As I’m writing this, the news is breaking that Kenny Dalglish is no longer manager of Liverpool. There was heavy speculation yesterday as to whether or not Kenny Dalglish was still the manager of Liverpool as the club refused to confirm or deny that Dalglish was still in charge. I’m writing this just a few minutes after the event, so there has not yet been an official statement from the club’s owners, which is expected later today.
It is believed that Dalglish was offered a different role within Liverpool, but turned that down and has departed the club completely. Assistant manager Steve Clarke, who had been tipped to take over, has also departed.
The rumours about Dalglish’s departure had been swirling around for a few weeks, but intensified when, shortly after the final game of the season on Sunday, Kenny Dalglish and his assistant Steve Clarke flew out to Boston for a meeting with the club’s owners, FSG. The bookmakers here in England have already installed former Reds manager Rafael Benitez as favourite (god forbid!) to be the next manager, with Wigan’s Roberto Martinez a close second.
In true Liverpool fashion, chaos reigned last night. It seemed as though the meeting hadn’t gone well, as there was no endorsement of Dalglish from anybody, but it was expected that the owners would wait a while to decide, and nothing would happen one way or another until Dalglish returned from the family holiday he was due to go on today. At the time, it wasn’t immediately obvious why Dalglish and Clarke went to Boston just hours after the season ended. I thought that it was nothing more than a planned, routine meeting to discuss the season, and to finalise transfer plans etc. It has come as a surprise that the ownership have acted so quickly in removing Dalglish from his post.
But, towards the end of the season, there were increasing signs that John Henry was not happy with Dalglish’s performance as manager. At the end of the FA Cup final, as Chelsea’s players, coaching staff and fans were celebrating a well-deserved win; the Liverpool team were reluctantly trudging up the stairs at Wembley to receive their runners-up medals. As they did, Liverpool’s players got a consoling handshake from John Henry, but when it was Kenny Dalglish’s turn to walk past Henry, he was greeted with a stone-faced look and Henry didn’t shake his hand.
Recently, a fan called into a local radio station here in Liverpool to tell of a conversation he’d had with John Henry when he bumped into him in Liverpool City centre (the fan in question posted a picture of himself with Henry on the stations twitter account to back his story up) jut after the abysmal home defeat to Fulham. According to the fan, Henry had asked if he had ever seen as poor a performance as the one against Fulham, and then followed that up by allegedly saying “Makes you realise how much money we’ve wasted”. For the owner of the club to make such an unsolicited comment is quite a damning indictment of his feelings as to how his investment has been spent.
Should he stay or should he go? That had been the question that had divided Liverpool fans ever since it became obvious that the current league campaign was going badly wrong. Critics of Kenny Dalglish pointed to the total disaster that was Liverpool’s league campaign, where Liverpool put in one of their worst ever Premier League seasons, losing 14 games, winning only six at home and finishing a lowly eighth in the table, 37 points behind the champions, and 17 points behind their stated aim of a top 4 finish. With a massive investment in the squad, both the fans and John Henry expected far better this season. Those who believed Dalglish was the right man to take Liverpool forward spent most of the second half of the season pointing to the fact that Liverpool had won one trophy and might have won a second this season. At the time, both were valid points of view. While I’m firmly in the belief that the league should always be the focus and the cups are just a nice bonus, it would’ve been hard to argue that two trophies wouldn’t have represented progress this season, and while there was an equally compelling argument for Dalglish to stay or go, then no change should have been made. However, Liverpool didn’t win the FA Cup, and the scales tipped in favour of Dalglish leaving his job.
In many ways, the FA Cup final was a microcosm of Kenny Dalglish’s second spell in charge of Liverpool. There was some good play, some terrible play, the wrong team started, the substitutions were strange, the tactics were virtually non-existent, and there was a late flurry of attacks that could have redeemed the situation, but it all eventually ended in disappointment.
Dalglish’s time in charge has reminded me a lot of Roy Evans’ spell as manager, where there was plenty of attacking play, but there was no real purpose, discipline or direction to it. Dalglish, like Evans, was synonymous with the success the club has had in the past, but seemed unsuited to the modern game.
It was always a big ask to expect someone who hadn’t managed for such a long time to come back and be a success. Dalglish’s love and enthusiasm for the Liverpool job is unquestionable. But there were some real aspects of the job where he came up short. Dalglish was totally unprepared and unwilling to deal with the media attention the Liverpool job brings; he was usually truculent and belligerent in interviews, even when being given a soft question to answer by the interviewer. At one stage this season he was made to apologise to the media for his obstreperous attitude to them this season.
There were also real concerns about Dalglish’s tactical knowledge. His tactics seemed totally outdated and unsuited to modern-day football. In some cases you got the impression that there was no tactical instruction at all. His Liverpool teams looked often unmotivated and horribly underprepared for games, which should never be the case. There were the strange team selections, often followed by even stranger, often contrary substitutions. I lost count of the amount of times this season that the Liverpool team which finished a game should have been the one that started it.
There were also huge errors made in the transfer market. Last summer Dalglish was handed a huge amount of money to spend, money which if it was well spent, should have propelled Liverpool back up the table. Instead of buying the best players available, Dalglish and Damien Comolli (who was fired as a result) decided to buy a lot of overpriced English players, who have largely been disappointing. Stewart Downing was brought in for a reported £20m and got as many Premier League goals and assists as me. Jordan Henderson has been a huge disappointment, though he did quite well in the last few games of the season. Andy Carroll was signed for a British transfer record and has been in-and-out of the team all season as Liverpool have struggled to find a way to best utilise him and Carroll has struggled to adapt to the way he was asked to play.
What may prove a stumbling block to making a managerial change is who would decide which manager to appoint? Usually that task would fall to the Chairman, but I think Tom Werner is wise enough to admit his knowledge of football isn’t sufficient to make an informed decision. If it isn’t the Chairman who selects and appoints a new manager, it’s usually the Chief Executive who makes that call, but Liverpool doesn’t have one. Ian Ayre, the Managing Director, is the most senior executive in the club, but is there for his knowledge of the commercial side of the game rather than the football side, so probably isn’t too qualified to make that decision either. Liverpool haven’t as yet replaced Damien Comolli, so there isn’t anyone really who could make a decision on who is the best candidate for the job, especially as the next appointment is crucial.
It is incredibly sad for Liverpool and Liverpool fans everywhere that a true club legend like Kenny Dalglish should have had to lose his job, but the season Liverpool had after the investment the owners made last summer gave them little choice but to act. Hopefully, Dalglish can be brought back into the fold in some capacity at some point in the future, and out of the sadness that surrounds Dalglish’s departure, there will emerge fresh optimism that the next manager will be able to better utilise what is a reasonably strong team and start to take Liverpool back up the table once more.