Let’s be honest, last week’s draw with Sparta Prague was a turgid affair. Played at a pedestrian pace with next-to-no goal mouth activity, it was a fine advert for Coronation Street. Despite the monotony of proceedings however no criticism surfaced. Why? Because Kenny Dalglish walks on water.
An away draw is a decent result in Europe and it’s hard to envisage anything but a Liverpool win at Anfield. For that reason any scepticism would have proven somewhat misplaced. Nonetheless, had such dross unfolded during Roy Hodgson’s tenure the grumblings would have been audible, deafening even.
Not so with Dalglish. This is because The King has united everyone connected to LFC. For the first time in what seems years, all Kopites are singing from the same hymn sheet.
An inspired if obvious appointment, he is adored by the Reds faithful and can do no wrong. His very presence in the dug-out has rejuvenated the club on and off the field, top to bottom. It is for that reason his permanent restoration should be confirmed.
Sifting through the romance of his return, Dalglish’s impact on the team itself is clear to see. More than a mystical figure he is a very competent football manager and has already imposed serious changes.
Refreshingly, the shackles have been removed. Bogged-down by a succession of defensive-minded managers, the Reds have laboured in an attacking sense for a long time. Gerard Houllier was cautious, Rafa Benitez negative and Hodgson painfully regimented.
Dalglish though has given a new lease of life to his midfield, best evidenced by the inspired displays of Raul Meireles. The Portuguese international has suddenly found himself in and around the penalty area, urged to support the attack whenever possible and his subsequent goal return is just reward.
That has been the biggest change of all, an increase in options. Whenever Liverpool attacked under Hodgson there was precious little complimenting the lone striker. Dirk Kuyt would invariably drift from the wing but the gap between midfielder and attack proved wider than John Prescott’s waistline. That stifled much of our play and led to some horribly disjointed efforts, particularly away.
Not now, as Meireles, Maxi and Gerrard break a neck to provide a goal-threat. Martin Kelly’s marauding runs have also aided this progressive aspect of our game.
That’s not to say Kenny is gung-ho in any way. We are still as organised as ever, underlined by Thursday’s draw and that famous win over Chelsea, but the balance is finally right. We are not headless in the ilk of Keegan’s Newcastle, or drilled robotically like a Hodgson outfit. At long last, we seem to have found the right combination. Part of that blend is no doubt down to Steve Clark, himself an excellent appointment.
Being a true legend has many advantages, one of which is the ability to inspire those around you. KD has undoubtedly stirred the fire in many of our top players. The performances of Meireles, Kelly, Lucas Leiva and Daniel Agger have all notably improved, while Fernando Torres even broke into a sweat before jumping ship.
The sheer aura of the man seems to have cajoled an extra 10% from all the players who, needless to say, may not have held such enthusiasm for his predecessor. Whether right or wrong it hindered the previous regime yet Dalglish has no such problems. His significance in Liverpool folklore is a major help to him and his long-term aspirations.
Another factor now rectified is media management, an Achilles heel of Hodgson’s. Whether through bad judgement or complete ignorance, the newly appointed West Brom boss delivered a series of mishaps when interviewed at Liverpool. Royisms were both infuriating and embarrassing but have now been brought to a sudden halt.
Dalglish is, by his own admission, no media-darling but he does talk sense and talk the Liverpool way. Amazingly, in spite of a whirlwind of activity at the backend of January, our business was kept in-house. When quizzed about speculation linking him with player X, Y or Z, Kenny batted away the queries with a degree of disdain. ‘If we’ve got business to do we’ll do it behind closed doors’ he retorted, time again. In an instant the spirit of the Boot-room was rekindled, the club as we knew it restored.
In a similar vain he refused to change tact on Torres, showing strength where Hodgson had cowered. The latter had somehow contrived to link the Spaniard with Manchester United when interviewed in October. Dalglish on the other-hand was defiant, referring journalists to club statements even after a transfer request had been submitted. Pressed further still he added Scottish zeal to his rebuttals, never wavering from his insistence that all business would be done in private.
Impressive too was his and John W. Henry’s reaction to the Torres affair. Rather than mull on his exit, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll were swiftly signed. The Geordie has the hallmark of a Dalglish signing. The King would have pinpointed Carroll at an early stage and urged the owners to back his judgement. Once sorted, he then lauded his new captures and affectively won Liverpool the PR war. Again, had Torres departed under any other manager qualms would have been aired but the fact is we trust Kenny. No blame was laid at his door, only praise for ridding us of a negative influence.
Time will tell whether Carroll will live up to his price tag, a crazy £35m. Some say his manager’s reputation is on the line but he has a decent track record in the market. He also knows what is required of a Liverpool player, what standard is expected at Anfield. If nothing else that should put an end to the recruitment of mediocre players, too many of whom have held us back since the 90s.
An upturn in results must surely help Dalglish’s credentials when it finally comes to sorting his future. It may be too late to salvage a Champions League place but the Scot has pushed the Reds up to sixth, banishing fears of a relegation dogfight. The Reds are sitting comfortably right now and in truth we could have expected no more back in January. Should we finish sixth Dalglish would have fulfilled his mandate, no doubt.
So in essence everything is in place. FSG have displayed single-mindedness to this point and will not be rushed into announcing anything. But they surely have no option but to reward The King with a new, long-term contract. There are no better candidates, not even the bullish Jose Mourinho. More to the point, anyone who comes in at this stage will be undermined by the fact they dislodged Dalglish, our own Special One.
A future with Kenny at the helm is what the man himself and his adoring public crave. Together, they are a hard act to stop.