Kenny Dalglish puts finals over finance and top-four finishes for Liverpool
Liverpool have just revealed a record loss of £50m but their manager says winning the FA Cup tomorrow will give fans golden memories for years to come
It was when the talk turned to the old Saturday rituals of FA Cup final day that Kenny Dalglish's countenance brightened dramatically and what had been a half-hour of jousts with broadcast journalists, in which he held all the cards as usual, began to assume a more promising aspect.
Cup final day memories? Dalglish could fill a book with those which have surfaced in one form or other down the years. The punter who got into the team bath after the 1986 victory over Everton, shouting "I don't give a monkey's. Come and take me away now" (and apparently, no-one ever did). The fans chanting "Shankly" that same day; the plane home, shared with Everton; Dalglish encountering Paul Bracewell in a chippy after the open-top bus tour which involved both sides.
Such are the joys of the Cup – and you could probably say that tomorrow brings the moment Dalglish had in his mind's eye, nine days short of a year ago, when having been presented as the club's permanent manager, he quipped "Anybody need a set of Callaways?" and set about restoring things to the way they used to be. The "unfinished business" as he once described Liverpool, the club he had always felt he should not have walked out on as manager in the first place.
"Every generation at the football club have a story to tell about their travels to cup finals," he says of this weekend. "That never goes amiss. It's important to have those experiences. Winning the Carling Cup was important. [The Champions League final in] 2005 was hugely important because that generation never had the stories to tell that their parents had. They got it at Istanbul and what a story to tell that was...."
It is by the look on the supporters' faces that Dalglish calibrates success. His decision to resign as manager in 1991 has always haunted him because he felt he had not fulfilled an obligation to them and the club for giving him his big break as a player at a transfer fee of £440,000 in the first place.
There is comfort in these simple measures of football success because the broader picture of Dalglish's one year as permanent manager reveals a man who has been sorely tested by the complexities which the game has assumed now. How does he assess that year? "Not many things have changed in football," he replies. "On the football side there isn't a great deal of difference. The biggest change is obviously in the media. The responsibility you have to sit and talk to yourselves. There is greater demand now for yourselves than there was before. That goes with the elevation of the Premier League."
But, of course, it is not as simple as a greater number of media conversations. The television cameras – which Dalglish is averse to, beyond the point of rudeness – bring a level of scrutiny which makes nuance matter far more than it did in the football world he left behind. That was not a suit which sat well on him in the midst of the Luis Suarez saga.
The football world has been complicated in myriad other ways, too. The real sense that Dalglish has inherited a more difficult landscape than one he left behind 21 years ago revealed itself a mere 24 hours after he had given his thoughts on the FA Cup final.
A Liverpool financial statement, published yesterday, showed how the heavenly simplicity of a game where success was measured by the piece of silver your captain held above his head has long gone. The club's full audited results are yet to be published, but Liverpool's managing director Ian Ayre disclosed a record loss of £49.4m, with a £59m charge for exceptional items – largely the write-off of £35m costs for the 70,000-seater stadium which the club's previous owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, did not even see off the architects' plans. That £35m is an extraordinary figure, for which we require the full accounts to tell more. So, too, is the £8.4m figure that the club says it paid out to terminate the contracts of Roy Hodgson and staff, plus former managing director Christian Purslow. Liverpool's website said on the day of his departure that Purslow had resigned. There was no talk of dismissal. The Hodgson figure looks very high since first-team coach Mike Kelly was the only individual to depart with him.
Ayre spoke of "localisation" of "product" in Jakarta – not the kind of language Dalglish took to Wembley in '86 – but the overriding impression is that the full results will reveal how John W Henry's Fenway Sports Group do not have the financial munificence to buy Liverpool a place back at the top table.
"There is the loss of Champions League revenue too," Ayre said, cutting to the target Henry is most concerned to hit. "I don't think there would have been many clubs that could not be playing Champions League football but still maintaining [our] position."
As Dalglish gave his press conference, on Wednesday, Henry was making his way to the stadium under a warm Liverpool sun and his presence cooled the atmosphere in the foyer beneath the main stand when he walked in.
This is a far more challenging environment than the days Dalglish was remembering, of how club secretary Peter Robinson "did everything with contracts and finance".
He should be told that Liverpool's league campaign has been better than results have suggested and their football has improved. They have dominated games but so often failed to find a finish that when they have fallen behind – January's game at Bolton being a case in point – you sense that a psychological barrier is placed before them. But they look a long way from the title – the target which exercises their ambitious fans far more than the top four. "It's not easy but Liverpool have been in decline for a number of years," Kevin Keegan said a few years back. He felt Hodgson, manager at the time, was "just picking up the tab". Dalglish is collecting it too, despite the money and some mistakes of the past year.
There is a section of the Liverpool support who feel that defeat tomorrow to Chelsea would make this season an unconvincing statement of the club's place in the hierarchy. Birmingham City won the Carling Cup last season and look at them now, the argument runs. What would an Arsenal supporter have given just to lift the trophy Dalglish has already collected? Let the post-mortems come later, though, with questions including why Dalglish hasn't found a goalscoring partnership that works, nor found out where Steven Gerrard should play.
For now, the complexities of Jakarta, write-downs and 24-hour media management can dissolve away and Dalglish can take Liverpool back to more straightforward times, for a weekend on which he should be celebrated for a quality, not to be underestimated, of knowing what makes his adoptive people happy. "It's usually the people who aren't in the cup finals who say that [they don't count]," he says. "You can argue that, financially, finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League is more beneficial than winning the FA Cup. But when you go to play in the Cup final you don't think about finance."
Cup compensation: Liverpool's haul since their last league title
Liverpool have won nine major trophies in the 22 years since their last title success...
1992 FA Cup Beat Sunderland 2-0
1995 League Cup Beat Bolton Wanderers 2-1
2001 League Cup Beat Birmingham on pens [1-1 aet]
2001 FA Cup Beat Arsenal 2-1
2001 Uefa Cup Beat Alaves 5-4 [golden goal]
2003 League Cup Beat Manchester United 2-0
2005 Champions League Beat Milan on penalties [3-3 aet]
2006 FA Cup Beat West Ham on pens [3-3 aet]
2012 League Cup Beat Cardiff City on pens [2-2 aet]
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