Monday 5 December 2016

Dalglish restores old values to put spring back in Reds' step

Wolves 0 Liverpool 3

Paul Hayward

Published 23/01/2011 | 05:00

For two decades English football has changed at dazzling pace, but for 90 minutes here we were back in 1991, when Kenny Dalglish posted his last win as Liverpool manager.

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On a bad pitch against macho opponents, a leader pulled from the fog of history revived the ancient Anfield virtues of verve and togetherness.

Seven minutes before the end of a restorative 3-0 win a low rumble of "Dalglish, Dalglish" started in the red sector of Molineux. The rescuer raised both arms. His players were about to concoct a 30-pass move that brought the previously hibernating Fernando Torres his second goal of the day. For a time this was a throwback fixture, a test of intestinal fortitude on a winter pudding that evolved, as so many Liverpool games did 20 or 30 years ago, into a display of superior pedigree.

Still wearing one of those duvet coats that real football men favour, Dalglish hasn't altered much since stress drove him out of Anfield in 1991. That pained departure opened a void that Dalglish has now returned to fill. The third of his three league title wins was Liverpool's last, in 1990, and the road since has been one of near-misses, false dawns and crises, provoked mainly by takeovers and instability.

"He's enjoying a warmth and support that Roy didn't have," Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager said, in support of Roy Hodgson, who persuaded the game's outstanding player, Raul Meireles, to join from Porto in the summer.

"Roy Hodgson was the key because he worked so hard to get me here," Meireles said before the change of manager, but Dalglish will yield the credit now for relocating the Portugal midfielder to an advanced role behind Torres, where Steven Gerrard also likes to hunt.

To wait two decades for a win at the club he embodies and which he wished he had never left has been a torment to Dalglish, but now he stares from the dug-out with a good chance of reclaiming the job beyond May. To be catapulted back to the pre-Premier League era must have been dizzying? "My missus said that," Dalglish told us. "She said, 'I'm sleeping with the Liverpool manager again, after 20 years'."

Hodgson's successor has veered away from complexity and introspection in favour of the simpler values he absorbed in his reign as Liverpool's finest player. "He just told us to trust each other, trust ourselves," said Pepe Reina, the goalkeeper.

With confidence slipping, Dalglish saw the need to bring the team's under-achievers back up to the required standards, and used encouragement, his own charisma and a more positive tactical outlook to restore faith in and around the first-team squad.

"At the moment the feeling is of elation," he said. "Everybody's happy, because they've got the sensation they played as a team. It was only comprehensive at the end because of the hard work, determination and effort they put in throughout the game. They got the reward. I don't think it was a phantom result. It's a great credit to the players that they've kept their belief and their ambition to win football matches."

Torres and Meireles inspired this rare away win. El Nino, who is coming out of his trance, went mano a mano with Richard Stearman, the Wolves centre-back, and probed for space while Meireles orchestrated the best of Liverpool's passing, ahead of Lucas Leiva and Christian Poulsen, who were noticeably more effective.

"It wasn't just his goals, it was the work rate he put in," Dalglish said of Torres. "The goal last week gave him a bit of heart, and Meireles is a good footballer. Coming into the Premier League in your first season, it's not easy to pick up the pace of it. Missing pre-season training with the club isn't doing him any favours either. It was great for Christian Poulsen, too, who made a solid contribution until around the hour mark, when he started to tire because he hasn't had many games. They couldn't have worked much harder than they did today."

For every Liverpool disciple there is the fear that Torres has woken up to earn himself a move more than to impress Dalglish. But while "very amicable" conversations continue between manager and owners on the subject of reinforcements there remains a hope of persuading Torres not to scoot.

Modern football management is often cast as a mysterious compound of science, politics and psychology, but Dalglish made it seem much less esoteric, reconnecting points 20 years apart by reminding Liverpool who and what they are; or were, when he was last king.

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