Dalglish brings in crown princes to replace a Kop king
Published 01/02/2011 | 05:00
The king is dead, long live the crown princes.
Fernando Torres out on Manic Monday, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll in. Liverpool have been down this road before, watching ruefully as a monarch of the Anfield glen departed, only for the £3.2m from Juventus for Ian Rush to be used to handsome effect by Kenny Dalglish in 1987.
Players come. Players go. Clubs survive, often prospering. "After Rushie went, a team came through that many Liverpool fans believe is the most attractive ever," Dalglish recalled. Indeed. John Barnes, John Aldridge, Peter Beardsley and Ray Houghton were exhilarating that 1987-88 League season.
Each player drafted into Anfield was taught the Liverpool Way, a philosophy Dalglish articulated yesterday when asked about Torres. "Liverpool Football Club is much more important than any one individual," said the Scot.
Scarcely three weeks into his second reign as Liverpool manager and Dalglish has surely removed his caretaker coat. The next major puff of smoke from Anfield must herald his appointment as permanent manager. The American owners backed his judgment in the transfer market yesterday, trusting a man who has already restored belief to the club.
All the old characteristics were at Melwood yesterday. As kids climbed on wheely bins and car roofs to peer over the training-ground wall, Dalglish was ensconced inside, speaking of the unity of Liverpool FC, emphasising that no human cog, however polished like Torres, was bigger than the Liverpool machine. He talked of the owners' backing, of the players' work-rate and of everyone sharing responsibility.
Everyone will look on this as a day of big cheques and minimal loyalty.
Deadline Day was also about people, about emotions, about Liverpool continuing to re-find their soul under their greatest player. All clubs have a heart. Torres will find that when he meets the many likeable individuals at the Bridge, from Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda to Carlo Ancelotti and the assorted friendly back-stage staff with blue blood in their veins.
But Liverpool have lost their way in recent seasons. It has taken Dalglish to guide them back, drawing on the past, on old Liverpool virtues, to fashion a new future. The way Dalglish enthused about Suarez confirmed both the manager's excitement and involvement in the striker's signing.
Suarez must now build quickly an understanding with Carroll. If anybody knows how to pair up strikers it is Dalglish, the man who partnered Rush and who formed the famous SAS, Sutton and Shearer at Blackburn Rovers.
But, a five-and-half-year contract, the famous No 9 shirt and £36m for Carroll? He has one England cap, half a season in the Premier League and a quarter of the finesse of Barcelona's £34.2m World Cup winner David Villa. Carroll has a thigh problem, an intellect more Postman Pat than Paxman, and a reputation for nights out on the Toon. As a professional footballer, he is a work in progress and £36m is an extraordinary sum but, but, but? . . .
There are times in life when one pays over the odds: for a shirt or a meal to impress a first date, for a house or for a daughter's wedding.
That's life. There are times when people like Dalglish, who know football, are right to go with their gut instinct. Carroll is a gamble, unproven year in, year out like Torres, but there's something about the boy.
There was something in the way he strolled into England training before last year's France friendly that hinted at a class apart. Where Ashley Young and Darren Bent seemed inhibited, Carroll flourished. He looks the most confident, capable striker England have after Wayne Rooney.
So ignore, if possible, the inflated fee. English players are invariably overpriced. But Carroll has a swagger that should make him thrive the higher he climbs. Unlike the £24m Bent, Carroll contributes even when not scoring. He closes down, he links, he creates, he clears when back for corners.
Dalglish's one concern should be Carroll the Carouser. Short of moving in with Kevin Nolan's relatives on Merseyside, Carroll must realise the chance for a new start he has been given. Liverpool is even more of a goldfish bowl and rumour city than Newcastle, a smaller conurbation. Carroll must take care.
For all the obsession with value for money, for stats-driven "moneyball" economics, football is about flesh and blood, about players sparking off charismatic managers. Uefa look away; Michel Platini's desire for financial sanity took a hit yesterday.
Look at Torres. Roman Abramovich sought to balance the books last summer, but now splashes £50m on Torres. Chelsea need strengthening elsewhere but Abramovich wanted to shake the dressing-room up, to put up a marquee name at Cobham.
How Torres dovetails with Didier Drogba or fits into 4-3-3 remains to be seen. Whatever the fine detail, the big picture illustrates an owner exuding commitment. Abramovich sent a message to players and fans alike: this oligarch remains hungry for success.
Nobody understands the ambition of Torres better than Dalglish, having himself left Celtic in 1977 in search of European Cup glory. Jock Stein pleaded with Dalglish to stay but the forward was adamant.
Those on the Kop now tempted to vilify Torres should remember how Dalglish enraged Paradise. In fact, when Dalglish returned to Celtic for Stein's testimonial in 1978, he stepped into a bear-pit. Dalglish emerged first
from the tunnel, to a chorus of disapproval.
Chelsea fans will instantly love Torres. Just as the Kop will embrace Suarez and Carroll, the new kings on the block. (© Daily Telegraph, London)