Perfect time for new manager to re-ignite Liverpool's fire
WHAT the Liverpool dressing-room needs now is some warmth, some life breathed into a hearth that died under Rafa Benitez. Now that this cold political animal has gone, Anfield requires a manager who can empathise with players, who understands they are human beings as well as professional footballers. Sometimes players need a boss who asks after their family or tells them, "well done''.
It would be easy to celebrate Benitez's departure, to recall all of the times when his players required supportive words but were greeted with debates about near-post marking. It would be simple to highlight the wasteful recruitment of average players like Andrea Dossena and Lucas Leiva, or ones like Alberto Aquilani unsuited to the pacey, physical nature of the Premier League.
It would also be straightforward to note the impoverished nature of the reserves and over-reliance on two magnificent club stalwarts in Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher inherited by Benitez. Or to point to a Premier League table that does not lie.
Benitez's manifold defects do not need dwelling on. What first needs stressing is that he leaves Liverpool with fond memories of Istanbul and Cardiff and three world-class signings in Pepe Reina, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres. What must also be remembered is that he had to live with a flawed, frustrating ownership structure.
If anything, Benitez deserves the club's gratitude for not dragging the impasse out any longer, for now allowing the divisions to heal. He was beginning to resemble a squatter at Anfield but has accepted the board's sensible offer of a pay-off and headed off. Benitez has done the right thing. A summer stand-off would have further damaged his reputation and Liverpool's. Some dignity has returned to all parties.
Rather than reflect on the club's slide under Benitez, Liverpool must look to the future. Kenny Dalglish, whose title success in 1990 has weighed ever more heavily on each subsequent manager, has been named king-maker.
Dalglish's mere presence should help soothe fans aggrieved at Benitez's exit.
When the Kop sings 'The Fields Of Anfield Road' there seems even more emotion poured into the words about King Kenny, "and could he play''. There has been too much politicking at Anfield this season but fortunately Dalglish has only one agenda: to do what is best for Liverpool.
His office at the Kirkby Academy has two massive photographs of Liverpool fans and his passion for the club remains as strong now as during his gilded playing and management days.
Simply the involvement of such a popular club legend might also encourage Gerrard to resist any thoughts of joining Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid.
Dalglish's love of banter, witnessed when engaging with the youngest Academy aspirant or established star like Gerrard or Carragher, will bring some warmth back to Anfield.
Although Fabio Capello will not appreciate the distraction, Dalglish needs to contact Gerrard and Carragher at the England camp in Rustenburg to hear their thoughts of who Benitez's successor should be. Gerrard and Carragher are intelligent individuals who care deeply for Liverpool and have been hurt by the club's descent into mediocrity. Their voices must now be heard.
The whisper is that Liverpool are looking to appoint an experienced replacement with a good record in Europe, one who is a stable character.
Roy Hodgson fits that bill, although whether he would now uproot from his native London after returning home following a nomad's existence remains another issue.
The Fulham manager is ambitious and his stock is high after the team's run to the final of the Europa League. Yet the feeling has always been that Hodgson would not make his next move until Capello vacated the England position. Such a patriot as Hodgson would love to finish his career as manager of his country.
Unless Liverpool look overseas, the other obvious candidate is Martin O'Neill. Although his Aston Villa side remain a work in progress, and O'Neill is not the type to run from a half-finished job, Liverpool's famous history and enduring support must be alluring. He has seemed increasingly tense in recent months, partly over the question of how much funding he will get to lift Villa up another level.
Few dispute that O'Neill improves Villa year on year, yet he would be perfect for Liverpool, an antidote to the Benitez era. O'Neill motivates players because of his ebullient character. He challenges, coaxes them, inspires them. Whether O'Neill could be considered particularly stable' may be an issue that plays on Liverpool minds.
He often comes across as the lawyer he once trained to be, engaging in unnecessarily complicated arguments. He has decent European experience as a manager and exceptional pedigree as a player with Nottingham Forest, who vied with the Liverpool of Dalglish.
O'Neill would certainly cut a more demonstrative figure in the dug-out than Benitez, who raised eyebrows in the dressing-room by rarely celebrating goals or wins. Yet what is happening at Liverpool is not about replacing one manager with another, it's about transforming a culture. Benitez changed so much at Anfield and the new man will need to conduct a small revolution.
Yesterday was a step in the right direction but Liverpool will continue to endure some painful times before they climb back up again. (© Daily Telegraph, London)