In times of adversity, Kenny Dalglish usually resembles the tougher types that populate John le Carré novels. The sort the Circus would happily send to Moscow, safe in the knowledge that, under interrogation, he would not even divulge his shoe size.
It made his post-match interview on ESPN on Saturday night all the more extraordinary. Dalglish is typically the master of evasion, one who turns questions back on the questioner. But after defeat to Bolton Wanderers he presented, unprompted, a comprehensive demolition of his own players' performance. "If anybody has aspirations of staying any length of time at this football club," he said, "they will not be here much longer if that's the way they are going to perform."
Most intriguing was his insight that, "it is all well and good saying they might have been distracted because there's another game on Wednesday and on Saturday." That sounded like the remnants of a conversation he had just had in the dressing room. Who, you had to wonder, had turned to Dalglish and told him that he was preoccupied with the Carling Cup semi-final second leg?
Dalglish's one-year anniversary as Liverpool manager passed earlier this month and recently the results have been less consistent and the problems conspicuous. The mishandling of the Luis Suarez affair. The problems Suarez's subsequent absence has left. The never-ending wait for Andy Carroll to come good. Stewart Downing's failure to score. The nagging fear that a net spend of around £48.5m in the summer on the likes of Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson has not paid dividends.
The team beaten by Bolton included five players Dalglish brought to the club and Downing, a second-half substitute, was another of his signings. This is, by and large, Dalglish's team and their league form has not been good enough. This is his credibility on the line. His reaction on Saturday night told you that there is a limit to the lengths he will go to in order to protect them.
Taking your players on like that is a big step for any manager and is fraught with risk. You get the impression that Andre Villas-Boas, for all his confidence, is still a long way from telling the world that Fernando Torres has let the club down. Arsène Wenger never criticises his players. Sir Alex Ferguson only rarely and only when the occasion demands, such as the 6-1 home defeat to Manchester City. Of all of them, Roberto Mancini can be the most publicly critical of his players.
Already this season, Dalglish has blamed referees for Liverpool's misfortune and he has, of course, sanctioned a pretty extraordinary broadside at the Football Association over the Suarez affair. The press are another regular target. Now that he has turned that critical gaze upon his own players, the excuses really are over. And about time too.
Starting with Manchester City in the second leg of that semi-final on Wednesday, Liverpool have a defining run of fixtures: Manchester United at home in the FA Cup, Wolves away, Tottenham at home, United away and then home games against Everton and Arsenal. It is a reasonable expectation that Dalglish should be judged at the end of the season, yet no one can be in any doubt this is a significant six weeks.Reuse content