By Mike O’Brien
With Liverpool coming under increasing pressure with every bad result more and more questions are being raised over Kenny Dalglish. The Scot has many points for both staying and leaving Anfield and kopites are divided in opinion. But are there legitimate reasons for doubting the king?
For starters Dalglish has suffered a lot of bad luck this season, for starters Liverpool have constantly been denied goals by the goal frame all season, not to mention poor performances from players who offered so much promise. The main culprits of this I feel are Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. In the second half of last season, Suarez was one of Liverpool’s top performers, for example in the 3-1 home victory against United I felt he was the best player on the pitch despite Kuyt getting a hat trick. Carroll on the other hand was a surprising buy; he was the most impressive player in the Premier League with Newcastle but his deadline day move to Anfield was a shock and even more surprising was his £35m price tag. Even worse, since his arrival he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, in fact he’s only scored 8 goals whilst wearing a red shirt. But no one could have expected both players to have turned out the way they are. Suarez has become the most controversial player in England which would be acceptable if he could find the back of the net more often whereas Carroll has been nothing but a disappointment.
But it hasn’t all been bad luck; Dalglish has also made his fair share of mistakes with the signings he made in the summer. Granted he brought in players the fans were calling for like Charlie Adam who is another signing who failed to impress during his Anfield career, but there are other signings which raised a few eyebrows like the £20m purchase of Jordan Henderson from Sunderland. At the time this transfer made no sense to me let alone the price. Henderson despite being a constant figure in the Black Cats’ starting XI, never really set the world on fire and at the time we had central midfielders (his preferred role) like Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Raul Meireles and the up and coming Jay Spearing. But everyone deserves a chance to change the fans opinions of them and Henderson has had more than enough in my mind, he doesn’t seem like a player who fits in our team, he is continually played on the right wing where he has minimum effect and with a more effective right winger on the bench in Maxi Rodriguez, his inclusion continues to bemuse me.
But of course it’s unfair to pin player’s performances on the manager; after all he’s not the one on the field. I was amongst the first to blame it all on Hodgson when he got it horribly wrong but the difference between him and Dalglish is that during the Hodgson era, it was obvious the players didn’t want to play for him whereas by some of the performances put in by the Liverpool team in the first half of the season it’s obvious that they are more than happy to play under the King.
Queens Park Rangers, Wigan and Bolton are all teams who’ve beaten us since the turn of the year. Liverpool FC should not be losing to teams like Wigan who year after year gain Premier League survival on the final day of the season, and even if we do lose, it shouldn’t be a game we look back on and think, we deserved that. So results have been unbelievable since the turn of the year but I would say the players are more to blame than the manager for that one.
But we shouldn’t overlook all the positive points Kenny has racked up since returning last January. Wins against the likes of Chelsea, City and United gave Liverpool fans hope for the future under Dalglish last season. This season has also given us some memorable days, Premier League double over Everton, victory at the Emirates and of course our first ever visit to the new Wembley, so this season hasn’t been all bad.
But a few dates to think about, 13th May 2006 and 23rd of May 2007. The 13th was the last time Liverpool won a trophy when they defeated West Ham in the FA Cup final on penalties whereas the 23rd was the last time Liverpool reached a cup final when they lost to AC Milan in the Champions League final. 26th February 2012, the day Liverpool lifted the Carling Cup and ended a five and a half year trophy drought.
Kenny bringing home our first trophy in five years is one positive side to his management reign but I think it goes so much deeper than just winning the cup. Pre season, all kopites knew we needed something to be at the end of the 2011/12 season whether that is a trophy or a spot in next seasons Champions League. Unlike Rafa Benitez Kenny listened and prioritised the so called ‘Mickey Mouse’ cup and the fact that he started players like Suarez, Adam and Skrtel for a 2nd round tie at Exeter City clearly shows he intended to bring a cup home for the fans.
But away from the Carling Cup success, the team Kenny built was excelling in one specific area, the defence. The combination of Enrique, Agger, Skrtel and Johnson was the best defence in the Premier League for the first half of the season and was the corner stone of many of Liverpool’s fantastic performances. It was often said of Liverpool that we outplayed every team we played but just couldn’t get the goals and I agree. The current run of form can largely be seen as being due to the injuries suffered by Agger and Johnson and even Martin Kelly who looked to be a great replacement for Johnson. I think that once both Agger and Johnson return; which shouldn’t be too long away Liverpool will have a hope of improving their performances and with it, their results.
Despite all the criticism Dalglish has earned over transfers, what about the transactions he made that were a spark of genius? None shows this more than the purchase of left back Jose Enrique. Enrique has been sensational for Liverpool down the Left wing this season and clearly better than the previous attempts at finding the perfect left back having gone through the likes of Andrea Dossena, Fabio Aurelio and Emiliano Insua. Dalglish’s other left sided signing was Stewart Downing. Downing got his fair share of criticism at the start of the season when he showed a hesitance to do the most basic duties of a left winger, but in recent performances he has looked much more promising and I would like to see what he can do in the near future.
Away from his current managerial stint at Liverpool Kenny has one more success that makes him a worthy candidate for his current role. He is a member of a very short list which contains Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and the King. This is the list of managers who have ever won the Premier League, you can literally count them on one hand and I would back any of them to do it again providing they have the right squad available to them.
So in my opinion I find it fruitless to sack Dalglish with a month and a half of the season left as the team wont benefit from it and with an FA Cup semi final against the bitter rivals Everton to come and a possible final after that it would do more harm than good. Furthermore I feel that Dalglish can turn Liverpool around and that his first season may have been what some would call a failure but I see it as the beginning of a process that has needed to happen for a long time and that is the embrace of youth.