'Wee Joe' will bloom in time, insists Dalglish

Twenty years ago this week Kenny Dalglish called the most emotional press conference of his life, the one in which he announced he would be leaving Liverpool. It says something that there were vastly more television cameras jammed into the club's Melwood training ground for a routine discussion of this evening's encounter with Sparta Prague than there were in Anfield's Trophy Room in February 1991.

Speaking shortly after Dalglish's return, Gérard Houllier said it would be this aspect of football – 24-hour rolling news, the internet and the constant intrusion – that he would find most challenging.

Nevertheless, Dalglish was relaxed yesterday, "happier now than I was 20 years ago," celebrating the birth of two grandchildren and joking that just because he had accompanied Andy Carroll to a Boyzone concert, "it doesn't mean that we're a couple".

"For me the biggest challenge now is the elevation of the game itself as a result of the evolution of the Premier League," he said. "When things get bigger, you get more media. It's not the game itself or the work towards it that's changed. The ball is still the same shape, it is still more or less the same rules."

The away-goals rule has not changed which means that in the wake of the tedious goalless draw in the Letna Stadium, if Sparta Prague score, Liverpool will have to win to reach the last 16 of the Europa League. Anfield, sold out for a 6pm kick-off, might have to be patient.

"The great thing about our fans is that they have been very well educated," he said. "They know the opposition will come and sit back. If you look back on one of Anfield's greatest European nights, against St Etienne [in 1977], it was 1-1 in the second half and we were out. At 2-1 we are still out but the punters are still there cheering them on until David Fairclough slots in the third and it is one of the greatest nights ever. They understand how it works in Europe."

Last week's stalemate in the Czech Republic was the first time Joe Cole had been given a real opportunity to demonstrate what he could do for Dalglish. A season clogged by injury and poor form has drained some of Cole's early enthusiasm. "I have enjoyed moving up here and living where I am," he said yesterday. "But I haven't enjoyed the football because I haven't felt I have done myself justice or got myself right.

"But that's life. You have to push on through the difficult times. I have had plenty of good times in my career and my share of difficult times but I'll always come through. I am pleased the club's results have turned around and, if Liverpool can keep going, I'd love to be part of it."

Of the players Roy Hodgson brought to Merseyside, Paul Konchesky has been disposed of while Raul Meireles has flourished and you suspect Cole's future is in the balance, although Dalglish thought the presence of Steve Clarke, Cole's former first-team coach at Chelsea, might help the midfielder find his feet.

"Wee Joe is all right," Dalglish said. "He knows himself it will take time to adjust after being out for a while injured. It's not a tap you can turn on and off and even hot water takes a while to come through so it is not fair for us to judge him right now. He is enthusiastic and talented and we will try our best to get that out of him."

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