"What do you mean you've hurt 'your' knee, it's Liverpool's knee" - Bill Shankly.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kenny Dalglish - Does He Suit A Perm?


By royhendo - February 04 2011 - PRINT THIS ARTICLE

One of the great joys of Kenny Dalglish’s ‘caretaker’ tenure at Liverpool thus far has been the head scratching it’s prompted amongst the tactical intelligentsia. Since the Man Utd game we’ve seen the cream of our emerging crop of analysts tackle the subject of his tactical approach, and it’s fair to say we’re still some way short of a working consensus.

Of course, some analysts have a richer insight than others, largely borne of the depth of their connection with the club (you know who you are folks), but even then, Dalglish’s approach thus far brings the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to mind. Just when you think you’ve nailed down the particle, King Kenny gives us a wave. Regardless of its form, however, our eyes can see the difference. Something fundamental has changed.

Over the last month or so we’ve spent time ruminating over potential candidates for the permanent Liverpool manager’s job on this site. But it’s time to lay my cards on the table. For me at least, Kenny Dalglish has already established himself as the only credible candidate for the permanent job. So, much like the man himself and his approach to the game, we’ll set the established template to one side and tackle it with a little more freedom and fluidity. This is Kenny, after all. We know how old he is, we know his managerial pedigree. So we won’t waste time on that stuff. We’ll look at the issues that are key to FSG’s decision, and we’ll consider the broader context; after all, Kenny represents more than a manager at this moment in time - he can put Humpty together again.

“He’s Been Out Of The Game Too Long”

Despite the glowing reference provided in Tomkins, Riley and Fulcher’s “Pay As You Play”, which underlines his ability in the transfer market, we’ve read a lot in recent weeks and months about the fact that Kenny hasn’t been in charge of a football club for some considerable time.

The first consideration is age. Now - he’s no spring chicken, but at 59, Kenny Dalglish has 10 years on the auld fella along the road, and in but five weeks’ time he’ll be arguably as fit and healthy a sexagenarian as you’re ever likely to see. Mens sana in corpore sano and all that - he’s the Raquel Welsh of modern Glaswegians.

The rule of thumb we’ve applied to messrs Rangnick, Laudrup and Villas-Boas has been ‘will they be able to dedicate a decade of their career to the job?’. Let’s be honest - there’s zero doubt that Kenny can cope with that. And the cherry on the top is that he’ll never have his head turned by the Spanish giants or anyone else when things go well. Kenny is Liverpool through and through. Nothing’s going to change that.

But deal with that in your mind and the next question jumps out at you. Is he ‘dated’? I mean, it’s been so long since he was in the hotseat - how can he command the respect of his staff and players if he’s been out of the game for that long? Well, we now have the benefit of almost a month’s evidence to help refute that claim.

Kenny comes into the role and instantly we hear rumours of his appointing Ian Rush as a coach. Then people speculated that Phil Thompson might be his assistant. But what does he do? The first thing he does is go out and hire Steve Clarke. This might have been a controversial decision had it been taken by anyone else, after all, Steve Clarke, in the company of Jose Mourinho, had done little to ingratiate himself to the Liverpool fan base. But in terms of his credentials, Clarke had more than proven his ability during his time with Mourinho, and remains highly respected within the game.

Although Kenny is actively involved in the coaching side, it’s clear he trusts his coaching lieutenants Clark and Lee to do the job unfettered. That leaves him with freedom to shift some of his focus to the broader brush strokes, and while the last few days maybe remind us to take what players say with a spoonful of salsa, thus far the testimony related to the tone he’s set has been glowing.

Dirk Kuyt was the first to comment on the new approach.

“We just want to play in a certain way. Every manager has their own training sessions and tactics and way of playing.

“And if you’ve seen us the last three games we’ve played more as a 4-3-3, while under Hodgson we were playing a 4-4-2.

“You listen to the manager and you make the best of it.

“Hodgson gave everything for the club to do his best and it’s a shame it didn’t work out.

“The way we play in the first half it was very enjoyable, but a shame we didn’t score more goals.

“Dalglish is one of most important managers for Liverpool.

“You only have to listen to the crowd to hear how important he is for this club and that’s the same for the players.”

Daniel Agger then expanded on his methods.

“He’s been here for a few weeks now and I can say that I like his style of football.

“I think every day, he is so positive in what he does - trying to get the team to go forward by playing football. I believe he can be really good for us.

“In the team meetings and in training you can hear and by the different things we’re working on that he really wants us to play positive football and how important it is to keep possession, not giving it away so easily.

There are more, but you get the point, I’m sure. In fact, you only need to use your eyes to see the point. What’s more interesting to me is the way Kenny’s used genuinely progressive set-ups that are founded on team spirit, cohesion within the group, and last but not least, confidence.

Building A Better Comfort Blanket

Liverpool fans have become accustomed to a cautious brand of football over the last decade or more. The manager defines the balance and style of play, and everything else flows from there. Under Houllier, like a turtle, the side retreated into its shell, playing in the end a brand of rigid counter attacking football that ultimately lost him his job. Rafa Benitez came in and while the balance was at times genuinely attacking and imposing, and the passing and quality was at times breathtaking, it was very seldom at the expense of the belt and braces, and when certain players were missing from the starting line up, the nerves were palpable.

So let’s be honest - to see midfield players bursting their lungs to get beyond the ball and in to the opposing side’s box as a routine feature of the team’s play - many Liverpool fans are springing spontaneous nosebleeds. Here’s a team that, whether consciously or not, is increasingly trying to impose its game and ‘embrace risk’. Phew. That’s something younger fans will feel excited about. Meanwhile, older fans will feel a sense of familiarity - an old flame may not have returned quite yet, but we’ve read the telegrams and we know she’s on her way.

To play that way consistently, you need each and every player on that pitch to trust his team mates, give them options when they have the ball, and believe that playing this way will work - that their football will develop if only they stick with it.

Kenny learned his trade under Bob Paisley, who in turn had honed and refined the club’s methods year on year until they worked like clockwork. As a result, you get the feeling it’s sometimes difficult for those involved to express why it worked. Sure, the team passed and moved, but there was more to it than that. There were subtleties that provided the foundation for that approach.

As a result we can only speculate as to its structure, but like the little ball suspended in a game of Kerr Plunk, it only stays in place as long as its foundations are secure. Mourinho states this well on our behalf. In his autobiography he hints at the key supporting ‘structure’, based on his time at Porto. The recipe was clear: always reinforce the squad’s confidence and belief and solidarity with each other. If anything’s threatens them, address the problem toute de suite. In his case, the confidence allowed his side to start out with compactness and control, then to develop their play before moving on to try and dominate, even when playing away. The side’s sense of security in its own ability and its chances were the core of it.

Some managers don’t worry about those things. Indeed, when they were in their pomp, Liverpool managers probably didn’t need to. But if it’s missing, you’re wise to manage it actively. And again, whether it’s conscious or whether it’s something so fundamental to his being that he does it naturally, Kenny is setting about putting that foundation back in place.

To me, that’s what’s intriguing about the 4-3-3 we’ve seen from time to time thus far. Based on anecdotal evidence, we’re hearing that he uses coaching methods that encourage pass and move. And on top of that, (as is possibly natural for him) he’s set about restoring and building the group’s confidence. That applies to individual players, but also extends to a protective arm around the squad as a whole, the club’s staff, the directors and owners, and last but not least, the fans.

In a progressive 4-3-3, players have to trust and rely on each other, particularly in the midfield. When players commit themselves to forward runs, they need to be comfortable that the players in the team’s spine won’t concede possession cheaply. If that happens, teams can outman you on the counter-attack, and we saw what happened when we lost the ball at Blackpool. Having started out with confidence and swagger, you cold see the team’s confidence seep away as the game progressed, to the extent that what started as an effective passing unit saw its distribution disintegrate, and reverted to withdrawing to the edge of its own box and hitting the ball long (and relatively aimless).

Contrast that with the 4-3-3 in the next away at Wolves. Again, the latter stages saw Liverpool retreat, but the forward forays in the latter stages demonstrated the group’s growing familiarity, solidarity and confidence. A 31 pass move led to the third goal. The first saw four - that’s “four” - players in and around the box as the ball was delivered in to the striker. Panning the crowd, we hadn’t seen that many televised nosebleeds since the Mayor of Roston Vasey expired.

And so it’s progressed. The formation may have changed - see the home game against Stoke, for example - but the overwhelming theme has been a progressive, imposing balance with an emphasis on passing and movement - on retaining possession. That’s what Liverpool football is all about in my book, and the more they practice it, the more automatic it becomes.

So how does Kenny reintroduce that approach? Over to Hansen, someone we’ve become more used to disapproval from of late.

“As soon as Kenny went in there he wanted his Liverpool team to move better… He told Steve Clarke what he wants to see and that’s a return to the traditional pass and move Liverpool values.

“We used to do this function at Liverpool, one of the few training functions we ever did, where the man in possession had to move after passing the ball.

“If he didn’t move a foul was awarded and the team he was playing for lost possession.

“You wouldn’t believe how many times players got caught out for not moving, but it became a natural thing for us to do after passing the ball.

“It was drilled into us that when a man is in possession, if people are moving then it is easier for him to play a pass. That is exactly what has been missing from Liverpool, especially away from home, and it’s what Kenny is trying to restore.”

It’s hard not to read that without glee really. Instead of a reliance on one or two players who ‘make the play’, keep things flowing, provide security and make things tick, the team will learn to rely on each individual. That leads to more options for the man on the ball - a ‘combinatorial explosion’. The thought of it makes me smile from ear to ear. And more importantly, it means an alignment with what’s happening at the lower levels within the club.

Trust In Youth

While Kenny introduces the senior squad to his methods, Borrell and Segura are cementing the exact same principles in the players and staff coming through the Liverpool ranks. So it was interesting to see Kenny take two junior players and ‘induct’ them formally into the senior squad. It’s a good idea in practical terms, as they’ll know the ropes and they’ll know what’s expected of them. But beyond that, it serves as a rite of passage for the players themselves, and as demonstrable motivation for the other kids when the players return to the Academy.

Frank McPartland explained how it all happened.

“I was at home relaxing on Sunday night when the phone rang.

It was the boss. He told me he’d be down to the Academy on Monday morning at 9.30am sharp and to make sure I had the kettle on!

So, we got everyone together first thing the next day and got them to dress smart for the occasion.

When Kenny arrived we had a quick cup of tea and then he addressed everyone - both Academy staff and players.

He told us that he is focused on spreading the message that this is ‘one club’ and is very keen for us to get together with the staff from Melwood to actively talk about our young players.

He wants to get down here as much as possible.

He assured the players that there would be big opportunities ahead for them to be involved in first-team training sessions and that some of them will be going away with the first-team for Barclays Premier League games so they can sample the experience of it all.

The impact on the young players themselves was confirmed by Connor Coady.

It was just a normal day to begin with. I arrived at the Academy ready for training and was informed that Kenny Dalglish was coming down to see us.

We all gathered in the Tom Saunders lecture theatre where the boss explained that some of us would be going up to Melwood over the course of the next few weeks to train with the first-team.

It created a real buzz amongst the players and it got even better when he said the names of the two he’d be taking with him.

“Conor and Suso.”

I was speechless. You couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face even if you’d tried.

The next thing I know, both myself and Suso are getting into Kenny’s car along with Frank (McParland).

...I got a firsthand view of just how good our skipper is and it helped hit home what kind of level you have to reach if you want to play for Liverpool’s first-team.

It’s worth reading through the entire article, because once again it underlines several key points. Kenny is actively leading - aligning the club at all levels. The players’ mood and cohesion as a group are improving. The players are being actively coached in possession football, and last but not least, our Academy prospects know just how much work they still have to do to truly reach the top level. It’ll ground them and keep them hungry - a great lesson to learn for a modern youth footballer, with agents and hangers on all too keen to turn their heads, even at a tender age.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen Martin Kelly start every game for Kenny, with hints of an England call up, and greater involvement for Jonjo Shelvey. It remains to be seen how this will develop, but the club has a number of talented youngsters in the first team set up, and you can only hope he will continue in this vein. He has a way with people, and they’ll know what’s needed to assert their claim. Pacheco and Wilson have every chance to establish themselves for the club.

The Hymn Sheet

This innate comfort in handling people and understanding what makes them tick hints at the kind of common sense the club needs right now. The club has tremendous assets at its disposal - they just need someone to stop and think about how best to use them. And, it seems, that someone is Kenny Dalglish.

The club, following arguably two decades of off-pitch decline when compared with its direct competitors, had that decline thrown into sharp focus with three years under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. It became second nature for staff employees to fortify the ramparts of their own little domain within the club, and all the evidence pointed at a massively dysfunctional organisation. As a wise and clever man once wrote on the subject, fish rot from the head.

FSG, from the day they took over the club, resolved to change things on that front. One of the key messages was that they wanted to unify everyone and ‘get everyone on the same page’. Indeed, in his recent correspondence with Spirit Of Shankly, John Henry provided us with the clearest insight yet into the club’s ‘mission statement’.

As you read the following passage, ask yourself who might help reinforce each of the four sides of John Henry’s ‘square’. You’ll quickly realise that’s a rhetorical question.

You undoubtedly know even better than us that Mr. Shankly firmly held the following view: “At a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don’t come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques.”

But the world now has changed as directors can drive a team into bankruptcy or provide the underpinnings for success. And it truly takes a substantial organization to produce the kind of players required to win consistently at the highest leve in the world. So in the 21st century we must move from a trinity to a square – four equally important sides to long-term success:

1. We must have more than the right manager for the long-term – we must have the best football operation in the world. That cannot be based on any one person because if that person leaves, you must rebuild. LFC needs stability. LFC must have a philosophy that endures and is in the hands a group of people devoted to the Club who work together for someting much larger than themselves. We will seek a group of professionals who feel what Shankly felt early on – that they are privileged to work at the greatest football club in the world and for this group of supporters who care more tha anyone else. They must put LFC’s interests squarely in front of their own.

2. We must have players who feel a responsibility to the Club and the supporters. We must say to them, “Gentlemen, you play for a Club that has an incredible history – where extraordinary events have taken place that captured the hearts of people around the world. It wasn’t chance that created such a huge and passionate base of supporters as far away as Asia where millions root for you ech match. They root for you because over the years Liverpool had men like you wearing red who did astonishing things – surprising things – exciting things. Your career has resulted in you – right now – playing for one of the greatest clubs in history – perhaps the most beloved club in football history. You may never again have an opportunity like this.” We need to know that every player that wears this red is committed to what the club is going to accomplish.

3. We must have ownership that is committed to the principles espoused half a century ago by Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. They were never satisfied with a draw. They were never satisfied with second place. We must ensure that our football operations have the resources necessary to attract the best players in the world to Anfield. That will not be an easy task. Finally, it is up to ownership to ensure that the atmosphere of the club is permeated by a desire from everyone to be on the same page. Everyone.

4. We must have supporters who support the club. We need every supporter we can attract to our club. 100% of a club’s revenues come directly or indirectly from supporters. The more supporters we can attract to Anfield, we can attract to watching matches on television, we can attract to our sponsors, we can attract to buy and proudly wear shirts and other merchandise – who know that by doing so they are directly supporting the ability to win on the pitch, the more successful we will be on the pitch. Ownership has committed revenues to building the club – not to dividends and not to profits. If there are profits someday – then so be it. But they must come as a result of having built the strongest club in the Premier League and for no other reason. Our manifesto should resonate with that of the supporters. We have exactly the same goal. We want the greatest football club in history – nothing less. And we are going to do exactly that. But we will not be successful – as supporters, as owners, as players or as an organisation – if we are not all on the same page. All of us.

To deliver on that stated mission and vision, the club needs as powerful a leader and unifying agent as is available, and it’ll need that agent in place for as long as possible.

There’s a danger that if the club goes down another route with its choice of manager, it’ll miss out on that unifying and integrating influence for all four sides of the metaphorical square. Let’s look at each in turn.

John Henry first talks about putting the right man in place as manager aimed at achieving the best football operation in the world. Expanding on that, he introduces the goals of sustainability and fungibility. One man is not enough. If he leaves, then what happens to the club’s stability?

The stated solution is to engender a club philosophy - something I personally and others like me have suggested is crucial for some time. He then says that philosophy must be nurtured and developed by a group who are devoted to the club and feel responsible for something much larger than themselves. To build that group, then, it’s key to start with a leader who feels that way himself. And there is no other man who fits that bill - Kenny Dalglish is the only choice.

Extending that further, to build the kind of group John Henry talks about and create that kind of sustainability, the leader must be able to inspire loyalty and identity with the club and the community as a whole. It’s interesting, then, to note Kenny’s effect on Rodolfo Borrell. A Catalan whose career has brought him into contact with genuine giants of the game, Borrell might be forgiven for not being affected by Dalglish in his work, but it seems the opposite is true.

I am always striving to improve and it is massive for me to be able to call on Kenny for advice from time to time. I am very lucky to have had his support from day one, even though he may not have known how good a coach I was. I will always appreciate that.

On to John Henry’s second side of the square. The players must feel a sense of identity and responsibility. They must realise that the club is something special, and that playing for it represents a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s not something we can snap our fingers and expect from the off. We maybe need to rely on a proxy until the club’s impact has its chance to weave its spell.

So while it’s tempting to ignore the words of the modern footballer in light of recent events, we have evidence that Kenny embodies the very qualities Henry speaks of, and by extension, you’d expect him to build the same identity with the club. Over to Luis Suarez.

“He [Dalglish] is a person who you respect after only a few minutes of conversation…

“He tried to speak to me in Spanish - ‘hola, bienvenido’ (hello and welcome) - the basics and that impressed me. Obviously, he is a legend at this club… in this city, but I think it’s very important to judge people as you see them rather than just what you hear. He has lived up to that legend in my eyes.

“I could see quickly that Dalglish is a manager and a person who I can relate to and he is very determined to make the team play with a certain image - the kind of attractive football that I want to be a part of.

“He was very keen to bring me here and if there is one person that was influential in my signing it was him. He is very ambitious about the club and is confident he can lead the club back to the top. Now I am here, I do not want to disappoint him in any way.”

But it’s the work at the Academy that will bed in the long-term identity that players feel with the club and its philosophy. Kenny, being the key influence on that, will help ensure it’s central to the club’s entire approach.

On to John Henry’s third side of the square - ensuring that “the atmosphere of the club is permeated by a desire from everyone to be on the same page. Everyone.”

Kenny, since taking the helm, has made that message clear to all and sundry. In fact, some might say he’s spent more time reinforcing that message at club press conferences than he has talking about events on the park.

On the first day of his tenure: “we’ll all be singing from the same hymn-sheet”.

After the Man Utd game: “everybody has to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Whether it’s players, staff or supporters or owners. Everyone has a part to play.”

We’ll return to the interview that featured the first quote in a moment. But rest assured this is a central pillar of his entire approach. He’s intent on uniting and integrating the club. His thinking fits 100% with that of his employers. That’s a good sign.

Which leads us on to possibly the most imporant point. Last but by no means least, John Henry points out the importance of the support. The need for the ownership and footballing staff’s work to resonate with the fans, and the flip side of that - the need for the fans to get on board when that happens. The need for everyone to pull together.

It’s here that Kenny’s first interview sheds most light in my view. As well as the approach on the pitch, the coaching methods behind the scenes, the ability to inspire staff and players, and the centripetal influence that’s gradually integrating things behind the scenes and getting everyone ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’, he’s uniquely aware of the importance of Shankly’s Holy Trinity, and by extension, of this new statement of the club’s mission.

Over to the man himself.

“Obviously it’s a great honour for me to be back in charge of a football club which means so much to so many people…

“I’m a very lucky person. That’s twice I’ve been very fortunate. I came here as a 15-year-old boy when Shanks asked me to sign and I was a wee bit homesick thinking I was too young to leave home. Then I got back as a player and left the club in February 1991. I’m fortunate to come back, even if it’s only to the end of the season it makes no difference to me, this place is very special and all we can do is try our best to move the club forward a bit and try to win some more games.

On Sunday you’ll walk out at Old Trafford to the sight and sound of 9,000 Liverpool fans singing your name - how do you think you’ll feel when you make that walk along the touchline?

“I’ll feel very humble and probably a bit emotional. They know that they’re equally as important as what we are, not just for Sunday’s game but for every game. We might lose a game - not necessarily on Sunday - or we might not play too well and that’s when we’ll need their support. We also as a squad of players and as a management have to give them something to cheer about as well. I’m sure our people will respond if we go out there and they see that our lads are proud to play and that they’ll do their best for Liverpool Football Club. We’ll do our best to get the results that they all want, we won’t always be successful, and to be perfectly realistic I think we have to say ‘Let’s just start walking before we run’. Let’s not go crazy here and think the season changes and we’re going to sweep everything aside now and go undefeated from now to the end of the season. We’re perfectly capable of doing it but let’s be realistic, let’s just go out there and try our best and take things one game at a time…

And finally, what’s your message to Liverpool supporters as we all look forward to your second term as manager?

I’d just say if there’s excitement among the supporters then I can share in that excitement. I think we’ve got to be realistic and a little bit patient. It’s not going to turn overnight. I know there are lots of times when a manager leaves a football club and a new guy comes in and gives everyone a lift, well if the players get a bit of a lift then it has to last for more than one game. We’ve got to get it right between now and the end of the season and as I said earlier, there might be some disappointments but the biggest disappointment for me is if everyone who is involved in this football club doesn’t give everything they have to give. If we do that then we have a good chance of finishing the season well.”

It’s the perfect fit really. As a fan your heart swells when reading his words. And it continues. His words to the SKY pitchside reporter after the Wolves game, for example. The reporter had suggested that fans were demanding news on a mooted move for Blackpool’s Charlie Adam. The Liverpool fan base rejoiced at his reply.

“Well it’s a bit sad when you spin it onto the fans. We know more about our fans than yourselves do, so we know how they want to be treated and they know what we want. They want us to treat them with respect and they want us to treat them the way that Liverpool fans have always been treated by the club, and that’s, if we’ve got business to do we’ll do it behind closed doors, and once we’ve got something, a story to tell about anybody, then we’ll let you know. But we’ve no stories to tell about anything. I know whats going on, but it doesn’t mean to say I’ve got to tell you.”

I personally celebrated that statement as much as any of the goals during the game. To say it resonated with me would be something of an understatement.

So it’s clear where I stand on the issue of his management. It’s clear that the players want him there, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get the results he needs to keep it.

The clearest statement to that end yet, of course, came from Steven Gerrard.

“I want to do everything in my power to ensure that he stays here for a long time, beyond the initial six months…

“I won’t lie. When Kenny rang to say he was coming back it was a big lift.”

“I’d love nothing better when the end of the season comes than for us to be on the back of a good run of results that ensures he gets the job full-time,” said Gerrard, who is currently serving a three-match ban after his red card in the FA Cup defeat at Manchester United, which was Dalglish’s first game back in charge.

“That’s my short-term plan, to give everything I’ve got and all my energy to try to make that happen…

“I love Kenny as a person and I’ve certainly enjoyed the first few days we’ve had working with him,” added Gerrard. “I can see a positive future for Kenny at the club.

“I think he’s the perfect person to get everyone moving in the right direction again. He’s the talisman at this club. His nickname, the King, says it all really.

“He’s the perfect manager and also person to bring it all together. It’s time to re-group and for us all to be pulling in the right direction because this season certainly hasn’t been good enough.”

The club, it seems, has a natural leader doing what comes naturally to him. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the perfect candidate.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I wrote this article mate. I'm confused as to why it's appearing on your blog. Can you explain?


    Roy Henderson


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Quote of the moment

Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.
- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009