Sam Wallace: Dalglish has waited 20 years, so owners should be prepared for the long haul, not a quick fix

However amicable the arrangement is, it will be difficult for Dalglish to stand aside at the end of the season and let a younger man step into his shoes

Sam Wallace
Monday 10 January 2011 01:00

When his latest autobiographical work was released in September, Kenny Dalglish was at pains to remind us that he was not sacked by Liverpool but rather he had, in February 1991, left of his own accord. Twenty years on and one of the first questions that presented itself when Dalglish was appointed in temporary charge on Saturday was: how will he leave this time?

Should Dalglish achieve even a moderate degree of success over the next five months then the clamour for him to stay as Liverpool manager will easily eclipse the mutinous chants that began in early October that he must be appointed. Then it will get very interesting for the executives of Fenway Sports Group.

As far as Dalglish's record is concerned, yesterday's defeat in the FA Cup to Manchester United does not count, especially given Steven Gerrard's kamikaze red card. Dalglish is too shrewd to have put himself in this position if he did not feel that he could keep his chin above the water. He is younger than four of his fellow Premier League managers. He could hardly be less popular than Roy Hodgson.

The ideal scenario for Liverpool's principal owner, J W Henry, is that the problem is solved in the short term. That Dalglish stabilises a damaged club. That he has a galvanising effect on the players, principally the sulk-in-chief Fernando Torres. That he delivers a team by the end of May a respectable distance up the Premier League, with the desirable by-product that the club starts to feel good about itself again.

What then? Will Henry and chairman Tom Werner, who have proved themselves extremely solicitous of the supporters' wishes, dare go against them in pursuit of the long-term goal of recruiting a coach who will work with Damien Comolli and buy into those complicated player-recruitment theories?

Or will they feel obliged to take heed of that show of devotion for Dalglish yesterday and put their faith in a more romantic punt on a manager who delivered Liverpool's last title 21 years ago?

So far the new owners of Liverpool have been faced with very simple decisions. They were carried into Anfield on a wave of good feeling having, courtesy of the Royal Bank of Scotland, deposed the Tom Hicks and George Gillett regime. Equally Hodgson, less popular in Liverpool than the poll tax, was not a difficult man to sack.

But sack Dalglish? Some caretaker managers are destined to bridge a gap and then disappear quietly into the shadows. Dalglish at Liverpool is not one of them.

Three days into the job, Dalglish has been careful not to hint at any ambition beyond the remit he has been given. But how willing would he be simply to walk away from the Liverpool job in May with the potential of investment in the summer and – who knows? – the promise of a new stadium and a much brighter future?

Last summer Dalglish applied for the manager's job only to be told that the board was not prepared to consider his candidacy. That was not the act of a man who believes he is good enough only for an interim job, or to hold the reins while the club negotiates to bring in a fashionable young European coach like Ralf Rangnick, Andre Villas Boas or even Owen Coyle.

Dalglish made it quite clear that he wanted to be the Liverpool manager again. So what has changed? Come May, Dalglish will be only 60, arguably the age at which a manager reaches his prime: combining a lifetime of experience with a still durable physical aspect. He is nine years younger than Sir Alex Ferguson. Four years younger than Harry Redknapp. One behind Arsène Wenger. He is five years younger than Fabio Capello, whom everyone regarded as a genius until June.

Dalglish's four League titles as a manager confer upon him membership of that elite club but it is a long time since he has been able to take his place at the table.

The life of a well-to-do cruise liner retiree might be agreeable but it is nothing next to the buzz of management. However amicable the arrangement is now with Henry, it will be difficult for Dalglish to stand aside and let a younger man step into his shoes. On the subject, he and Ferguson would surely agree.

If Dalglish is replaced in the summer then the man who takes his job had better be successful and he had better be successful quickly. Otherwise the spectre of King Kenny, and the constant murmur of his name, will be round every corner of every corridor he turns at Anfield.

Dalglish has made it quite clear that he regrets that decision made 20 years ago when he left the club to take a break from football. He has learned since that, even for a player of his status, giving up the Liverpool manager's job is not something one does lightly because it is not an opportunity that comes along often.

Fate has given Dalglish the job for the second time in his life. Considering that he has spent two decades mulling over his decision, it is hard to believe that he will want to walk away so easily once again, especially when it will not take much progress on the pitch to encourage a great groundswell of fans' support for him to get the job on a permanent basis.

Giving Dalglish the Liverpool job was a popular move by Henry that should yield an upturn in the club's fortunes. But Henry has to understand that this is not just a pliable junior coach who can be sent back to the academy once a new man has been found. This is Kenny Dalglish. And he is doing the job he has waited 20 years for.

Don't bet on clubs reducing impact of 'preferred' bookies

One of the most curious stories of the weekend was the suggestion that the Football Association wants to ban bookmakers from offering odds on managerial sackings in order to reduce pressure on the poor souls. Given that the bookies offer odds about pretty much anything these days, it would be no surprise if they were to open a book on the likelihood of the FA getting its way.

If English football clubs really did want to do something about it then they might first take a look at their own commercial departments: just about every club have their own lucrative "preferred betting partner" deal. So probably best for them not to get too self-righteous on the subject.

Minnows now work harder to outplay big boys

Traditionally, FA Cup giant-killings used to rely on anomalies like a freak goal, a bog-standard pitch or a badly off-colour performance from the giants in question to produce a memorable result.

But Stevenage's comfortable 3-1 win over Newcastle United on Saturday showed that these days lower league teams can simply outplay their famous opponents.

Even Alan Pardew admitted that the League Two team had more energy. Graham Westley's Stevenage players train all day instead of just in the morning which, from a club that officially has been professional only since May, is a sobering lesson for the big boys.

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