Never go back, it is often said. What has been is best left unmeddled. You see, people move on from the past; expectations morph; you might just find that the ropes you mastered have changed into something quite ungraspable. However, perhaps a touch of revisionism is order. Never go back: and if you do, quit while you are ahead. For sentiment lingers within the football segment of every fan’s heart yet, as is quite evident, it does not – and moreover cannot – linger when said sentiment is about to negatively affect your football club. Or at least, as it appears with Liverpool, prevent the club from ascending into a new era.
FSG are detached and alien to the strong, personal relationship Kenny Dalglish and the Liverpool faithful hold dear. They probably empathise with it and have maybe even learned to understand it but will never feel what Liverpool fans feel when looking at Kenny. Yet this is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, after a poor season in which the Reds reached two cup finals yet stagnated and stalled to a tedious eighth in the league, hindsight may prove that the sacking of Anfield’s King was ultimately the right decision. Sentiment can be dangerous. It can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing; it can be dreadfully counter-productive.
Talking of hindsight, it is abundantly clear – and probably was abundantly clear at around February time – that Dalglish should have upped and left after his caretaker stint. You see, Kenny achieved exactly what was expected of him to achieve. After a dismal Roy Hodgson period, a man who was never right for the club in the first place, Anfield was low. Some dreadfully average players were attracted to the Kop, some dreadfully monotonous performances only evoked a murmur of discontent amongst the crowds and the general feeling was that this job was beyond the reach of Hodgson. Right or wrong, the 3-1 defeat to Blackburn was the final straw. Hodgson out; Kenny in; a wave of euphoria washed over the club. They were buoyant – their finest Scottish son had returned to these shores after two decades or so from the touchline.
As I say, it was all Kenny needed to do. Stabilise a club heading for relegation rather than revolution and allow the natural optimism to slither through the very pores of the club Kenny is so obviously deeply infatuated with. He should have been a short term replacement; a man to nail down the mast and solidify the club. Bring the fans and the fabric back into one place and reunite Liverpool as a family.
For this, Kenny was the ideal candidate.
A touch of hard work and endeavour, brilliantly grouping together the players and the highlight of Liverpool’s return from slumber – the wonderful tactical display of a shrewd 1-0 against Chelsea – set Liverpool up for the new era. And one which should have been overseen by a newer manager. One who cut his own image on the club. One not necessarily associated with what once was at Liverpool, but one appropriately poised to spring the club into the wonders of what will be. Alas; for this, Kenny was not the ideal candidate. He should have left a year ago.
The signings made were and are hard to justify. While Jose Enrique and Luis Suarez have shined relatively well in their first full seasons at the club, the bulk of the £100 million spent by Dalglish was whittled away on average and as such overrated British talents; Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing have looked ineffective and at times overwrought by the situation they found themselves in. Large transfer fees looming, average and anonymous. One might argue that youth is on their side, yet are these players really the kind who can help lift Liverpool into the Champions League places? Even with maturation and the cushion of time? Dalglish played the transfer market with age and played it unsafely; buying into the hype and appearing unable to change fortunes when that hype is punctured through.
The awfully run Suarez and Evra incident (I hate to bring it up) was an embarrassment to Liverpool from the first day. It was run like Dalglish ran his team; archaic, rusty and a tad out of touch with the modern world. It was opposed to what Liverpool were trying to achieve. The myopic T-shirts, the scalded reputation that many a club – not just arch rivals Manchester United – have frowned upon. The truculent interviews where the media were dealt with inappropriately, which almost certainly royally angered Fenway Sports Group, so much so that they advised apologies must be made. There were stubborn formations and persistence with players and formations which just didn’t fit. There was profligacy. There was mediocrity and a worse league position for decades but also, startlingly, a worse win percentage than Hodgson – with £100 million spent.
There was always a black cloud; like an annoying naysayer to what every Liverpool fan wanted. In fact, not just wanted but lusted with a profound passion; they wanted their King to excel and bring back the heady days of yesteryear. But Dalglish was not the man to achieve this and, somewhat sadly, no Liverpool legend is. Dalglish was indeed perfect for a comeback special – a one night only stand where previous passions could exult and reign supreme. But the long haul? The man to lift Liverpool into the new era? No – Fenway Sports Group, though it may be a bitter pill to swallow, have made a hard yet righteous decision. They have cleared the decks and the new boss might have to clear the squad. A clean sweep under the owners is just what Liverpool need. With FSG greatly persuaded to appoint Kenny last year after the job he succeeded in, the only annoyance may be that it has come one year late with one too many a-wrong player bought.
Kenny will still be an icon – 18 less than impressive months are pitiful in comparison to a wondrous relationship which started 35 glorious years ago. He will still be loved – how could he not be? Yet old figures of the past are not Liverpool’s saviour – they are the prevention of the new era. They weigh things down with heavy expectations and, with sentiment and a reminder of what was, cloud matters. And clarity is paramount to a club now in need of a sagely new, young, more tactically astute manager; one who can not only slowly build and cut loose Liverpool’s strings for the necessary new era, but quell the pining and looking over the shoulder for the previous one which must be laid to rest.