans knew it, the players knew it and the media knew it. But in today’s world of untrustworthy and fickle owners, especially ones from places where “soccer” is an afterthought, who knew what decision they would make? After all, we were all still licking the gaping wounds of Dumb and Dumber from Texas. Thankfully, these new Americans have proven to be a completely different (and refreshingly honest) breed, and they got the decision absolutely right.
The difference Kenny has made has been nothing less than gargantuan. The mood, the energy, the feel-good factor, the morale, the pride, the belief and the results have all returned to the club as a tidal wave of optimism has engulfed everybody associated with the club. The players are playing for each other, the tactics are superb, the ‘togetherness’ of the team is apparent in everything they do. Gone is the hoof and run football. Returning, rapidly, is the pass and move Liverpool of old. A team so disciplined was on display at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, that the current Champions of England were at a complete loss on how to destabilize it; and all of this done without a single new player on the field, and the unplanned loss of the team’s leading goal scorer of the last few seasons. (That’s the only acknowledgement I am willing to make of him.) I have a strong suspicion that Kenny’s decision to not introduce Suarez to the party was calculated and done quite deliberately. He was able to show the current squad that they were capable of outplaying, outwitting, outmaneuvering and defeating the plastic billionaires in their own back yard without a penny’s worth of investment on the field. He showed faith in those players who have stayed loyal to the club while other despicable mercenaries had moved on.
I am utterly convinced that this is no ‘honeymoon’ period either. That generally occurs when a new manager comes in and a team simply tried harder and gets a few results on effort alone. No, this has been a complete overhaul of the team’s mentality, the formations, the tactics, the self-belief and the entire philosophy of how football should be played. Some players have been necessary removals from the team to bring about the transition Kenny needed. i.e. Konchesky, for not being good enough, and Ngog for not being developed enough. Cole and Jovanovic have had barely a sniff, while Kenny has shown there is no room for sentimentality or reputations. He’s also made it very clear that there will be no tolerance for ANY player going through the motions, give a half-arsed contribution, or be anything but proud to wear the Liver Bird on their chest. “No-one ever won anything without hard work,” he said after Sunday’s victory. Kenny’s philosophy is that if you’re not willing to work, then you have no place at our club.
And then finally, there’s been his hypnotic effect on us, the fans. His interviews have been, well, brilliant! Woe betide ANY reporter who tries to have a dig at this club… or its players, or its history, or its legend. Try, and Kenny will chew you up and spit you out. This IS Liverpool.
Then there’s the humility of comments such as his response about the number 7 shirt…. “No, I didn’t make it famous – Kevin Keegan made it famous and I was fortunate to come to a fantastic football club and have the No.7” is like a breath of fresh air after the nonsensical ramblings of the recent past. They are also the comments of a man who is 100% in tune with everyone who loves this club. His love of the club and everything about the club is unparalleled by any other manager in the league. No-one has their heart and soul attached to ANY club as Kenny Dalglish does to Liverpool.
There are great times ahead which were unimaginable only a month ago. While the title isn’t a possibility this year, another key target most certainly is. A mere six points out of 4th place means that Champions League football next season is no longer a pipedream, but a real possibility. Making that statement a month ago would have seen anyone saying it shipped off to the nuthouse, but with Kenny as manager, the team firing on many (if not all, yet) cylinders and the 2 major signings added to the options available during the run in, there is a belief that, maybe, just maybe, we can do it.
Finally, there’s one other man who will also be wondering about a certain perch comment he made only after Dalglish was long gone as Liverpool manager the first time around. Demento has never won a league title while Kenny Dalglish has been manager of Liverpool FC for a full season. On the other hand, Kenny Dalglish has won several titles for Liverpool while Demento has been manager of that other team. While Kenny, with only a few weeks under his belt, might be personally powerless to prevent it this season, rest assured, he won’t be next.