When Kenny Dalglish was appointed Liverpool manager in 1985, there followed nearly six years of success for the club. After his shock resignation in 1991, Liverpool have never been crowned Premier League champions, although there have been cup wins and a dramatic Champions League victory in 2005. Today, Dalglish is once again in the Anfield hotseat, but repeating the achievements of the 1980s will be no easy task.
In 1985, Reds boss Joe Fagan resigned after the Heysel tragedy and Dalglish was appointed his successor, quickly leading Liverpool to the league and cup double in his first season in charge. Thereafter the Scot guided the team to two further league triumphs and one FA Cup. This followed a distinguished playing career for Liverpool during which he had become an iconic hero.
Citing the cumulative effects of the Hillsborough disaster as a significant reason for his 1991 resignation, Dalglish moved on to further success at Blackburn Rovers before enduring more sobering management fortunes at Newcastle United and Celtic.
20 years later and he is back at the helm at Anfield. When the club was sold to New England Sports Ventures (NESV) in October 2010, the picture began to considerably brighten for a side wilting under the debt induced stupor of a leveraged buy-out. NESV principal owner John Henry soon found Liverpool’s incumbent boss, Roy Hodgson, struggling to motivate and coax performances from the side. Henry eventually asked Dalglish to replace the Londoner, hoping he could rediscover the winning formula he had perfected on Merseyside.
Since his appointment, Dalglish has embarked upon a sizeable overhaul of the playing squad. An estimated £120M has been lavished on new players, the majority of who have proven Premier League experience; some of the more high profile signings have not met with universal acclaim however.
Club-record signing Andy Carroll, snapped up from Newcastle United, has been the target of fierce criticism. But he was a crowd favourite in the North East and a handful for opposing defences. Used as a target-man at St. James’ Park, where the long ball tactic was used to serve his strengths, Carroll was prolific in the air and more than adept on the ground. It is interesting that Dalglish also swooped to sign fellow ex-Magpie Jose Enrique, who supplied much of the ammunition for Carroll.
There has been much talk of Carroll’s love of the nightlife affecting his performances, but the 22-year-old was no angel at Newcastle and may indeed still be adjusting to his sudden switch to Liverpool. Controversy does still persist about his departure to Dalglish’s side, which he joined while nursing a troublesome thigh injury.
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley allegedly organised a helicopter to facilitate Carroll’s journey to Liverpool, such was his eagerness to accept the £35M offered on deadline day of the winter transfer window. Carroll’s earlier training ground clash with team-mate Steven Taylor left the latter with a broken jaw and could well have triggered Newcastle’s desire to offload the forward to the highest bidder.
By signing Carroll as a replacement for the departing Fernando Torres, a radical change in tactics seems a necessary option for Dalglish. The height and strength of Carroll, still only 22, will need to be utilised, in sharp contrast to the quickness of Torres. Carroll was used by the Magpies to bring marauding midfield players into the game, and Liverpool fans may well have to adjust to a more direct approach by their team.
Midfielder Jordan Henderson, who joined from Sunderland for a fee which could reach £20M, is another player who has yet to convince the Anfield crowd. Recently, Sunderland youth academy director Kevin Ball stressed his belief the England Under-21 star will come good. “In my mind, with Jordan, Liverpool have got a bargain”, commented the former hard-nosed defender. When questioned further, Ball did accept that tackling was not one of Henderson’s strengths, but insisted he had seen sufficient natural talent to convince himself of the player’s bright future.
Henderson is just 21 and is by no means the finished article, a fact well proven by his mid-season dip in form at Sunderland, but he was renowned on Wearside for his work-rate in midfield and eagerness to get forward. Supporters even likened him to a young Steven Gerrard.
Dalglish must have spied Henderson’s long term potential to replace club captain Gerrard, whose recent return can only benefit the midfielder’s further development. Henderson also won praise in the North East for his level-headed attitude and refusal to drink alcohol.
Against these signings have been set the departures of Raul Meireles to Chelsea and Alberto Aquilani, loaned to AC Milan. Both players had become popular on Merseyside, as had Torres before his January switch, and these exits could yet prove to be controversial if Liverpool come up short.
There have been relatively successful signings, with Luis Suarez and Jose Enrique in particular showing promise. But the judgment and tactical acumen of Dalglish is being criticised in some quarters, especially after a 4-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Questioned were the constant use of long balls to Carroll, but given a sustained run in the team, the energy and pace in the side can benefit from his aerial prowess and persevering with the tactic may eventually reap rewards.
Dalglish now faces the challenge of finding a sustained winning formula from his rebuilding programme and convincing the Anfield faithful that he is on the right path. The next few months should offer a pointer as to whether the Scot can retain his legendary status of ‘King Kenny’ amongst the Reds support.