Dalglish gambles on best of British to deliver goods
Kenny Dalglish's last public act on Liverpool's tour of Asia was to engage in some public banter with Phil Thompson in front of 38,000 fans who had come to see his players engage in a little light training.
It proved that, however firm their place is in Anfield's pantheon, Thompson and Dalglish have a limited future as a comedy double act, although the reception they received would have flattered Morecambe and Wise.
Then, the Liverpool manager was driven to the airport for a 6,000-mile overnight flight to Merseyside to meet his newest signing, Stewart Downing.
The chance to welcome the 26-year-old winger, who has never quite fulfilled the early promise he showed at Middlesbrough, was not the reason for Dalglish's journey. There was a family engagement to fulfil but, as a player and a manager, Dalglish has never been slow to seize an opportunity.
Since his return to Anfield in what was a bleak if emotional January, Dalglish has moved swiftly. The £20m fee Liverpool will pay Aston Villa for Downing brings his total spending to £100m in seven months.
Looking at the footballers Dalglish has brought to Liverpool, it is not hard to see where he imagined the deep fault lines that undermined his predecessor Roy Hodgson lay.
There have been two very different centre-forwards in Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, and now three midfielders.
If Charlie Adam has been recruited to provide the telling through ball for Suarez, then Downing's role is to deliver the crosses that were often absent in the narrow teams Hodgson and, in his last season, Rafael Benitez oversaw.
At Blackburn and Newcastle, two clubs where Dalglish also spent big with differing results, the most common cry on the training pitches would be Alan Shearer's voice demanding crosses into the box. At Melwood the Geordie accent is similar but it belongs to Carroll.
Jamie Carragher, for one, understood that this is something Liverpool have long lacked.
"It's a terrific signing, there's no doubt about that whatsoever," said the man who has flung himself into the role of pressing the flesh in China and in Malaysia.
"He's been a top player in the Premier League for the last six or seven years and he will make a difference, with his ability to go outside and down the line to get quality crosses in.
"He was Aston Villa's player of the year and he will give us something that we have been lacking, genuine quality on the left-hand side. Every team looking to compete needs quality players in each position and that is what we are getting back towards."
Suarez apart, the one common link in Dalglish's spending is that it has been focused on British footballers, which underpinned his success at Blackburn. In his brief, sometimes tortured, tenure at St James' Park he often shopped abroad with mixed results.
British players are relatively expensive -- the £35m that took Carroll from Tyneside was enough for Barcelona to land Alexis Sanchez. However, they bring with them a certain togetherness.
"I know him (Downing), so does Stevie (Gerrard); he knows Andy Carroll and Johnno (Glen Johnson) from playing for England, so he is not going to be walking into a dressing-room and be on his own," said Carragher. "He will get a great welcome because he's a good lad and a top player as well."
It is easy to feel optimistic when you are a Premier League footballer in Asia. At last night's training session Dalglish's squad were cheered and the flashbulbs glittered when they passed into an empty net. Their manager's every press conference was book-ended by the kind of applause Dalglish does not expect in England, not even among his own journalists at Anfield.
Nevertheless, Dirk Kuyt, who 12 months ago was toying with a move to Internazionale, said he felt the kind of genuine optimism missing when he returned from the World Cup. And it was not just because, for the first time in five years, he had been able to have a proper holiday.
"When I arrived at Liverpool, five or six years ago, we seemed to have two very good players for almost every position," said Kuyt. "I have just got a feeling we are getting back there. There is more rivalry, more competition but it gets the best out of you.
"The start of pre-season last year was very strange for all of us. We didn't know where the club was going with the owners but since they (Tom Hicks and George Gillett) have gone, there has been a lot of change. A change of manager and a couple of good signings like Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.
"It all looks very positive. It is what I want and what the players want. We have to challenge with the best and it looks like we are getting there." (© Independent News Service)