Dalglish needs help to stop him sinking
Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1
Yes, Kenny Dalglish did have grounds for frustration about the eight-game ban imposed on Luis Suarez.
The evidence that his player used the word "negro" seven times was circumstantial and there were valid legal grounds to appeal had Liverpool chosen to take them. They did not, fearing the case would continue to engulf them but now they are awash anyway. The Dalglish regime actually felt like it was becoming destabilised late on Saturday night when the footballers' own union described Liverpool's conduct as "embarrassing" and "unresponsive" on a race issue. Better that they had challenged the Football Association in the first place than this seething kind of acceptance.
Gordon Taylor, the Professional Footballers' Association chief executive, revealed amid Saturday evening's maelstrom that his offer to arbitrate on the matter was rejected by Liverpool last autumn, when some simple contrition for any offence caused by Suarez's use of the word "negro" might have prevented the entire conflagration. In fairness, there have certainly been some forces of reason at the club in recent weeks, trying to draw a line. Dalglish has just not felt like one of them.
The statement the club issued on Wednesday evening, stating that Suarez would shake Evra's hand, was issued with a sense of urgency. Telephone calls alerted journalists to its release. This felt like a club repelling the distaste created Dalglish's by protestation of his player's innocence, at Anfield 48 hours earlier.
In contradicting that statement, Suarez has demonstrated that his manager has no control over him, and Dalglish is, of course, only reaping what he has sowed. His campaign of solidarity for Suarez has inculcated a sense a victimhood in the player that cannot be tamed.
Yesterday, the club's American owners decided enough was enough. The tone of Dalglish's apology sounded like one of a man who had been put through a fairly searing inquisition and the levels of contrition shown saw the clouds lift, if not entirely clear, from Anfield. But it will require more than a 122-word statement to buoy a manager who has been sinking since Suarez and Evra clashed at Old Trafford 120 days ago.
When Dalglish needs a sounding board he turns to his old Liverpool ally, Alan Hansen, his de facto spokesman on Saturday's Match of the Day. Yet when those two trod the Anfield turf together – in the days when Anfield carried the serene reputation of a club who cared to do things in a distinguished, respectable fashion which they care to call the Liverpool Way – he knew his place.
The great Liverpool administrator Peter Robinson and chairman Sir John Smith kept the Liverpool keys and he worked for them. "I had enough on my plate looking after the football side," Dalglish once said. "It would have been insulting to Peter Robinson, John Smith and the board of directors if I wanted to change how they ran a very successful club. I don't think I would have been respected if I had tried to muscle in on their action because they never muscled in on mine. I wasn't equipped to be involved."
He is certainly not equipped for the subtleties of a 21st-century race row, nor the type of media storm which has accompanied it. Yet no one appears capable of standing up to him and damage is being done. "What the owners of the club think [I don't know]," Taylor said. Yesterday's events answered that question.
The Americans' task is to ensure that there is no executive vacuum at the top of the club. The managing director, Ian Ayre, led a welcome attempt yesterday to repair the damage, as he has done with purpose in the past month.
Dalglish's own task is to begin tempering the love Suarez has been made to feel with some hard management. There is an instructive symmetry with Wayne Rooney, whose two goals on Saturday capped another golden display. When Sir Alex Ferguson fined him £200,000 for his Boxing Day night out in Southport, there was a difficult moment between the two and, from the outside looking in, it seemed harsh; risky even. This was Ferguson being a manager and it doesn't appear to have done any harm.
This task would always be harder with Suarez. Dare Liverpool fine Suarez, as the PFA wishes? Possibly not. By more flagellation, they risk losing him altogether this summer. But there is a trade off between preserving a player and preserving the fine reputation of a club.
"It could have ended there and then [on Saturday] with a handshake," the United defender Jonny Evans reflected yesterday.
"We [had] been talking about it in the changing room [beforehand]. I said to [Evra] myself and a few other players said 'just shake his hand. Then you will come out with a lot of respect.'"
Liverpool find that quality in short supply and must prove they mean yesterday's extraordinary contrition if they are to avoid pariah status.
More on Liverpool and Manchester United:
Man Utd: DE GEA 6/10; RAFAEL 6; EVANS 5; FERDINAND 7; EVRA 5; VALENCIA 8; SCHOLES 7; CARRICK 6; GIGGS 6; ROONEY 7; WELBECK 6
Liverpool: REINA 6; ENRIQUE 5; AGGER 6; SKRTEL 6; JOHNSON 5; DOWNING 5; HENDERSON 6; SPEARING 5; GERRARD 6; KUYT 5; SUAREZ 6
Scorers: Manchester United Rooney 47, 50 Liverpool Suarez 80.
Substitutes: Liverpool Bellamy 6 (Spearing, 61), Carroll 5 (Downing, 61), Adam (Kuyt, 75).
Booked: Man United Carrick. Liverpool Downing.
Man of the match Valencia.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Man United 47% Liverpool 53%.
Attempts on target: Man United 6 Liverpool 6.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire). Attendance 74,844.
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