The summer gave Liverpool fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Not only was this Kenny Dalglish’s first summer as the club’s manager in 21 years, ambitious new owners spoke about winning and returning the club to former glories. The right noises are being made. The squad was completely and dramatically overhauled, with many players undeserving of the badge shipped out, and the owners investing heavily in new acquisitions. Unquestionably, progress has been made, with the novelty of a Liverpool manager being allowed to pursue his genuine targets. This has raised expectations, but perhaps those expectations need to be properly managed, because there is evidently a long way to go before a club that finished 7th and 6th in the last two seasons can realistically start competing for the title.
Patience is needed, especially when you consider how far the club has come in a year. The problem is that patience is a rare commodity in football these days, and Liverpool fans suffered through years of political backbiting and broken promises that would try the patience of even the most even-tempered supporter. Every Liverpool fan would prefer instant success, because genuine success has been in short supply in recent years. That desire is understandable given the manager at the helm, the impressive owners and the improvements within the squad. To paraphrase a certain former gameshow host, it’s been good, but it’s not quite right.
Most fair-minded fans are prepared to give the manager time before rushing to judgement, but there has been a hasty and unwarranted amount of criticism levelled towards Kenny Dalglish after two defeats. In the Twitter and blog age where any 14-year-old can act like an expert with no knowledge of history or respect for it, this is sadly inevitable. We all seem to have an opinion on how things should have been done or how a different player might have represented a better use of money. Ultimately, it does not matter. It is not like a manager will have their transfer policy dictated by social media. Sometimes we let our streams of consciousness spill out in poorly-reasoned spurts of 140 characters. It is no different than the “if I was boss…” pontificating you hear (and might spout) in pubs. When this descends to the level of abuse, it highlights extraordinary ignorance.
Heavy 4-0 defeats against rivals are bound to induce panic and anger in some quarters. This might be compounded by Man United flourishing and the ascendency of Man City, because both teams look considerably stronger than Liverpool at this time. However, both clubs have had more time and money to build their squads. They are also in the Champions League. This made United a more attractive proposition to reported Liverpool targets like Phil Jones and Ashley Young, while City are in a unique position of being able to afford the sort of wages Aguero and Nasri enjoy.
Critics will complain of favouritism with the way in which most Liverpool fans let Dalglish “off the hook” after a poor performance. They might argue that, if Roy Hodgson had managed a team that had performed as poorly as Liverpool did at Spurs, he would have been pilloried. He would have been. Roy Hodgson never really spoke the same language as Liverpool fans. Kenny Dalglish does and he arguably knows more about “the Liverpool way” than anyone in the game. For that reason, the last two matches need to be put in the correct context. The results will not make or break the season and hopefully they won’t define it either. After all, there are 33 more games to play and a certain world-class midfielder itching to get back into the team. The manager is a proven winner, made no excuses for the abysmal performance and determined there would be improvement. It is a given that he has the goods to put this right.
Kenny is and always will be a legend. No-one questions that. And while fans are well within their rights to question the selections and signings he’s made, he always acts in the club’s best interests. In fairness, the signings of Carroll and Henderson are yet to prove fruitful. As he has pointed out many times, however, these are players for the future. Not every player proves an instant success, and they may still be very successful acquisitions. If they fail to deliver, rest assured that Dalglish will show no hesitation on dispensing with their services.
Everything is, of course, easier in hindsight. It’s easier to say what a manager should have done when a result is bad or a player disappoints, but the manager has done a lot right since taking over. For a man who was “out of the game too long”, impressive wins against Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea in the same calendar year are nothing to scoff at. The quality of football has improved dramatically. Players have started to talk and act like winners. There is a sense of real togetherness in the squad. In truth, bad luck and individual errors have had a hand in recent results. Dalglish is not without blame, of course, and the club’s away form remains patchy. No-one is infallible and mistakes will still be made. However, some poor individual performances from Charlie Adam, Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Mark Clattenburg certainly haven’t helped the Reds’ cause.
The result and overall team performance on Sunday were not indicative of Kenny Dalglish’s time in charge. That has been defined by solid effort and no shortage of attacking intent. Choose your cliché – “A bad day at the office”, “just one of those days” – but it seems to be apropos in this case. It would have been a kneejerk reaction to proclaim Liverpool genuine title challengers after the top-notch performance against Bolton. It would be equally premature to dismiss the club’s chances of finishing in the top 4 after two sobering defeats.
While it is important to retain perspective, it is equally important not to use perspective (e.g. looking back at how dismal the situation was last season) as a crutch. It starts to become a tired argument. Sure, the club was in dire straits exactly one year ago both off and on the pitch. There was also a poor start to the campaign two years before. Those could be considered low points, so comparing how this team performs to how Liverpool performed under Hodgson is misleading. It is better now, but it should be better now, as there are better owners, better players and a better manager in charge.
That is not to say that, even with the improvements, anyone should expect the team to be at the top of the table right now. The start to the season is encouraging, with Sunday’s performance being a body blow. There is reason to think it is merely an aberration. In football, fortunes and perceptions can and often do change very quickly. If the team strings a few great results together, expectations will rise again. It is easy to get carried away when things go well and despondent when the defeats occur. That is the nature of football and part of the rollercoaster that makes up the typical football season.
To make the point more clear: at approximately this time last season, Wayne Rooney was being written off by many in the media and Fernando Torres was still considered one of the hottest properties in European football. Chelsea had gotten off to the proverbial “flyer” and the majority of pundits insisted they were unstoppable. There is a lot of football still to be played this season, a lot of twists to play out and plenty of opportunities for Liverpool’s current squad to gel.
For all these reasons, true perspective is important. The team is nowhere near as poor as Sunday suggested, nor apparently as ready for a title tilt as the back-to-back wins against Arsenal and Bolton might have implied. The truth is, it is a team that needs time to develop. The squad is clearly full of talent and there will be tweaks along the way, even if it means that Dalglish will show more of the ruthless streak that has typified his managerial career. Clearly, it will take more time to be genuine title contenders than many fans wanted, but probably no longer than could realistically be expected.
It is not so much about knowing where you’ve been, but knowing where you are and knowing where you wish to go. From the interviews he’s given and the experiences of winning he’s had, there are surely few managers more keenly aware of that than Kenny Dalglish. Liverpool is finally moving in the right direction, but all of us fans need to show a bit more faith, patience, support and all-round perspective and understand there will be bumps in the road. Even though it might be difficult to maintain positivity at times, such an attitude should pay dividends in the end.