By Daniel Flaherty
The Kingdom is crumbling and the King returns, but will the return of Kenny Dalglish be enough to restore Liverpool FC to former glories or is this a further stage in the slow decline of one of Europe’s great football clubs?
Liverpool ruled English and European football during the 1970s and 80s, winning four European Cups, two UEFA cups and 11 English league titles. Following Kenny Dalglish resignation in 1991, the club went into decline, beginning during Graeme Souness’s reign and continuing under Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier. The beginning of Rafael Benitez’s tenure offered hope, as a surprise Champion’s League win in 2005 was followed by an FA Cup in 2006 and another Champion’s League Final appearance in 2007. Despite this, inconsistency, poor signings and public squabbling with other premier league managers dragged down his reign, and it ended in frustration and stagnation last year when they finished 7th.
Roy Hodgson was appointed in the summer, having brought small Fulham to the Europa League final last season. It was widely believed that his Premier League know-how would steady the ship and ensure an important top-four Champion’s League position this season. New signings – Joe Cole and Raul Mereilles – caused excitement, and the departure of old American owners George Gillette and Tom Hicks was met with relief and hope for the future by the fans.
However, this has not been the case, in fact the opposite. 13th position in the league and losses to small Premier League clubs was accompanied by descriptions of the team as “the worst in 50 years” as the side made the worst start to the season since relegation in 1954.
For many people, the problems of the previous years – the poor signings, the insufficient investment in players and the boardroom difficulties –manifested themselves during Hodgson’s reign, but the simple truth of the matter is that Hodgson was not able to inspire his team to play well. His signings played poorly, his side showed a deep lack of confidence, and his team was unable to play in a convincing manner. After 10 losses in the league and publically criticising fans for a lack of support, Liverpool relieved him of his duties two weeks ago.
The club has turned to Kenny Dalglish, one of their greatest players and managers in its history, as temporary manager to lead them out of this difficulty. Dalglish spent 14 years at the club, winning 9 league titles. However, he hasn’t managed in 10 years since unsuccessful spells with Newcastle and Celtic. Is he the man to lead Liverpool out of this, and can Liverpool be led back up to the high table of English football once again?
Dalglish has made a good start off the pitch – publicly praising the side and individual players, something necessary after the confidence had sunk during Hodgson’s time in charge. On the pitch, the start has been indifferent, with one win, one draw and two losses, although the 3-0 dismantling of Wolverhampton Wanderers last Saturday bodes well for the future. Dalglish has shown in the past that he has the intelligence, mental strength and leadership skills to be successful as a manager, with his 3 league titles at Liverpool and one at Blackburn. Dalglish’s ability to work with today’s external pressures and football will be seen over the next few months.
Even if Dalglish can bring Liverpool up the table this season, the more difficult job will be to bring back the League title to Anfield. Competition is tough at the top of the Premier League. Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are all vying for the top four places. City, United or Chelsea can invest heavily, while Tottenham and Arsenal have young and improving sides.
To compete successfully Liverpool need good leadership, both on and off the pitch. New owner Tom Werner led famous American baseball franchise, the Boston Red Sox to success during his time as owner there, and such stories are encouraging for Liverpool fans. A good manager is an equally important appointment. If Liverpool are to win in this highly competitive age, a man able to get the best out of his players and to spot a good signing in the transfer market is imperative.
Liverpool has a proud and successful tradition, but a false move could spell disaster for the future direction of the club. The next step – the appointment of a permanent manager – is an important one. Liverpool will want to ensure that they are one Kingdom that can stand the test of time.