Monday 18 December 2017

Kenny Dalglish: Mersey pride

20 years after he quit following a cup clash at Everton, Kenny Dalglish returns to Goodison Park today confident his Liverpool players will be able to handle the pressure of the Premier League’s ‘most friendly derby

Carl Markham

Kenny Dalglish returns to Goodison Park as Liverpool manager today for the first time since quitting from the post 20 years ago insisting little has changed in the Merseyside derby.

Just a couple of days after seeing Everton striker Tony Cottee score two late goals in a 4-4 extra-time draw in an FA Cup fifth-round replay on February 20, 1991, the Scot walked out on his beloved club.

At the time he cited health issues, feeling the pressure not only of the job but of the previous two years during which he had dealt so personally and admirably with the Hillsborough disaster.

"The competition is still as intense and the desire to win is the same as before," said the Liverpool manager. "I don't think it has devalued -- it doesn't matter how long ago it was you have been involved or not or how recently.

"It is a Merseyside derby and, like everyone who has been involved in it, they think it is the most important one. But people in Birmingham think theirs is the biggest, Rangers and Celtic think theirs is the biggest -- and they are right. This is the biggest one because this is the one I am involved in. There is no point in having a league table of clubs you are not involved with."

Asked about his memories of that night at Goodison just over 20 years ago, Dalglish said: "We've been through all that many times before and there is no point in revisiting it, but if we get four goals I'll be delighted. If we get four it will be entertaining but I don't think it will be entertaining for the blue half."

Dalglish has experienced many derbies but he picked his highlights as being an emotional 1989 FA Cup final, which Liverpool won 3-2 against the horrific backdrop of Hillsborough barely a month earlier.

"The most poignant derby was the 1989 FA Cup final, not just because we won but for the whole city of Liverpool," he said.

"Another poignant one was the final in 1986, when you saw fathers going to the game with their kids, one in red and one in blue. That spoke volumes for the city in how the people could conduct themselves.

"It would be easy for us to say it is the friendly derby -- it probably is the most friendly in the Premier League."

There has been the feeling in recent years that Liverpool's greatest rivals are Manchester United and not Everton but Dalglish said that was not something he had considered.

"Anyone put in front of us is a rival -- we are not going to have a pecking order of who our greatest rivals are. We just want to play against whoever is put in front of us because that is all we can compete against," he said.

"But we know what a victory in the derby means to the people of Liverpool and how much elation the players get from it. There are players who have not played in it before who may play but I am sure they understand what it stands for."

New Liverpool recruits such as Charlie Adam, Jose Enrique, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and January signing Andy Carroll -- who arrived two weeks after last season's derby at Anfield -- are all expected to play a part and experience their first Merseyside derby.

However, Dalglish has no qualms about them coping in what can be a pressurised atmosphere.

"I think the Rangers-Celtic derby has given Charlie a good grounding. Andy has had the north-east derby and Stewart has had Villa-Birmingham, which is not the smallest," said the Scot.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will be desperate to play, having made two short substitute appearances on his comeback from a six-month lay-off after groin surgery. But Dalglish remains cautious over the England midfielder.

"The game is not the important thing -- Steven Gerrard is the most important," he explained.

Everton midfielder Tim Cahill may be a fiercely proud Australian but after more than seven years at Goodison Park he admits the derby is now "part of his life".

And having worked so hard to reach the pinnacle of his sport, leaving his homeland as a teenager after his parents took out a loan to fund his pursuit of professional football, these are the opportunities he seizes when he can.

"I think it is one of the biggest (matches) other than playing for your country in a World Cup. The derby is magical," the 31-year-old said. "It is not only the day of the game, it is after, it is before, it is the grudges, the banter.

"For those 90 minutes the whole of Liverpool stops and you have countries around the world watching. Going into the game, whether you are injured or you have little problems whatever, it is forgotten. Everything is left on the pitch and for me, coming from Australia, I feel the same sort of attitude.

"I found it hard to get here, I have this opportunity so I just don't want to miss a second on the pitch. I want to try to affect it."

Everton v Liverpool,

Live, Sky Sports 2, 12.45

Irish Independent

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