Sunday 23 July 2017

James Lawton: Suarez saga brings Dalglish's siege mentality into focus

James Lawton

James Lawton

SOME managers seek out an excuse for a siege mentality, but that has never been a chore for Kenny Dalglish. His, adaptable to all situations, came in the cradle and, if some of the results can be less than uplifting -- as we saw when he approved the wearing of pro-Suarez T-shirts by his players before Liverpool's match at Wigan -- about one thing, there is no doubt...

When he brought it back to Anfield early this year, it was something the embattled club had good reason to weigh in gold. Dalglish's philosophy has never been one of the tougher ones to analyse.

If he put it into words, it would probably come out something like, "It's us, and quite frequently just me, against the world."

Glaswegian novelist and poet Willie McIlvanney once summed up the Dalglish style quite deliciously: "Kenny is a typical Glasgow guy -- he likes to show the street-smarts whenever he can. You know the kind of thing -- you show him Helen of Troy and he says: 'She's not the worst looking wee lassie I've ever seen'."

Football's anti-racism campaigners may not have been so appreciative of Dalglish's strenuous blanket defence of his Uruguay striker, but they can hardly have been surprised.

Nor can either the club's American ownership or their most zealous fans.

Dalglish wasn't brought back from his 10-year exile from the game because of any tactical insights he had developed in lonely contemplation; it was because of the aura he still carried from his days as arguably the club's most accomplished player and a title-winning manager.

He was seen as the perfect antidote the years of disillusionment, over which Rafa Benitez presided with increasing detachment from reality -- and his successor Roy Hodgson failed, utterly, to dispel.

The interim verdict on Dalglish -- however ham-fisted his handling of the Suarez eruption -- has to be so far, so predominantly good.

As revealed in Wednesday's ultimately frustrating game at Wigan, Liverpool are still some way from being an entirely reclaimed significant article.

Even with Suarez on the field, and showing once more why so many of the Liverpool fans are so prepared to turn their back on so many of the worst implications of his conviction, Liverpool once again revealed the lack of cutting edge in front of goal they were supposed to have banished when they invested so much of the Fernando Torres money in signing Andy Carroll.

Young Jordan Henderson's game has shown considerable improvement since his distinctly underwhelming arrival at Anfield, but was he really worth £6m more than the fee received for the much more rounded, and inventive, Raul Meireles?

The jury has to be similarly reflective in the case of Charlie Adam. He is a player of some skill and substance, no doubt, but many fans have been left increasingly restive by the sporadic appearances of the old hero Steven Gerrard. Dwarfing everything this side of the suspension of Suarez, however, is the sense that Dalglish's belief in the potential of Carroll may prove to have been catastrophically misplaced.

England coach Fabio Capello certainly reached quickly for Pontius Pilate's water and towels after a brief exposure to the pony-tailed giant.

Asked why he had discarded Carroll, Capello's response could hardly have been more pointed. "That is not a question for me," said the Italian. "You should ask Andy Carroll. His future is in his own hands."

There has been nothing like such candour from the master of Anfield.

Dalglish merely claims that the player's failure is largely in the mind of a hyper-critical media and that the young man is merely adjusting to a new environment.

The proposition became even more absurd this week, though, when, with Liverpool's attack looking increasingly futile beyond the inventions of Suarez, Dalglish waited until just three minutes from the end before sending on the big man.

Certainly, it's not hard to understand Liverpool's consternation over the outcome of the Suarez affair.

The Uruguayan had become public enemy No 1 at away grounds before the collision with Patrice Evra. This was not because of suspicions of racism, but a distinct diving tendency.

However, no one has been able to question the sustained brilliance of the man who became notorious in most of Africa when he handled the ball on the line in the World Cup game with Ghana -- then celebrated wildly when the subsequent penalty was missed.

As he was also christened the 'Cannibal of Ajax' for biting the shoulder of an opponent shortly before his move to Liverpool, a tranquil stint at Anfield was perhaps a little bit too much to expect.

What is beyond question, though, is that with a Suarez in full working order, Liverpool can be seen to have covered an impressive amount of difficult terrain since the Dalglish bandwagon forced open the door of the manager's office.

It could be that Liverpool will use the January transfer window for the kind of signing that might just ward off a critical slowing of momentum if Suarez is indeed obliged to miss eight games, or perhaps more if his anticipated appeal fails.

This would be another testing call on Dalglish's judgment in the market, which ultimately will be the key to his ability to roll back the years and return Liverpool to the elite of the English game.

What the interim report has to say is that Dalglish has, overall, already gone a long way to justifying his appointment.

He has reignited the belief of those many fans who, having been frustrated in their quasi-religious faith in Benitez, could see absolutely no virtue in the appointment of Hodgson -- a sound football man in many respects, but not one who was ever likely to stir the passions first created by Bill Shankly and so brilliantly underpinned by Dalglish, both as a player and a manager.

Dalglish has achieved the vital challenge of making Liverpool believe that they indeed remain one of the big clubs. It was one which ultimately slipped away from Benitez and was never truly grasped by Hodgson.

Now, with Suarez under such a shadow, Dalglish has never been in greater need of a siege mentality.

This, at least, is plainly in full working order.

Hansen apologises

for 'coloured' gaffe

ALAN HANSEN has unreservedly apologised after his use of the word "coloured" to describe black players on TV sent Twitter into meltdown.

Match of the Day pundit Hansen, 56, made the gaffe while discussing the John Terry and Luis Suarez racism rows.

In a statement, he said: "I unreservedly apologise for any offence caused. This was never my intention and I deeply regret the use of the word."

Fellow pundit Lee Dixon looked pale as the former Liverpool defender blurted out: "I think there's a lot of coloured players in all the major teams and there are lots of coloured players who are probably the best in the Premier League."

Irish Independent

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