Football: Dalglish's young blood transfusion

Simon Turnbull hears echoes as a new manager opens the cheque book
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It was a sign of the times at St James' Park, as well as a signing of the times. When Kenny Dalglish finally opened Sir John Hall's chequebook and started recruiting players of his own choice last week, the fuss on the Tyne was a brass section short of a fanfare. There was no parade for the mass media and the massed ranks of the Toon Army. Unlike the last signing of the Kevin Keegan era at Newcastle United, the first of the Dalglish days was low key to the point of virtual obscurity.

It was, in fact, left to John Temple, voice of the Club Call service at St James', to announce the pounds 1.5m signing of Des Hamilton from Bradford City. There was not so much as a squeak of a sound-bite from the player himself and King Kenny, enjoying a short break after setting up the deal, was keeping his thoughts to himself. The absence of the bugles and the trumpets was very much the Dalglish way, doubtless intended to lessen the pressure on the new boy. The fact that Hamilton, at 20, is not long out of boyhood is significant too.

Having also agreed a pounds 500,000 fee to secure the summer signing Bjarni Gudjonsson, an 18-year-old striker with the Icelandic club IA Akranes, Dalglish has made a statement of his intent to infuse young blood in his attempt to bring Newcastle to trophy-winning life. As Terry McDermott, Dalglish's right-hand man, duly acknowledged: "Des and Bjarni are ones for the future and we're looking increasingly that way with Kenny. I think the transfer market is going to go in that direction over the next few years."

The first impression managers make with their first signings tend to be lasting ones and Dalglish, clearly, does not see his Newcastle job as a short-term mission. That was not the case when he made his first first- signing, as it were. Steve McMahon's midfield bite provided the ingredient which had been missing, in the wake of Graeme Souness's departure to Italy, when Liverpool finished 13 points adrift of Everton as First Division runners-up in the 1984-85 season. McMahon helped Dalglish complete the first leg of what, with Hamilton's influence, could be an historic managerial treble. No manager has ever built championship- winning sides at three different clubs and Dalglish stands to eclipse Tom Watson, Herbert Chapman and Brian Clough, the other successful two- timers.

Before masterminding Liverpool's first championship success, Watson created his "team of all the talents" at Sunderland by mounting cross-border raids that provoked such resentment he was threatened whenever he was recognised in Scotland. He secured his first signing as Sunderland's secretary-manager, in 1889, by agreeing to provide the Third Lanark centre-half Johnny Auld with the sideline of a shoe-shop. Clough employed similar ingenuity at the start of his managerial career, promising to make up the pounds 2 the reluctant Joyce McGovern would lose from her weekly widow's pension if her 16-year- old son left the Henry Smith Grammar School in Hartlepool to become an apprentice with Hartlepools United, as the club was then known, in 1965.

The Hartlepool board subsequently vetoed the request but, after arranging for young John to continue his studies two mornings and two evenings a week at West Hartlepool College of Further Education, Clough signed a player who was to feature in his champion teams at Derby County and Nottingham Forest. Like Terry Fenwick, who played for Terry Venables at Crystal Palace, Queen's Park Rangers and Tottenham and still works for him today, McGovern became a trademark of every Clough team. He signed for the man he considered as much a father-figure as a boss on four separate occasions in a professional association which lasted 17 years.

Brian McClair has another seven years and three months left to match that term of service with Alex Ferguson. At pounds 850,000 from Celtic, he was the first new face in the Ferguson era at Old Trafford, arriving a few hours ahead of Viv Anderson on 1 July 1987. Matt Busby's first signing was also a Celtic player, the winger Jimmy Delaney, and there happens to be a link between the first buys made at Celtic by Jock Stein and at Liverpool by Bill Shankly. Both signed Motherwell centre-forwards, Stein paying pounds 22,500 for Joe McBride in 1965 and Shankly investing pounds 37,500 in Ian St John in 1961.

Until this week it seemed that Des Hamilton and Bjarni Gudjonsson were destined to follow in the stud-marks of McBride and St John. Celtic thought they had Hamilton's signing in the proverbial bag while Liverpool were on the trail of Gudjonsson. It may not simply be an irony that they have been beaten to the dotted line by someone who happens to be idolised at Parkhead and at Anfield. It could be an omen too. Like Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish is still making his mark as one of the great Scots of the management game.