James Lawton: King Kenny washed overboard by a new wave of reality


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The Independent Online

It was a good idea at the time and for a little while it might just have been a brilliant one. Who could argue with that early impact of Kenny Dalglish? He came off a cruise ship last year to save the club but it was still easy to believe that there was no ocean wide enough to separate the great player and the winning manager from the realities of the game in which he had earned such distinction.

Initially, and crucially, he could make Liverpool feel big again. He could get the players' heads off their chests and he could make the fans, those who had placed their trust in Rafa Benitez, those who so bitterly mocked Roy Hodgson and certainly the ones who were willing to blame everything on the old ownership, to believe again.

Unfortunately, and sooner than later, Dalglish had to do that thing which determines the fate of all managers. He had to assess a few players. He had to show he knew the difference between evidence of mere talent and the ability to shape a situation with the force of their will.

The jury may still be out on Andy Carroll, thanks to an extremely late revival of some of those qualities that made him such a compelling prospect as a raw-boned tearaway in Newcastle, but the bitter truth was that the job lot of players brought in by Dalglish at a cost of more than £100m simply wasn't good enough.

John W Henry and his Fenway Sports Group associates might have been able to forgive many things – including the hapless handling of the Luis Suarez affair – but not the sight of so much wasted money swirling down the Mersey.

These are big-time American sports operators smitten with the theory of Moneyball, which is partly about swotting up on the stats and buying low. Soon enough they saw that they had put in a legendary figure who simply bought the wrong players at the top end of football inflation.

Yesterday the defiance of reality which became such a motif of his reign still peeked through a parting that was couched in so much mutual respect it was hardly to believe the great hero of Anfield had just flown across the Atlantic for the brusque handing out of the pink slip.

Dalglish said that he still would not exchange anything for the Carling Cup victory which ended six years without a trophy for the club because it had been a symbol for Liverpool supporters of the fact that the good days were back on the horizon. It meant that a great football man was going down as he had spent most of his latest appearance in the trenches of football. He was refusing to see the truth of Liverpool's plight – and the extent of his own failure to deliver the minimum requirement set by the owners, which was Champions' League qualification.

The delusion is as sad as the situation of a great club which believed that a vital turning had been made.

Naturally, there are some early names thrust into the race for the succession – Alan Pardew, Roberto Martinez and even Andre Villas-Boas so soon after the collapse of his Chelsea project. For the moment, though, the most pressing requirement is not for still another instant saviour but some kind of proper analysis of what went wrong. It was not a failure to recreate the past but a refusal to face a new reality. Kenny Dalglish simply could not get to grips withwith what may well have been his last challenge.