Football: It often pays to stick with the devil you know even if the devils you know are close to drawing their footballing pensions

The prefix ``canny'', as applied to Kenny Dalglish, has become one of football's most enduring cliches, and Dalglish's dabblings in the transfer market this week suggest that it's also one of the most convincing. It doesn't take a genius to work out that a 36,000 full house every match (and a waiting list as long as the proverbial arm), a wealthy benefactor with his fingers in most of the pies in the North-east, and an income of over pounds 13m generated from the recent sale of players, all adds up to a healthy bank balance.

Which must mean that, despite the apparently tight financial constraints placed on the football club by the plc, Dalglish has a few bob to rub together. Yet, in his attempt to do what not even ``the Messiah'' has managed to do for 71 years - bring the championship to St James' Park - Dalglish has gone back to Liverpool and recruited two members of the Anfield old guard, Ian Rush and John Barnes; combined age: 68; combined transfer fee: pounds 0. But then Dalglish knows a thing or two about signing players to win championships, and anyway, he may well have a point (although he'll need at least 75 to win it) . Which is that, for all the air miles clocked up during the close season by managers who returned from far flung destinations (i.e., Scandinavia) with the latest Tor, Flo or Trond in tow, the reality is that it often pays to stick with the devil you know rather than the devil you haven't really got a clue about, and who could end up costing you an arm and a leg and giving you a sore head in return.

Even if the devils you know are close to drawing their footballing pensions, and couldn't get into the first teams at Liverpool and Leeds respectively. Look, for example, at Blackburn's Roy Hodgson, who says he "won't be buying any players I don't know, now or in the future''; expect Ewood Park to be brimming with ex-Inter Milan, Switzerland and Bristol City stars by the year 2000. Look, too, at Wim Jansen, whose two major recruits at Celtic have been his former Feyenoord charges Henrik Larsson and Regi Blinker.

Thing is, being a football manager is such a precarious job that you can't really blame those who play it safe. Howard Wilkinson once claimed that ``there are only two types of managers: those who've been sacked, and those who'll be sacked in the future''; and it was Wilkinson who, as manager of Leeds, went back to his old club Sheffield Wednesday and relieved them of pounds 1.75m worth of "talent'' in Lee Chapman, Nigel Worthington, John Pemberton and Jon Newsome.

But Wilko's favouritism pales into insignificance compared to that shown by Ron Atkinson to Kevin Richardson, who is perhaps the palest, skinniest player ever to have played professional football. Cynics will claim BFR's aim was to portray himself as more tanned and omnipotent than he actually is by ensuring Richardson was his constant companion, although the man himself will tell you it was that sweet left foot that did the trick. Whatever the reason, wherever BFR went (to Real Sociedad, Aston Villa and Coventry) Richardson was sure to go too.

Quite what Dave "Route one'' Bassett saw in Glyn "on the deck'' Hodges is more of a mystery, yet Bassett signed Hodges for Wimbledon, Watford and Sheffield United. Ditto Graham Taylor's preoccupation with Tony Daley. Having already - inexplicably - launched Daley's brief England career, Taylor went back to Aston Villa to sign the winger for Wolves, where he's been equally ineffective. It must have been something in the hair.

Graeme Souness' bond with Barry Venison is more understandable. See, Souness has always been an image man and let's face it, anyone's going to look good alongside Bazza Venison in post-match press conferences. So having had first hand experience of Bazza's dress sense at Liverpool, Souness lured him to Turkey when he took over at Galatasaray, then rescued him when he got the Southampton job.

Gerry Francis' favourite pastime used to be signing his old Bristol Rovers proteges while Mark McGhee is another who has an unhealthy tendency for renewing old playing acquaintances (the fans won't have anything to do with him) from his Reading and Leicester days.

But none of these liaisons are as unfathomable as that between Terry Hurlock and Ian Branfoot, who signed the volatile midfielder three times: for Reading, Southampton and Fulham. Dalglish's new signings should make more of an impact, even if the once prolific Rush managed a paltry three goals last season, and the highlight of Barnes' season was that speculative skimmer against Southampton. But if anyone doubts Dalglish's judgment, they'd be as well to recall that Brian Clough, when he became Nottingham Forest manager in 1975, signed some of the players - John McGovern, John O'Hare and Archie Gemmill - who had helped him win the title with Derby in 1972. There was nothing sentimental about it; that wasn't Cloughie's style. No, he was convinced they could do it again. And, inevitably, he was right.

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