Dalglish accepts the challenge

FOOTBALL: Former Liverpool and Blackburn manager is unanimous choice of Newcastle board to replace Kevin Keegan
Click to follow
The Independent Online
When the moment came for Sir John Hall to introduce the new manager of Newcastle United last night, Kenny Dalglish was almost hidden from view. He sat contentedly behind his new boss and his new colleague, Terry McDermott, while credit was paid to the man whose black and white club jacket he will be wearing at St James' Park tonight.

The last Newcastle manager was not so comfortable in the shadows. It was obvious, even before he shuffled his seat forward and spoke in that familiar Glaswegian drawl, that Kenny Dalglish intends do the job rather differently to Kevin Keegan.

That much was further emphasised, to those of us squeezed into the Gallowgate Suite in the Sir John Hall Stand, when the subject of silverware was broached. Dalglish, three hours into a three-and-a-half year contract, was setting no targets, let alone making any promises. Though the team he inherits stands just three points behind Manchester United in the Premiership, there was no suggestion - in front of the BSkyB cameras at least - that he "would love it, yes, love it" if he beat his old foe Fergie to the treasured tin pot in May.

"I've never gone out and shouted my mouth off," he said, confirming a long-held suspicion. "I'll just go and do my work and let's see what happens from there." A more pragmatic contrast to Keegan's vivid clarion call of five years ago - "we'll be like a snowball gathering momentum; nothing will stop us" - would have been difficult to imagine.

Only when the name of the man he replaced as a player at Liverpool and now, two decades later, as manager of Newcastle was sullied did Dalglish declare the sky - or, rather, Sky - to be the limit. "I think you're out of order," he responded to the gentleman from Sky News, who was bold enough to ask whether he would promise not to do what Keegan had - "leave the Newcastle fans in the lurch with no silverware."

"It's a good lurch to leave them in, isn't it?" Dalglish added. "I don't think there'll be too many fans who would criticise Kevin Keegan. I think they appreciate the work he did and what he achieved at this club. And I'd go along with that.

"The promise I give this football club is that I'll do my best to achieve what they want. And the point you're probably coming to next, which I'll answer before you ask me, is the fact that I left Liverpool and I left Blackburn.

"I left Liverpool because I was unable to do the job. But if there are two disasters in 14 years' service and a little bit of silverware on top after that... if the same happens here I don't think there'll be too many complaints. I left Blackburn for footballing reasons, reasons I couldn't make public because I was trying to protect Ray Harford [then the club's manager] a little bit. There were problems internally that I couldn't accept as a manager."

That Dalglish has, for the second time in his football career, chosen to follow in Keegan's considerable shadow itself confirms that the 20 months he has spent away from football management has not dampened his appetite.

Having also guided Liverpool to the championship - in 1986, 1988 and 1990 - he stands alongside Herbert Chapman and Brian Clough in the pantheon of managers who have won the title with two different clubs. Now, with Newcastle, he has the chance to stand alone as the first man to hoist the championship pennant at three different homes. He also has the immediate challenge of unconquered territory for him in the form of the European campaign Keegan left unfinished in the Uefa Cup.

That Dalglish has been prepared to take the job as second choice, after Sir John, the Newcastle chairman, failed to lure Bobby Robson away from Barcelona, is a further indication of the hunger he still has - at 45 - for the cut and thrust of the football management game.

"There was no rush for me to get back," he said, "but the temptation of a job like this was too much to refuse. Kevin has set tremendous foundations here. I just hope that Kevin, having made his decision, is perfectly happy and content with himself. Any time he wants to come back here from my point of view he'd be totally welcome."

Dalglish, who relinquished his scouting post with Rangers yesterday morning before formally accepting Newcastle's offer, will leave team affairs in the hands of McDermott and Arthur Cox, the joint caretakers appointed after Keegan's departure a week ago, for the FA Cup third- round replay against Charlton at St James' Park tonight.

He assured McDermott, one of his team-mates at Liverpool, that there will a place for him among his backroom staff. "Nobody's job is under threat at this stage," he said. "I know I can trust Terry. I want to learn as much from him, and from Arthur Cox, as I can."

Dalglish will also renew acquaintance with Alan Shearer and David Batty, two members of his title-winning team at Blackburn, and, intriguingly perhaps, with Peter Beardsley.

It was announced at last night's press conference that plans for Newcastle's Stock Exchange flotation will be revealed tomorrow but Sir John confirmed that his new manager, who had been the unanimous choice of the club's board, will have spending money immediately at his disposal. "You always have to make money available for players," he said. "This club has never shirked from spending money. As to the amount that will be available, I can't say."

As the Newcastle chairman spoke, chants of "Dalglish" could be heard. Some 100 members of the Toon Army had gathered in the car park outside.

Just a week ago they were mourning their lost messiah. But last night there was a new king on the managerial throne at Newcastle. King Kenny was back in the ball game again.

Glenn Moore on Kenny Dalglish's record, page 22