Relaxed Dalglish puts faith in Cole
TWENTY years ago this week, Kenny Dalglish called the most emotional press conference of his life, the one in which he announced he would be leaving Liverpool.
It says something that there were vastly more television cameras jammed into the club's Melwood training ground for a routine discussion about this evening's Europa League encounter with Sparta Prague than there were in Anfield's trophy room in February 1991.
Speaking shortly after Dalglish's return, Gerard Houllier said it would be this aspect of football -- 24-hour rolling news, the internet and the constant intrusion -- that King Kenny would find most challenging.
Nevertheless, Dalglish was relaxed yesterday, "happier now than I was 20 years ago'', celebrating the birth of two grandchildren and joking that, just because he had accompanied Andy Carroll to a Boyzone concert, "it doesn't mean that we're a couple".
"For me, the biggest challenge now is the elevation of the game itself, as a result of the evolution of the Premier League," he said. "When things get bigger, you get more media. It's not the game itself or the work towards it that's changed. The ball is still the same shape, it is still more or less the same rules."
In the wake of the tedious 0-0 draw in the first leg, an expectant Anfield, sold out for a 6.0 kick-off, might have to be patient.
"The great thing about our fans is that they have been very well educated," said Dalglish. "They know the opposition will come and sit back.
"If you look back on one of Anfield's greatest European nights, against St Etienne (in 1977), it was 1-1 in the second half and we were out. At 2-1 we are still out but the punters are still there cheering them on until David Fairclough slots in the third and it is one of the greatest nights at Anfield. Our fans understand how it works in Europe."
Last week's stalemate in the Czech Republic was the first time Joe Cole was given a real opportunity to demonstrate what he could do for Dalglish.
Of the players Roy Hodgson brought to Merseyside, Paul Konchesky has been disposed of and, while Raul Meireles has flourished, you suspect Cole's future is in the balance.
Dalglish, however, is backing the player to justify his price tag -- especially now that Steve Clarke, Cole's former first-team coach at Chelsea, is part of the anfield boot room.
"Wee Joe is all right," said the Scot. "He knows himself it will take time to adjust after being out for a while injured. It's not a tap you can turn on and off and even hot water takes a while to come through, so it is not fair for us to judge him right now.
"He is a talented footballer and we have got to make sure he is right and ready,'' said Dalglish. "He did well against Sparta last week, so he is really progressing."
The 29-year-old is certainly up for the challenge.
"It's not gone how I would have liked, but that's life," Cole said. "Things like that happen and you've just got to push on through the difficult times. I've had plenty of good times in my career and I've had my share of difficult times, and I'll always come through.
"I haven't enjoyed the football because I haven't felt as though I have done myself justice or got myself right. I have been frustrated with the injuries. But that's all going to change. I'll keep going, keep training hard and I'll turn the corner sooner rather than later.
Cole will be granted another chance tonight largely because Dalglish is unlikely to risk Steven Gerrard -- still nursing an adductor injury -- and Luis Suarez and Carroll remain unavailable because of ineligibility and a thigh problem, respectively. (© Independent News Service)
Liverpool (probable, 4-2-3-1) -- Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Skrtel, Johnson; Lucas, Meireles; Kuyt, Cole, Maxi; Ngog.
Sparta Prague (probable, 4-5-1) -- Blazek; Kusnir, Repka, Brabec, Pamic; Sionko, Matejovsky, Vacek, Abena, Kadlec; Kweuke.
Ref -- M Mazic (Serbia).
Liverpool v Sparta Prague,
Live, 3e/Channel 5, 6.0