James Lawton: Dalglish's link with the spirit of Shankly offers starting point for Liverpool revival

Henry will see that Dalglish walked away from Liverpool with as many titles as Shankly. He then returned to the game to win one more

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The Independent Online

There are a number of things Liverpool owner John W Henry needs to know about Kenny Dalglish before he is obliged to reconsider the temporary nature of his appointment, as the suspicion here says he will with some urgency well before the end of this season.

One of the most important is that King Kenny's leaning towards the smart alec answer, the heavy frown and the exasperated air, is often the most inaccurate guide to the depth of his feelings.

If we didn't know that before the horror of Hillsborough, and the toll it took on his belief that winning football matches was an ultimate goal in life, we certainly knew it when he walked away, a winning coach and one of the greatest of players but a wounded man.

Henry might want to flick through the sepia-coloured files. He will see that Dalglish had already matched Bill Shankly's haul of league titles when he drove home from a pulsating 4-4 Cup tie with Everton in the knowledge that his emotions had become twisted in too many places and that the only solution was a pause.

The owner will see, too, that when he returned it was to win another title for Blackburn Rovers.

Indeed, if Henry performs the kind of detailed case study he might undertake when sending out some potential financial wizard into the investment battleground, he will grasp quickly enough that in some of the most important ways Dalglish has never been away.

There have been frustrating interludes, no doubt, certainly at Newcastle, stewing in its toxic juices, and Celtic, where even his mystical reputation as a member of the Glasgow football pantheon was no buttress against the years of decay since the reign of his mentor Jock Stein. But, no, never any slippage in his belief that he knew the game and would some time return to it as though the intervening years simply hadn't happened.

Yesterday a new football creation, well new for Kenny Dalglish, was present at his Liverpool press conference, but the director of football, Damien Comolli, was quick to say that for this season at least there will be no new Liverpool players without the approving tick of the manager.

Willie McIlvanney, the celebrated novelist and poet, memorably identified the style of Dalglish. He said it came straight from the streets of Glasgow where he first made his name; it was a shoulders-back, chin-forward snippiness which discouraged any taking of advantage.

"If you showed a Glaswegian Helen of Troy," said McIlvanney, "he would probably shrug his shoulders and say, 'Ach, she's not the worst-looking lassie I've ever seen.' That would be Kenny – at least the street-smart one he wanted the world to see."

When he was at Blackburn he was invited to join in the chorus of disapproval for the Fifa decision to scrap the back pass to the goalkeeper – a move aimed at stripping away some of the creeping negativity that had ruined the 1990 Italian World Cup and threatened to sabotage the hoped for conquest of North America in the 1994 tournament.

The move was reviled in most corners of the English professional game and initially Dalglish was less then enthusiastic. Then he paused, reflected for a moment and said: "Well, I will say that it is likely to make honest men of a lot of defenders – and that has to be a start."

Dalglish the player explored the honesty, or lack of it, in opposing defences with relentless, surgical precision – and the certainty that he would do it on behalf of Liverpool shone on the face of Bob Paisley the day he announced that the crisis provoked by Kevin Keegan's defection to European football with Hamburg was over. "The moment Kevin confirmed he was leaving I knew what I had to do," said Paisley.

The former tank driver who helped liberate Rome got on the phone to his friend Stein and made arguably the sweetest deal in the history of Liverpool or any other football club of significance. Paisley paid Celtic £440,000 for Dalglish out of the £500,000 he received for Keegan. "Kevin was a great player, of course, but when I knew we had Kenny I knew we wouldn't miss a beat," said Paisley.

No one is saying that Dalglish is about to work a miracle, at least not one marked by a rocket ascent of the Premier League, but there is something that can be asserted with great confidence. It is that he will, more eloquently than would be possible in a thousand memos, explain what Liverpool has always meant to him, and to what degree it came to be so at odds with the picture of a football club which knew exactly what it sought to represent.

And what was that precisely? It was, more than anything, consistency, an understanding that if Shankly was a brilliant demagogue he was also the author of a brilliant set of values. He was a coach who always knew where his strength lay.

It was in the quality and the commitment of his players. He didn't jot down his notes and then spout them in the technical area like some pedantic schoolmaster. He said that if Ian St John hadn't been a brilliant, tough-minded footballer he would have been a fine middleweight. He threw open the doors of the dressing room and invited touring parties around the colossus known as Big Ron Yeats.

He said, definitively: "If your players aren't good enough, you have to come up with the right tactics. If you have the kind of players we have, you let them play." To a certain degree, of course, because if football was in your bones, if you played it at the highest level, you knew there would always be certain things you couldn't do.

He would call, often late at night, and rhapsodise a performance by Emlyn Hughes or Peter Thompson or Tommy Smith. He loved his players – as long as they were performing – and he loved his club and the fans, of whom it was once said – by the club chief executive, Peter Robinson – that they would storm the Mersey Tunnel and annex Birkenhead if Shankly simply said the word.

King Kenny, we can be sure, will be making no such demand. But he will, we have to believe, at least remind us of what Liverpool used to be – and what they might just be again.

Berbatov dive fulfilled duty to United but paid little respect to values of football

Dimitar Berbatov's successful dive against Liverpool on Sunday has, it seems, achieved a bleak distinction. Most professional observers agree that it should not have earned a penalty. But they are equally emphatic that Berbatov would have been failing in his duty had he not gone down.

His duty, this was, to his club and his team-mates.

Duty to the game, its values and its example to the millions of kids who saw it happen, is apparently not an issue. Of course, there is nothing new in this except, perhaps, the universal resignation with which it has been received everywhere but Liverpool.

Michael Owen did it flagrantly in an important qualifying game for the Euro 2004 tournament against Slovakia a few years ago and was widely praised for his hard-eyed professionalism.

Conversely, his former Liverpool team-mate Robbie Fowler once provoked incredulity when he told a referee that he was wrong to point to the spot.

There is no solution, of course – not this side of an epidemic of honesty or the insistence that a World Cup final referee be properly challenged for not doing his job.

From the sublime to the ridiculous for Ashes heroes?

Indian Premier League auction prices are, predictably enough, sharply down, but let's hope the disappointment of most of the Ashes heroes is not too severe.

It would certainly be nice to think that their achievements in Australia, and their long-term value in the game at its highest level, is sufficient consolation. If it isn't, perhaps it will give their endeavours in the World Cup an even sharper edge.

They have maybe their best ever chance of winning a title that has long represented the most acceptable face of any of the shortened forms of the game which provided such an absorbing midwinter.

Twenty20 has bestowed quick, huge money but where is the sense of an enduring game? It is hard not to believe we see the beginnings of its fall to the floor in that bizarre counting house in Bangalore.

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