Saturday 14 December 2019

James Lawton: 'New Reds boss must not whip up the emotions of the past but engage in the priorities of the present'

If they didn't before, they must certainly know now -- the American owners of Liverpool have, after all, been candid enough to admit that they went against some of their stronger instincts when they brought back Kenny Dalglish and gave him a shot at reinventing the past.

John W Henry's wife even took a crash course in some of the club's battle hymns. But yes, of course, they know now. They know that what was great about Liverpool cannot be instantly re-kindled, not even by a man who represented so much of it and it is a lesson that has cost them upwards of £110m.

Liverpool became Liverpool because they were driven by genius and passion and then understood the reason why they had come so far. They made a tradition that is common to all football clubs. They built upon strength -- and they never compromised.


Liverpool, so plainly, have gone beyond the help of a quick fix, financially or emotionally. They tried that with the old hero and his not ungenerous war chest. The new requirement demands some nerve and at least a little bit of the courage that is necessary whenever you decide you have got something so wrong you simply have to start again.

Some Dalglish stalwarts, and not least his great friend and former team-mate, Alan Hansen, insist that he was not so far from writing a new phase of the Liverpool story -- and in the last 24 hours the airwaves and the internet have been alive with such sentiment.

It is a tribute much more to the old meaning of Dalglish's name than the evidence of a season which left his team so far behind the contenders for Europe -- and four points short of shoestring Everton under the relentlessly competitive David Moyes. Dalglish's defenders say it is an arbitrary judgment, that he simply needed a little more time; but then how much longer did he need to see that the team, and his signings, simply weren't working?

He said that the fans would remember a Carling Cup win much longer the league placing in a season when the basic demand -- after such financial outlay -- was a place back in the Champions League. That requirement may not have been entirely realistic -- but then you also had to look at not just the margin by which it was missed, but the gathering evidence that another year was unlikely, certainly not without another major investment in the team, to bring the target significantly closer.

Where the Fenway Sports Group go now is naturally a matter for feverish speculation embracing some predictable suspects like Didier Deschamps of Marseille, Borussia Dortmund's double Bundesliga winner Jurgen Klopp and even the shell-shocked Andre Villas-Boas.

There is also the possibility of a hard young runner -- the Americans, we are told, have always been high on the possibility of youth -- like Brendan Rodgers of Swansea or the amiable Houdini of Wigan; Roberto Martinez, with whom they were yesterday given permission to speak.

Amid it all, though, there is surely one certainty. It is that, having once appeased the emotions of a following still traumatised by its detachment from the elite of English football, and perhaps been somewhat ambushed by the initial impact of Dalglish's return and the huge emotional response it created, the owners have, indeed, made their one and only concession to the lingering folklore of Anfield.

Now, as the fallen heads of Dalglish and the man who was supposed to plot the future, former director of football Damien Comolli, attest, it has to be all business. Dalglish, rushing to the point of danger on a transatlantic flight, learned this quickly enough. Rather poignantly, and with his fears confirmed, he still clung to the idea that a Carling Cup victory, even a somewhat fortuitous one over Cardiff City, should have been enough to earn him a stay of execution.

It was one last departure from reality by a football man, who for so long, both on and off the field, was at the heart of the tradition first created by Bill Shankly. Dalglish said that winning the least regarded of all the trophies at the top of English football marked a return to the heart of competitiveness.

He also misread the Luis Suarez affair so profoundly he might have been wearing a blindfold. And all the time he refused to see something that became progressively clear. The club had run into a wall, quite as profoundly as the one hit by Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson. The team had not been properly re-seeded, the momentum had gone. Liverpool had shed the values that were passed on so seamlessly from Shankly to Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan and then, first time around, Dalglish.

No you don't remake that in a single season, but you make a start. You do not turn away from the reality of the team's performance and the sense that it was turning in on itself with a terrible awareness that it simply wasn't good enough.

Of course, Liverpool didn't hurtle to such a point. It came with the seepage of the years, the bizarre decision to first make Roy Evans and Houllier joint managers, the accumulation of sub-standard signings by the latter, and then a dogged refusal to accept that Benitez had used up the credit that came with his extraordinary Champions League victory over Milan -- and had clearly lost the dressing-room.

Today's owners have one clear priority -- and it is not to be found in their enthusiasm for the 'Moneyball' theory of deep statistical research and the prudent buying of young players.

It is the appointment of a manager who may be as young as Rodgers or as old as Guus Hiddink -- the first man you are inclined to think of when a team needs to be returned to solid foundations. However, who has the brief not to whip up the emotions of the past, but engage, truly, the priorities of the present.

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