Kenny Dalglish was immediately plunged back into the heat of managerial controversy last night, declaring after he had insisted he could handle the pressure which persuaded him to quit the Liverpool manager's job 20 years ago that the penalty which put Liverpool out of the FA Cup at Manchester United was "a joke".
Dalglish, who reflected in his biography that the alternative to resigning in 1991 was "going mad", dismissed suggestions that a return to the job might damage his legendary status at Anfield, despite an extraordinary beginning to his second spell in charge when referee Howard Webb awarded United a penalty 32 seconds into the third-round tie here.
"Unless they have changed the rules it is not a penalty," Dalglish said after Ryan Giggs scored to give United a 1-0 win. "The other one, I cannot see that as a red card either. In the dressing room before the game someone said to me the game's not changed that much. I said, 'I thought it was a non-contact sport'. Maybe I was right."
The furore surrounding United's progress to face Southampton away in the fourth round, compounded by Steven Gerrard's first-half dismissal, intensified last night when Dalglish's son, Paul, tweeted that "Fergie [the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson] has a his puppet Howard Webb on a piece of string." Dalglish Jnr also circulated an image of the referee – "MBE – Member of the Busby Empire, as he called him" – in a United shirt. The Liverpool striker Ryan Babel faces a Football Association fine after tweeting a similar image of Webb and declaring his reputation as a top referee to be "a joke".
Dalglish, who tweets along with his wife, Marina, has just discovered one of the new perils of 21st-century management and Gerrard, justifiably dismissed for a 32nd-minute double-footed challenge on Michael Carrick, may also have something to say to England team-mate Rio Ferdinand, who seemed to play his own part in the dismissal. Last night Ferdinand used the same medium to put his case. "By the way I never told howard webb to send gerrard off. I just said I thought it was a 2footed tackled," he tweeted.
Dalglish left Old Trafford insistent that he can restore pride to Liverpool, despite a performance in which Gerrard's dismissal obscured the old problems visible under his predecessor, Roy Hodgson. "How do you know you have anything unless you try?" Dalglish said. "I will give everything I have got to put the club in a better position than it is now. Whether that's going to be sufficient for everyone, I don't know. Whatever other people think, they are perfectly entitled. I made the decision and I made the one I think was best for myself and the football club."
Despite suggestions that the former Chelsea No 2 Steve Clarke will be appointed assistant manager, with Sammy Lee moving to the first-team coach role he held under Gérard Houllier, Dalglish said he had not had time to consider back-room staff. Mike Kelly, the first-team coach and Hodgson's right-hand man, is expected to leave. More may become clear when Dalglish discusses his appointment in detail this afternoon. "I've not got a preconceived idea about anyone I want to come in, whether there's other targets who the club had in mind before I came in," Dalglish said. "I don't know."
Dalglish's appointment has been rapide, with Hodgson taking training on Saturday morning and the Scot receiving a call from Liverpool's principal owner, John W Henry, who "said he had spoken to Roy and [asked] would I like to come and look after the team till the end of the season". Dalglish, with his wife aboard the cruise liner Silverwind, was granted an unscheduled docking in Bahrain at 4am on Saturday. "Being a professional I was at the bar," he joked, when asked where he was when the call came in.
He did not meet his players until 10.30am yesterday. "I thought I had left but the minute I was asked to come back there was no way in the world I was going to insult them," added Dalglish, whose side's visit Blackpool on Wednesday, with the Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield on Sunday. "It's brilliant [to be back]," he said. "It's amazing how quickly your memory comes back to you. It doesn't seem long since I was in the dressing room, though I'm a wee bit disappointed because last time I was here we won on penalties – in a Unicef game. Roy [Hodgson] is a really good man and a friend of mine. It wasn't in my mind and it still isn't because I'm not going to go dancing on someone's grave."
Though Liverpool are desperately in need of adding a second striker in the transfer window, Dalglish said he would go with the players he has, if he must. "If somebody says to me, 'There's a squad of players, would you take that job?' I'd say, 'Yes. We'll just go with the players we've got'," he said. "I've not got a preconceived idea about anyone I want to come in."
Ferguson, without Wayne Rooney due to his ankle injury and Nemanja Vidic, who had taken a knock in training, called Gerrard's challenge "reckless", saying: "Steven Gerrard is not that type of player really. I don't think he left the referee any option." Rooney and Vidic are expected to be fit to face Tottenham on Sunday.