OLD ghosts are haunting Liverpool. Anyone acquainted with the club's famous history will need few nudges to notice that a distinctive dynamic struts and frets its familiar way across the Anfield stage again. The Kop has been here before. Echoes of the past abound. For 2010 read 1991.
Different causes, different characters but the level of stress Kenny Dalglish succumbed to almost a full score of years ago finds some modern symptoms in the furrows knitting Rafael Benitez's brow. The current custodian of Liverpool's fortunes is running on empty, just as Dalglish was 19 years ago.
Benitez seems drained of energy and ideas; some of his tactics are debatable, many of his acquisitions questionable. Support for the manager from the Kop remains solid because that's the Liverpool way. Fans respect the office of manager. They would never countenance knee-jerk reactions. In 1991, the local 'Echo' and 'Post' letter pages brimmed with doubts about Dalglish's line-ups yet few fans dreamed of challenging his right to govern.
When Dalglish suddenly resigned, following that switchback ride of an FA Cup replay at Goodison Park, a stunned Merseyside experienced its 'JFK moment'. The news was even announced over the Tannoy at Lime Street railway station. Tony Cottee, twice an equaliser that night, has just released a DVD chronicling his finest moments but there will surely be no nerve-shredding 4-4 draw with Everton around the corner to ambush Benitez.
Hold on. What's that coming over the hill? It is David Moyes' newly buoyant Everton, charging across Stanley Park on February 6, bright and breezy and early for a 12.45 start. As against Spurs tomorrow, Liverpool may raise themselves against Everton but the impression will remain of a club drifting, of a dressing-room growing apart from Benitez, of the life ebbing away from the Spaniard's reign. The Kop, who have not seen the title since the Dalglish era, deserve better.
New thinking is required. Make that old thinking. Liverpool's prominence was once rooted in the 'boot room', in the nurturing of talent, from Bob Paisley to Joe Fagan. (Roy Evans also emerged from the boot room but was never a success as a manager). Dalglish, who steered Liverpool to three championships, was not a boot-room boy but the principle of promoting from within, of handing responsibility to someone steeped in the club's great tradition and distinct DNA, makes sense.
The boot room, an area absorbed into the press room in the mid-1990s, was always as much about flesh and bones as bricks and mortar and now is the time to restore the philosophy. Liverpool must start rebuilding. The individual in Benitez's squad most suited to a career in management must begin training with a different perspective.
That man is Jamie Carragher, a footballer far more suited to the stresses and strains of dugout life than Steven Gerrard. One of the few players really fighting for the cause, Carragher must be earmarked by a grateful, forward-thinking club as exuding management potential and given some of the younger teams to work with. Anyone who has met Carragher is immediately struck by his deep knowledge of the game and appreciates instantly that here is someone destined for management once he has the requisite skills and badges.
More urgently, Liverpool need a manager for 2010, not 2015. Benitez should survive until the summer, when someone of the motivational substance of Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello or Guus Hiddink assumes control, turning the lights back on in a dressing-room plunged into gloom.
Until then, the board must encourage Benitez to invite a refreshed Dalglish, currently on duty at the academy, to assist him. Dalglish's presence alone would lift the team's mood and remind certain players of the standards Liverpool aspire to. The squad could certainly do with the Scot's winning blend of relentless banter and utter dedication.
Far be it for this observer to provide succour for Benitez, who has often bought badly, but the malaise runs deeper than one man's mistakes. Throughout all the glory years of Dalglish, particularly as a wonderful footballer who helped bring home three European Cups, Liverpool failed to maximise their commercial appeal. Perhaps the board felt this was too brash, too 'Manchester United'. The cold reality is that Liverpool got left behind.
If only co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett were not so clueless, saddling the club with debt and embarrassment. If only the summer would come quickly, so Benitez departs. This special club needs rebuilding. Dalglish in the short term and Carragher in the long would offer some hope. (© Daily Telegraph, London)