Friday 15 December 2017

Dalglish delighted to recount tale of two strikers

Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll will be men in the spotlight at Chelsea today, writes Paul Wilson

Liverpool visits to Chelsea have a special place in the affections of older supporters of the club. Stamford Bridge was where Kenny Dalglish himself scored the winning goal on the final day of the 1985-'86 season to secure the title en route to Liverpool's first Double in his first campaign as player-manager.

For younger supporters this afternoon's fixture means something completely different, recalling the memory of the dramatic last day of the January transfer window, when Fernando Torres shipped out to Chelsea for £50m, £35m of which was immediately reinvested in Andy Carroll. In what was almost a single transaction -- that is the way Dalglish looks at it -- the British transfer record was broken and a new high set for an English player moving between two English clubs.

That Dalglish should have been back after a 20-year absence as the Liverpool manager presiding over the deals was remarkable enough, Roy Hodgson having been scapegoated somewhat unfairly for the off-field difficulties that prompted Pepe Reina to refer to the months leading up to Torres' departure as the lowest point in the club's history.

What has fascinated in the months since, however, has been the perceived underperformance of both players. Torres has found goals hard to come by and has lost his position as a regular starter with Spain, though at least it was not difficult to imagine what Chelsea thought they were getting when they parted with £50m.

Torres' potential for excellence is not in any doubt. What Liverpool imagined they were getting with Carroll is much less clear. Not many people thought he was worth anything like £35m, and even fewer observers have had a change of heart since. The impact made by Luis Suarez, another January arrival, has bought Carroll some time, but with the Uruguayan facing possible suspension after being charged by the English FA over allegedly abusive remarks to Patrice Evra, Liverpool could soon be looking to the big fella to deliver.

Actually, the Liverpool supporters have been looking to Carroll to deliver for some time, though Dalglish is in no rush. "We are delighted with Andy Carroll," the Liverpool manager says. "He's only a boy, he'll settle in here no problem. Two of the last three games he has played have been his best for the club."

Neither does Dalglish believe the size of the fee is a problem for a player struggling to live up to the weight of expectation. "Some people might see it that way, but not us," he says. "The way we look at it is that Andy cost us minus £15m, and you can't say that was a bad buy. We are not weighing him up against any price. If someone has come in for nothing it doesn't mean to say he's going to be better or worse than someone who cost £20m. Money is irrelevant really. If you can pass, you can score, you can play, you deserve to be in the team. Andy is doing fine. It's not a problem."

That just about makes sense, as long as one accepts that Torres was never going to recover his old sparkle at Liverpool. Viewed as a straight swap with a £15m profit, Carroll could be seen as a pragmatic alternative to an unhappy striker who wanted out, though no one could have told anyone watching Torres in his Liverpool pomp that Newcastle's raw and rather gauche centre-forward would be the man to fill his boots. Perhaps Carroll can make a statement today, though like Torres he can have no certainty of starting.

Back in 1986, when Dalglish won his first managerial honour at roughly the age Andre Villas-Boas is now, life was much more simple for young managers, or at least it felt like it.

"There's no point comparing us because we came into management by two completely different paths," Dalglish says. "I've never been in his position. I was still playing and I was already at Liverpool. Out of nowhere they asked me to do the job. I don't think actual management has changed much since, it's still hard if you don't know what you're doing and you don't keep your focus on the team, but everything else around football and football clubs has changed in the last 20 years. There are people working for this club who I only recognise by sight. It never used to be like that. When I first came here Bob Paisley used to do the kit deal. Imagine that."

Both admiring of the Premier League's brave new world and happy to have a second chance to work inside it, Dalglish nevertheless sounds a note of caution over what is now the most cosmopolitan and globally visible of leagues, perhaps with a nod to the difficulty one of his players finds himself in at present.

"Obviously television plays a huge part, and for us it is fantastic that the Premier League is such a great attraction for many players around the world," he says. "But I also think if you are attracting foreigners in you have to be able to adapt to their cultures and customs. If we don't do that then they will stop coming."


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