Football: Dalglish's shadow looms large

Trevor Haylett looks at the weekend's round of Premiership matches which have extra significance for vulnerable managers
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The Independent Online
It is still early days, of course. Yet not so early that defeat for a handful of vulnerable managers this weekend would not be accompanied by a touch more discomfort than usual.

Several hundred miles from home, almost certainly following a golf ball around instead of today's scores, Kenny Dalglish retains an unmistakable presence in the English game.

Having severed his ties with Blackburn Rovers, he is back on the job market. If chairmen pay heed to Alan Hansen - a close friend, admittedly, but someone, who after sharing in Liverpool's unparalleled success, can presumably distinguish between a good and bad manager - it will not be long before he rejoins the ranks of the salaried.

Dalglish's availability following Blackburn's acknowledgement that he might be many things to football but a director of football he isn't, can only add to the pressure which has quickly reappeared to hound the likes of Howard Wilkinson, Ron Atkinson and Alan Ball. High on profile but low on recent success, none can claim to have begun the new season too convincingly.

If improvement does not happen soon, the speculators will begin sharpening their pens, in a sense the process has started already although Wilkinson, for one, puts broad shoulders in the way of rumour that he will be the first to make this season's dismissed list.

"I am just trying to get on with my job which is working with the players" said lugubrious of Leeds. "If there's a sense of a clock ticking way, that will be down to me. Whatever people say or write about me is their business. The people who ultimately matter in that respect are the directors."

Those directors are new directors, armed with money and influence but not, one suspects, with much patience. With half the championship-winning managers of the Nineties tending their gardens and their golf swings - it is 18 months now since George Graham pinned up a team sheet - impatience with results may hasten decisive action even before autumn is really under way.

Leeds are one of two clubs to experience the force of Sheffield Wednesday's response to those predicting more trouble for David Pleat's side after last year's close relegation call. It had been anticipated that St James' Park would host the first Premiership leaders on this second Saturday but not that those pace-setters would be wearing Wednesday colours.

Pleat has maximum points and it is possible he will also have David Hirst, Jon Newsome and Mark Bright available at Newcastle to challenge for a place. The absence of Tony Yeboah, and now Brian Deane as well, is not helping Wilkinson's cause at Elland Road and Ian Rush and Mark Hateley look likely to continue their ageing partnership against Wimbledon on Monday.

Behind them, the likes of Lee Bowyer will have been practising his shooting range from 50 yards. Neil Sullivan, the Wimbledon goalkeeper with the habit of straying off his line, has been beaten in successive games by the long-distance precision of David Beckham and David Batty, feats which so impressed Glenn Hoddle he immediately included the pair in his first England squad.

Likewise, Matthew Le Tissier, whose only meaningful contribution to the season so far has been from 12 yards, a penalty at Leicester which failed to halt Southampton's defeat. It would not have been enough to earn a pass for Terry Venables' party but a new manager brings with him new priorities and fresh ideas.

Today, Le Tissier and his fellow Saints are at Upton Park which has been home to a fair number of individuals who have leant more towards the artist than the artisan. Times have changed here as well although, to his credit, Harry Redknapp has kept a place at West Ham for those with the ability to reinvent the game: like Paulo Futre, who offered thrilling glimpses of his audacious skill on his first appearance, and Florin Raducioiu who is in line for his debut.

Coventry regularly called on reinforcements to keep Futre quiet and they might have to do the same at Stamford Bridge where Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Di Matteo will again be backed by a raucous crowd.

Fabrizio Ravanelli will hope to be fit for Middlesbrough's visit to Nottingham Forest, particularly if Forest's defending is as generous as it was against Sunderland. Tomorrow Manchester United and Blackburn meet at Old Trafford. Once it was the battle of the big battalions but with Alan Shearer and now Dalglish departed, no longer.

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