Ian Herbert: A worthy attempt to raise standard of football debate

It is fair to say that Kenny Dalglish has not always been at his most engaging in front of the press. About 20 years have elapsed since an Independent football writer observed that this individual was "not a natural public relations man and will not enter into popular discussion save only to stay a shade on the acceptable side of rudeness." Extracting information has been painful at times, for reasons which are not entirely clear but have something to do with his view that his club's business is no-one else's business. Supporters say they like it that way, though they've had less to read on Liverpool since their King has come back.

It became clear yesterday, when Dalglish's technician got to work with an Apple laptop, that this would be a less incendiary experience, however. It was perhaps with the memory of Rafael Benitez still quite fresh that pencils were sharpened for some of the Punch and Judy material which has become the currency of the 24-hour rolling football media. "Do you want to see the one where Luis Suarez is getting battered?" said Dalglish and the outlook, you had to say, seemed distinctly promising.

But Dalglish was not seeking a spotlight. That is why this discussion was reserved for print, the medium with space for subtleties. Neither did he court controversy – "we don't want to start isolating referees. Let's just get together and try and help each other" was not helpful to sensationalists – and he went out of his to avoid personal attacks on referee Kevin Friend.

Dalglish was biased, of course, because every footballer manager is. But as he worked his way through the decisions which might have fallen in his side's favour at Fulham it became clear that refereeing can be discussed calmly, rationally and outside of that five-minute post-match window which dominates football coverage and in which so much utter rubbish speaks its name.

Dalglish's comments on Suarez's alleged racist abuse were less welcome. Who could wish for anything less than an exhaustive inquiry in a case of such sensitivity? Yet in a sport full of the Machiavellian strategies of managers seeking to bring pressure to bear on officials, Dalglish seemed to have offered something radically different. An exposition which reached beyond the usual pantomime into the peculiar new realm of rational football debate.

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