Football: The sons arise

Dalglish jnr makes a name of his own; Simon Turnbull talks exclusively to the new hope of Newcastle United
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The Independent Online
PAUL DALGLISH has probably had his fill of comparisons. It was too much, though, to resist posing the question. Was the Dalglish who scored two goals for a City of Durham XI the week before last as good as the Dalglish who has settled into the Newcastle forward line of late? The chip off the block laughed. He had not, it transpired, been at New Ferens Park to watch his father sink the team from HMS Invincible. "I don't know how he played, to be honest," Dalglish junior said. "He told me he scored two good goals, though... One was a penalty."

The dead-pan pay-offs are becoming as familiar as the facial features and the distinguished name. They are, after all, helping Paul Dalglish to loosen deftly the suffocation potential of his family football tie. As he told a bemused Jon Champion after his first appearance at St James' Park: "I don't know if my name is a help or a hindrance. I've never had a different one." And, as he told the reporter who said he had seen a lot of Kenny in the Worthington Cup goal that Paul scored at Tranmere last month: "It was all me, actually."

Paul Dalglish is doing a good job of making a name for himself. He has been a striking member of Newcastle's starting line-up for seven successive games now. Last weekend he opened his account as a Premiership goalscorer, against Sheffield Wednesday at St James' Park. He has collected two Scotland Under-21 caps and been mentioned in Craig Brown's dispatches as a candidate for senior international recognition in the spring. He is no longer regarded as simply the son of the father.

"I've always said I'm a different player and a different person to my dad and people seem to have accepted that," he said, overlooking Riverside, the Durham cricket ground, from Newcastle's adjacent training headquarters. "They're not trying to compare me to my dad, which is good. They've let me be my own person - especially the people I'm working with and training with, which is more important."

What has made Paul Dalglish's emergence all the more impressive, of course, is the delicate nature of his working situation. His father parted company with Newcastle United 12 weeks ago and is at legal odds with the club over the terms of his departure. Dalglish junior has, to his considerable credit, managed to forge a professional path through these most trying of circumstances, making a highly promising first-team breakthrough and, in the process, buying the club precious time on the transfer spending front. In the absence of the hamstrung Alan Shearer, he will be Newcastle's first-choice forward at Goodison Park tomorrow night.

There is considerable irony in that, too, his father having spent pounds 9.3m on back-up for Shearer. Andreas Andersson, a pounds 3.6m acquisition from Milan, may get another chance to prove his worth tomorrow, but Jon Dahl Tomasson (pounds 2.2m) and Stephane Guivarc'h (pounds 3.5m) have both departed. Guivarc'h was sold on, in the wake of the changing of the managerial guard, after just two first-team starts. Tomasson looked the part in pre-season last year but his assets were frozen from the moment he stalled when put clear with only Kevin Pressman to beat in the third minute of his Premiership debut.

Dalglish junior's first chance for Newcastle was a similar miss at the same end of St James' Park, in front of the Sir John Hall Stand. In his case, though, it proved a mere hiccup. A minute later he released Shearer with a glorious goalscoring-invitation of a pass. Alan Rogers delayed the inevitable with a punishable intervention but Shearer duly applied the finishing touch from the penalty spot to complete a 2-0 victory against Nottingham Forest.

Eight weeks later, the young Dalglish has become a fixture in the Newcastle forward line - and the subject of some glowing praise, most flatteringly from Craig Brown, who has spoken of him as a potential Michael McOwen. Not that the Glasgow-born scouser is about to break with family tradition by believing his own publicity. "You don't want to get carried away," he said. "Although it's nice when people say you're doing well and say nice things about you, especially other players and other managers, you've got to keep your feet on the ground and realise you've only played a few games. There are people out there who have played 400, 500 games."

Including substitute appearances, the 21-year-old Dalglish is a veteran of 24 first-team matches now, the first 13 of them played on loan to Bury last season. A Celtic trainee, then a young professional at Liverpool, he joined his father at Newcastle on a free-transfer at the start of last season. His dream had always been to make the grade with Liverpool. He had, after all, been immersed in Anfield life from the age of six months, when his father moved from Celtic to more than adequately fill Kevin Keegan's No 7 shirt; he used to play kick-about on the pitch after matches with Roy Evans' son, Stephen. With Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Karlheinz Riedle ahead of him in the striking order, however, there was no chink of a first-team opening on the horizon.

There will, though, still be a corner of his heart tugging towards the other side of Stanley Park at Goodison tomorrow. "I was born into Liverpool Football Club, really," he said. "All I can remember from my early years is my dad being at Liverpool Football Club and me being there. I still have a soft spot for Liverpool. I'd be lying if I said I didn't.

"I was brought up on Merseyside. I went to school in Crosby. It'll be nice going back on Monday. But I won't treat the game differently to any other. I've played at Goodison before, for Liverpool reserves. Some of my friends are Evertonians. They'll be at the game. I don't know whether they'll be booing or cheering me."

Whether the Goodison gallery has reason to approve or disapprove, it will not be judging the finished article. Blessed though he is with pace, poise, perception and an eye for goal, Dalglish needs no reminding that he has room for improvement - not least in terms of physical strength. "I know what my weaknesses are and I work more on them than I do on my strengths," he said. "In an ideal world we'd all be built like Alan Shearer and be as fast as Michael Owen. You just have to make the best of what you've got."

And Paul Dalglish, like the veteran who scuppered HMS Invincible, has clearly got a lot.