Football: Black and white saw red in the negatives

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The Independent Online
WHEN KENNY DALGLISH first began to feel the strain of managing Liverpool, it was suggested that he could have consulted no better man than Jock Stein whose untimely death a few years earlier was an enormous loss to football. "Pity the big man isn't still around," I said to Dalglish one day in John Hollins' office at Chelsea. "You're right," he replied.

It was pretty obvious by then that Dalglish needed to understand more about the process of dealing with players and develop some of the slyness he came to respect in Stein when playing for him at Celtic. At the peak of powers that established Celtic as one of Europe's leading clubs, Stein did not miss a trick, the values bred into him in the Lanarkshire coalfield central to the affection in which he was held by supporters.

Conversely, the announcement yesterday that Dalglish had been relieved of his duties by Newcastle United caused no heartache on Tyneside. Never mind that Dalglish ranks as one of the best British footballers and his success in management at Liverpool and Blackburn, the majority were glad to see him go, wearied not so much by comparative failure on the field but an uninspiring method.

Coming immediately after the excitement Kevin Keegan generated with high- risk football, Dalglish could only succeed if his promotion of the work ethic satisfied a craving for trophies. At another club, one less passionately supported and not wedded to the tiresome presumption of slumbering greatness, Dalglish might have been given more time, but last season's difficulties went against him.

It was bad enough when Newcastle were drawn into a childish FA Cup squabble by non-League Stevenage Borough. But then came a struggle to avoid relegation and the negative strategy Dalglish employed in an unsuccessful attempt to contain Arsenal in the final.

A report earlier this week that Dalglish had it in mind to renew an alliance with the Queen's Park Rangers manager Ray Harford, his assistant at Blackburn, hinted at the sort of management he favours.

When promoted to player-manager by Liverpool, continuing the Anfield dynasty, Dalglish was required to do little more than keep his foot on the accelerator. It was when the team began to break up and replacements became more difficult to find that questions were first asked about Dalglish's long-term future.

There is no question at all that Dalglish was deeply affected by the Hillsborough disaster but it did not entirely explain his decision to leave Liverpool. Shortly before making the announcement Dalglish stood forlornly alongside the dug-out at Anfield watching his team make the collective errors that were an affront to the principles he cherished.

Even when Dalglish's zest for the game appeared to have been renewed at Blackburn there was always a suspicion that he found management a poor substitute for playing. After winning a championship with Harford's assistance, he elected to become a director of football.

Friends testify to Dalglish's encyclopedic knowledge of footballers throughout Europe, his eye for talent and the soundness of his playing principles. That these things have not worked for him at Newcastle suggests that we have seen the last of him in management.

The revelation that Dalglish resigned on 18 September makes his relaxed and uncharacteristically talkative demeanour following Newcastle's 1-1 draw at Chelsea last week significant. Perhaps it was in his mind that Rudd Gullit will find life a lot more difficult on Tyneside than in west London. No disappearing for three days at a time. No hiding place. Newcastle's new manager will be the focus of attention, and he had better come up to expectations.

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