Tuesday 26 September 2017

Liverpool see sense and turn to Dalglish

Club's spiritual leader only man capable of uniting supporters, writes Dion Fanning

Dion Fanning

On Elvis's birthday, Liverpool turned to the king. The arguments against the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool manager all make perfect sense. He is out of touch, his last jobs were categorised by failure and inertia, he is a populist appointment. All these arguments are persuasive and make sense to those on the outside.

On the inside, they see it differently. Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool never made sense but something happened when they were together.

Dalglish was 34-years-old when he was appointed Liverpool's player-manager. He was too young. The two jobs were too much for one man. He had no experience. All these arguments made perfect sense.

He took over in the aftermath of the shame of Heysel and led the club to two league titles. He made it look easy, which is the hardest thing of all.

Then came Hillsborough. He was a young man and an inexperienced manager in a haunted land without a map. He instinctively knew what to do in a time that was bewildering for its lack of sense. He suffered but considered his suffering trivial compared to the grief of others. They never forgot that in a celtic city where not forgetting is part of the honour code.

Dalglish always understood that code and he understands it now. Liverpool needed that after a manager whose very appointment was a statement of the mutual incomprehension that existed between the club and its fans.

Those who believe that Hodgson's dismissal demonstrates a fundamental shift in Liverpool's relationship with their manager forget that his appointment was the fundamental shift. Liverpool had never sought middle England's approval before and those who delighted in the success of a friend never paid attention to the muted sounds of disapproval on Merseyside.

Hodgson was the wrong appointment, not an appointment that didn't get time. There was not a fundamental shift in Liverpool supporters' relationship with their manager. Roy Hodgson was not their manager. He was Sky's manager, the establishment's manager, the English FA's manager. Now they can all find something for him to do.

Liverpool supporters will back Dalglish and they will back the man who succeeds Dalglish. The desire for his return was always more sophisticated than some Newcastle United-like yearning for a Messiah.

They chanted for Dalglish in contrast, not because they think he is the saviour who will solve their problems but because he unites like no other. If they wanted more division, there would have been chants for Rafael Benitez, but all sides recognise that, on that subject, Liverpool fans are split.

They chanted for Dalglish because the supporters realised that Hodgson's appointment was one of the last divisive acts of the old decaying regime. They are together on the unifying aspects of Dalglish's personality. He will take the team to Old Trafford today with the backing of the away support. If Hodgson had remained, that support would have been brittle and mutinous.

Liverpool are now back in a familiar position, one of defiance. The world sees Dalglish's return as a ludicrous gamble but the suicidal risk was to do nothing and alienate the supporters.

Hodgson was not the appointment of John W Henry and Tom Werner but in the last few days, he was becoming as damaging to their regime as if they had staked their reputation on him.

They had wanted to be patient and to appear different to owners such as the new regime at Blackburn who act hastily and with plenty of rash promises.

Hodgson was so poor they couldn't afford him time. He was promoted above his pay grade and sent to work in a world he knew little about. In the end, he resembled a bewildered civil servant sent to observe the last days of the Raj and discovering that the world of subservience was disappearing.

He had the backing of the opinion-formers back in London but their views don't matter so much in Liverpool any more. The old regime believed the backing of the media was important, pointing out to one fan who had objected to Benitez's dismissal that "I note your opinion doesn't seem to be shared by the media".

They spoke with one voice on Hodgson only to discover that it wasn't a language they understood on Merseyside. Benitez skipped the opinion-formers and went straight to the heart of Liverpool fans. He was not the first. Dalglish did the same.

When the press used to grumble that Dalglish was joyless and monosyllabic, the Liverpool supporters saw his smile and an articulation of their position which couldn't be stated at a press conference.

They saw the eloquence in his football teams, his three league titles and his endless time for the Hillsborough families. It is 20 years since those days but his friends will tell you that he retains an encyclopedic knowledge of world footballers and never sounds out of touch.

Hodgson, on the other hand, was "well respected in football" with "many friends" but signed Christian Poulsen.

Liverpool and Dalglish have nothing to lose, especially today at Manchester United.

Dalglish's friends will also point out the effect he could have on the Liverpool team now that the supporters are united behind him rather than united against Hodgson.

The team that was worn down by splits against managers and owners will now feel the effect of unquestioning backing. "Torres adores Dalglish," a close observer in Liverpool said last night and Liverpool's striker may have been guilty of a lack of effort under Hodgson but he had no respect for him. Hodgson asked him to play an alien game, Dalglish always had a sure touch with creative players.

He returned from holiday in Dubai yesterday too late to take training but in time to lift the spirits of a club that had been dragged down by decay. It may also be too late to inspire victory at Old Trafford but then Dalglish and Liverpool have never made sense.

Liverpool dismissed the church warden and have turned to their spiritual leader.

Sunday Indo Sport

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport