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'King' still has midas touch

There are a number of things Liverpool owner John W Henry needs to know about Kenny Dalglish before he is obliged to reconsider the temporary nature of his appointment, as the suspicion here says he will, with some urgency, well before the end of this season.

One of the most important is that King Kenny's leaning towards the smart-alec answer, the heavy frown and the exasperated air, is often the most inaccurate guide to the depth of his feelings.

If we didn't know that before the horror of Hillsborough, and the toll it took on his belief that winning football matches was an ultimate goal in life, we certainly knew it when he walked away, a winning coach and one of the greatest of players but a wounded man.

Henry might want to flick through the sepia-coloured files. He will see that Dalglish had already matched Bill Shankly's haul of league titles when he drove home from a pulsating 4-4 Cup tie with Everton in the knowledge that his emotions had become twisted in too many places and that the only solution was a pause. The owner will see, too, that when he returned it was to win another league title for Blackburn Rovers.

Indeed, if Henry performs the kind of detailed case study he might undertake when sending out some potential financial wizard into the investment battleground, he will grasp quickly enough that in some of the most important ways Dalglish has never been away.

There have been frustrating interludes, no doubt, certainly at Newcastle, stewing in its toxic juices, and Celtic, where even his mystical reputation as a member of the Glasgow football pantheon was no buttress against the years of decay since the reign of his mentor Jock Stein. But, no, never any slippage in his belief that he knew the game and would return to it as though the intervening years simply hadn't happened.

Yesterday a new football creation -- well, new for Kenny Dalglish -- was present at his Liverpool press conference, but the director of football, Damien Comolli, was quick to say that for this season at least there will be no new Liverpool players without the manager's approving tick.

Willie McIlvanney, the novelist and poet, memorably identified the style of Dalglish. He said it came straight from the streets of Glasgow where he first made his name; it was a shoulders-back, chin-forward snippiness which discouraged any taking of advantage.

"If you showed a Glaswegian Helen of Troy," said McIlvanney, "he would probably shrug his shoulders and say, 'Ach, she's not the worst-looking lassie I've ever seen.' That would be Kenny -- at least the street-smart one he wanted the world to see."

When he was at Blackburn he was invited to join in the chorus of disapproval for the Fifa decision to scrap the back-pass. The move was reviled in most corners of the English game and initially Dalglish was less then enthusiastic. Then he paused, reflected and said: "Well, I will say that it is likely to make honest men of a lot of defenders -- and that has to be a start."

Dalglish the player explored the honesty, or lack of it, in opposing defences with relentless, surgical precision -- and the certainty that he would do it on behalf of Liverpool shone on the face of Bob Paisley the day he announced that the crisis provoked by Kevin Keegan's defection to Hamburg was over. "The moment Kevin confirmed he was leaving I knew what I had to do," said Paisley.


The former tank driver who helped liberate Rome got on the phone to his friend Stein and made arguably the sweetest deal in the history of Liverpool or any other football club of significance. Paisley paid Celtic £440,000 for Dalglish out of the £500,000 he received for Keegan. "Kevin was a great player, of course, but when I knew we had Kenny I knew we wouldn't miss a beat," said Paisley.

No one is saying that Dalglish is about to work a miracle but there is something that can be asserted with great confidence. It is that he will, more eloquently than would be possible in a thousand memos, explain what Liverpool has always meant to him, and to what degree it came to be so at odds with the picture of a club which knew exactly what it sought to represent.

And what was that precisely? It was, more than anything, consistency, an understanding that if Shankly was a brilliant demagogue he was also the author of a brilliant set of values.

Shankly loved his players -- as long as they were performing -- and he loved his club and the fans, of whom it was once said -- by the club chief executive, Peter Robinson -- that they would storm the Mersey Tunnel and annex Birkenhead if Shankly simply said the word.

King Kenny, we can be sure, will be making no such demand. But he will, we have to believe, at least remind us of what Liverpool used to be -- and what they might just be again.

Irish Independent