There used to be a well-known graffito on an advert in a Liverpool street in the 1960s. A poster for the Salvation Army which bore the slogan "Jesus Saves" had been decorated with: "But St John Scores from the Rebound".
The reference to Liverpool's centre-forward, Ian St John, displayed three arteries of the city's heart – football, humour and religion. And though, as in most English cities, religion is in decline, the return of Kenny Dalglish to the managership of Liverpool Football Club has something spiritual, perhaps even Messianic, about it, at least to the fans, if not to the man himself.
Dalglish was unquestionably the greatest player the club has known, and he then enjoyed six successful seasons as first a player-manager, then as manager alone, in 15 years of service to the club.
Liverpool fans wanted him back because of that success, but they also need what they hope will be Dalglish's powers of healing.
The team's history since 1990 – the last time they won the Championship under Dalglish – has been marked by a sequence in which the club has become lost to its fans. Managers such as Frenchman Gérard Houllier and Spaniard Rafa Benitez brought some success and even understood the holistic bond between team, fans and owners – Benitez's last act before his departure was to donate £96,000 to the Hillsborough Fund, the figure symbolising the 96 people who died in the horrendous crush at Sheffield Wednesday's ground in 1989. But Dalglish knows more. He was manager on the day, witnessed the turmoil and then attended every funeral, every memorial service and attended inquests and Lord Justice Taylor's Judicial Enquiry.
His instinctive response was almost that of a clan chief with a natural sense of duty. The grieving broke him temporarily – he left the club abruptly in 1991, citing stress – but he maintained his links despite periods spent elsewhere.
Dalglish also taps into the notion of devoted service. He succeeded a trio of dedicated Liverpool managers, the mystic Bill Shankly, who restored the club's fortunes in the 1960s; Bob Paisley, the quiet man from Durham who served the club for 44 years, winning three European Cups; and Joe Fagan, a cheerful Scouser, who won a European Cup winner in his first season.
Liverpool, as a city, loves those who stay loyal to it, with long-serving MPs such as Bessie Braddock (1945-1969) and Harold Wilson (1950-83), established in folklore, alongside various writers, artists, comedians or musicians. These people define the city to the outside world and those who stay are fêted slightly more than those who move away, such is the tribal instinct of the population.
Dalglish belongs in this tradition of local commitment. Despite jobs elsewhere, he kept a home in the city and can claim a last link with the famous Boot Room, the club's equivalent of the Parliamentary Whips' Office. It was a place where plots, players, disciplines, transfers and strategies were discussed over cups of tea and the occasional glass of Scotch.
Off the field, Dalglish has been a joint patron with his wife Marina, a breast cancer survivor, of a fund supporting the oncology department of the new University Hospital at Aintree. Charity golf days are easily organised from his home on the "football coast", the sandy stretch from Formby to Southport which is studded with links courses and footballers' mansions.
For the time being, Dalglish will concentrate on upgrading the Liverpool team and keeping civil links with the club's latest American owners. But he can't roll back the clock to a time when Liverpool was owned by Liverpool people. In taking this temporary position he must hope that some alchemical wisdom from his past will transform the warmth of his return, and the yearning of the fans, into something golden for both the team and the city.Reuse content