"The romance is brilliant, for me to be back, and for some of the supporters as well. But this game is not built on romance, it’s built on hard facts’’
This was part second coming, part job interview. Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool's greatest ever player, the four-time Manager of the Year and the most celebrated messiah-caretaker in football, walked into Anfield yesterday saying he would be "delighted" if he stayed on after his six-month interim role.
Dalglish sat down in the board members' lounge, a few yards from the room where he resigned so emotionally nearly 20 years ago. Hanging on the wall was a yellowing photograph of Dalglish during Liverpool's glory days, cradling the league trophy. The caption was filled by one of his quotes: "At Liverpool we never accept second best."
Sadly, they have recently. Liverpool's slide over the past few seasons has been unacceptable at a club with five European Cups and 18 titles. So Dalglish, the architect of the last of their championships, has returned, brought in to break what director of football strategy Damien Comolli lamented as the "the circle of negativity" bedevilling the last days of Roy Hodgson's brief reign.
The decline has been longer than that, the deterioration in squad quality unmistakable for some time. So Liverpool dismissed Rafael Benitez last summer, and last weekend Hodgson followed for failing to tackle the demise.
Now Dalglish is back, ostensibly in a short-term capacity.
Liverpool's commercial director and board member, Ian Ayre, stressed yesterday that the club were involved in the "exhaustive process" of looking for a permanent manager. The new man must possess the three qualities sought by Comolli of "competence, fitting into the club's playing philosophy and being huge on man-management".
The new man could be the old man, the manager who brought such success to Liverpool from 1985 to 1991, including moulding one of the finest sides ever to grace English football, the 1987-88 team of John Barnes, John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley.
All the three traits espoused by Comolli are readily associated with Dalglish. Comolli happily added that "obviously Kenny will come in to that category because he is exactly what I have described". Would the famous caretaker be considered after the six months expires? "The answer is yes," replied Comolli, giving the Kop something else to sing about. "We will speak to Kenny about it and then see where it takes us."
With those few words, Comolli guaranteed Anfield a close season of open speculation. All the other candidates for the full-time post know they are up against the fans' favourite, a man who knows the players well and the club intimately.
On the basis that Dalglish coveted the job full-time last year, and wanted the job full-time when they appointed him caretaker on Saturday, his appetite for a longer-term reign is unlikely to have dimmed by the final whistle of the season. "If they think I can help, I will help any way I can," said Dalglish.
"If that means I'm not here, I'm not here. If that means I am here, I'll be delighted. If they come and say, 'Kenny, we don't think you are right', there's no way I am ever going to object.
"If I have come to help the club now, and if somebody better is going to come in, then it's not a problem whatsoever."
Note the key phrase "somebody better".
"I still have the huge love and desire to get the club right," Dalglish continued. "I'm just really happy to be here, to try to put a smile back on the faces of the people who come along to the game and give unbelievable support and the players who worked so hard on Sunday (at Old Trafford)."
Dalglish paused and delivered a caveat, saying: "I wouldn't know about the end of the week, let alone six months."
Kopites will want 'King Kenny' to stay, particularly after he again articulated his near reverence for them. The players certainly will want him to remain, particularly after the way he stood up for the dismissed Steven Gerrard, the misfiring Fernando Torres and the toxic tweeter Ryan Babel in the wake of the Manchester United defeat.
Aware of the incredible euphoria stirred by the 'Return of the King', Dalglish injected some perspective into proceedings. "We have to manage expectations," said Dalglish. "At the moment it is a wee bit romantic, isn't it?
"The romance is brilliant, for me to be back, and for some of the supporters as well. But this game is not built on romance, it's built on hard facts. The hard fact is that we have to start winning games. This club has never been about the individual, it's about the collective."
His words echoed the philosophy of Bob Paisley, the master of man-management who brought him from Celtic in 1977. "Football's about players, about people," added Dalglish. "It's about my relationship with the players and imparting my knowledge to them. The players just need pointing in the right direction."
An insight into the impact Dalglish can have on players arrived in his eloquent appraisal of Gerrard's qualities.
When it was suggested that the midfielder rivalled Dalglish as Liverpool's greatest player, the Scot quickly interrupted: "Steven might just pip me. Steven's been unbelievable for this club. There have been many times when Liverpool have been staring defeat in the face, and he's grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and we've got back in and won the match."
When it was pointed out that some of the most prominent managers in the Premier League were 60-somethings, like Harry Redknapp and Alex Ferguson, the 59-year-old Dalglish smiled.
"I may be YTS compared to those! Harry's done fantastically well at Tottenham. Fergie has been at United for 25 years. Age mattered when we picked the sides this morning in the staff game. I never got in!"
Dalglish will get in the dugout. For how long will be one of the stories of the year. (© Daily Telegraph, London)