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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Source Part 1

Guest writer Ryan McCarthy explores the influence and ideological impact of club legend Kenny Dalglish since his return to the managerial hotseat at Liverpool Football Club.

“He didn’t just build great teams, he built up a club full of great people at every level. He was the people’s man, and he made Liverpool the people’s club which I still think it is today. He identified with the people who pay to come here, and the people who come have never lost that strong identity with the club”.

This assessment of the architect of the modern Liverpool FC and the clubs greatest manager Bill Shankly comes from the lips of one of the club's greatest players and eases us into the psyche created in a small room, the philosophy of Shankly, Bob Paisley, Ronnie Moran, Joe Fagan, Roy Evans and perhaps the last of the bootroom boys, Kenny Dalglish.

When Dalglish returned to the club last January it is possible that at no other time in English football was the role of ‘Caretaker Manager’ more aptly named. The club that had remained at Dalglish’s core throughout his adult life had been bruised by the worst battles of all, the battles from the inside, with each bruise leaving the club looking almost unrecognisable from the one that Shankly built.

Something jarred with seeing Liverpool FC giving SKY News their main on-going news story throughout October 2010 - the victory that was won in Room 16 and then celebrated on the steps of the High Court was a horrible beauty; the story’s ending was welcomed but the re-building process looked more the revival of a club that had long drifted into a coma.

At every corner there lay an obstacle: those loyal to former manager Rafa Benitez, the loving father of The Kop who perhaps never quite managed to master the art of natural affection to his favourite dressing room sons; those who could and would never accept the appointment of Roy Hodgson - the quintessential English gentlemen - to rule over people who were not English but Scouse, and the scars still open from the boardroom battle involving the roundly despised Hicks and Gillett.

Liverpool FC wasn’t just the search for a route to the top of the Premier League or away from the front pages of the nations daily newspapers, it was a club involved in the battle to regain its own soul.

The appointment of Dalglish gave Liverpool something that the club hadn’t the claim to since he left: a manager upon whom the mantle of Liverpool manager lay easy. The harder Souness tried the harder he failed; for all the soul that Evans gave, the job robbed the soul from him; Houllier’s final steps to glory went down the wrong path and for Rafa, the intensity of feeling of what he brought was only matched by watching it slowly and painfully being taken away from him.

Reasonably, there were those that feared Dalglish’s return to the job was an incalculable risk considering the time he had spent out of football, but it failed to acknowledge that football had never left him. The basic principles of good management; how to treat people, and how manage the club, had been gleaned by Shankly’s childhood in his Glenbuck home and passed from generation to generation in that bootroom. For anyone worrying what hand the age of modern football would deal Dalglish, they need not have worried - Dalglish did what all good managers do, he saw it coming and dealt with it first.

The shrewd appointment of Steve Clarke as first team coach was an immediate show of Dalglish’s strength, acknowledging a weakness and dealing with it efficiently gave an immediate sense of calm to Liverpool supporters. The message was clear: Liverpool’s manager was quietly going about his work.

It was in the unlikely setting of Molineux that Dalglish would give the clearest indication that things at Liverpool were returning to the ways they had always been done, i.e. the Liverpool Way. Following a defeat by Wolves, Sky’s matchday reporter Andy Burton - self styled ’on the edge of the game’ modern reporter - enquired about the progress of a transfer bid for Charlie Adam. Burton ended his enquiry by stating that“a lot of fans watching the show today would like to know that if that is getting closer”.

From the moment Burton’s mouth opened and the microphone dangled in front of Dalglish’s lips one could almost detect the predator in Dalglish; he could have been wearing the No 7 shirt hovering in the hole behind the front man, but here we was waiting for the chance to put this reporter in his place like a two yard tap-in. The question gave Dalglish his chance, and like so often on the Anfield turf, Dalglish’s reaction was instinctive, clinical and accurate:

“It’s a bit sad when you spin it on to the fans. We know more about our fans than what yourselves do, so we know how they want to be treated and they know what we want and they want 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 have business to do we’ll do it behind closed doors. Once we have a story to tell about anybody then we’ll let you know, but we have no stories to tell about anything but I know what’s going on and it doesn’t mean to say I have to tell you”.

If Shankly’s spirit had been disturbed by events of the previous three years then this was a moment for it to settle and to see it revived by man almost born to follow in his footsteps. Shanks built it, Dalglish was re-building it, but they both worked from the same plans.

Since then Liverpool FC has returned to the back pages and true to his word Dalglish has done Liverpool’s business behind closed doors. He has known what's going on, as evidenced by chauffeuring Adam to Melwood once the deal was finally agreed, but as Liverpool fans we have felt the respect of being the last to know.


In the second part of this two-part article, Guest writer Ryan McCarthy continues to explore the influence and ideological impact of club legend Kenny Dalglish since his return to the managerial hotseat at Liverpool Football Club.

These days it has become common practice for television cameras to zero in on Dalglish for his reaction when Liverpool score, which is usually arms rising to the heavens; a smile as wide as the Mersey; caught up in the infectious unbridled, childlike joy of the moment. No matter how predictable that reaction though, it betrays the iron behind the smile that has allowed tough decisions to be made when necessary.

When faced with the departure of Fernando Torres before the transfer deadline it was Dalglish who sanctioned the move and took the decision to spend £35 million on Andy Carroll. It is Dalglish who, in the face of criticism for paying big fees for British talent, has entered the marketplace with a clearly defined plan – to buy British, to buy young and create a British core at the club again. He is willing to be judged on his plan, and by the huge cheques signed in order to implement that plan.

Dalglish’s overhaul of the squad has focused on sales as well as purchases, and this part of his plan has often been overlooked. Dalglish has consistently praised the effort in training and the professionalism of those players out of the first team, such as Joe Cole, and he's also said he will be perfectly happy to welcome back players on loan, such as Aquilani. During pre-season he focused on giving time to players that were clearly not part of his first team plans, such as Poulsen, Insua, Cole and Aquilani, speaking of his duty to ensure that all players were fit for the season ahead.

All players trained as one squad at Melwood, no players were excluded or asked to train with the reserves or youth team. Dalglish’s respect for every professional under his management has ensured that even at a time of unprecedented squad overhaul, stories of unrest or dissatisfaction have been practically non-existent. Departing players have left with a dignified silence, mirroring the respect that has been shown to them by Dalglish.

Dalglish has also not shied away from the toughest of decisions. He decided to promote Steve Clarke and recruit a new first team coach and give Pep Segura more responsibility as Reserve Team manager. Then, long-time Liverpool servant Sammy Lee was let go and John McMahon, brother of Steve, Dalglish’s first ever signing as Liverpool manager was relieved of his post. Managers of top clubs live or die by their decisions and in this respect Dalglish has also displayed his ruthless streak.

Such is the focus on a club in this day and age that even clips of the youth teams games often end up on You Tube. One cursory glance at the highlights of the U18s 7-0 win over Preston sees Dalglish on the sideline in his red club training jacket, speaking to Mike Marsh, U18s manager. You get the feeling that Dalglish knows as much about young players such as Brad Smith or David Moli as he does the first team players. He also gives the impression that when we wakes up in the morning his first thoughts are about Liverpool FC, and in the same way, when his head hits the pillow he’s planning for the next day. It feels, once again, as if the manager knows everyone from tea lady to Chairman.

The reconnect with the people who pay good money to see the team has been the most vital. Overseas supporters are just as important to the future of a club as the local support in the modern age, but the Scousers stood on the Kop are vital when it comes to maintaining the local soul of the club.

Dalglish has not been afraid to promote from within, with Jack Robinson, Conor Coady, Raheem Sterling and Andre Wisdom all tasting life with the first team squad. Dalglish’s message to the fans has been that Liverpool has young talent the equal of any other club and he won’t be afraid to use it. The inferiority complex supporters have felt for a while about our youth system has been dispelled.

Dalglish spoke of the need for hard work and unity almost from the first moment he was appointed manager and no-one has worked harder than Dalglish to lead the way. He has overhauled the first-team coaching and playing staff with a clearly defined plan; he has treated players and fans with respect; he has reconnected with the Liverpool Way and his dealings with the press have been first class. Dalglish is managing the club from top to bottom and painting it in the reddest shade of Shankly’s red.

It is no exaggeration to say that Dalglish has given Liverpool fans back their club; and the return to the Liverpool Way of doing things reminds us that now is the time for the fans to offer patience and support whilst King Kenny works hard to re-establish Liverpool as a force in domestic and European football.

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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