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Jan 14, 2011

Dalglish a step out of time?

A lack of sentiment is often placed as a key tenet of the maintenance of success in football. The past should be another country if the future is to deliver more riches.

It is a lesson that once delivered trophies galore to Liverpool Football Club. At the turn of the 1970s, Bill Shankly cut the services of faithful lieutenants like Ron Yeats and Ian St John to build his second great Liverpool side. He, in turn, was shunned by the club once he had taken his leave, quickly finding himself barred from their Melwood training ground as Bob Paisley led Liverpool to the apex of their glory era.

Meanwhile, down the East Lancs Road, it was long speculated that the presence of Sir Matt Busby had impinged on the chances of those Manchester United managers who succeeded him. United were forced to rely on the odd FA Cup win, and look to the Busby era for crumbs of comfort.

Times have changed at Old Trafford, while a supply of sentiment has grown ever more plentiful at Anfield, as a glorious past is cherished against an ever more disappointing present. In turning to Kenny Dalglish, the club's new-ish owners have built a bridge to the past, but this could be a perilous crossing to the future. The signs revealed by a 2-1 defeat at Blackpool were chilling; there was no bounce caused by the Kenny factor. Liverpool departed Bloomfield Road looking as demoralised as they ever did under Roy Hodgson, following a team selection that looked as ill-fitting as any chosen by the unfortunate Englishman.

Relegation is now whispered as a possibility, remote though that still remains. Despite his status as Kop deity, Liverpool cannot afford to have a god that failed. Three games in and King Kenny faces a crucial Merseyside derby, and not in the fashion he grew accustomed to during his previous reign. This is no battle for local supremacy that also holds the key to honours, as in the battles of the mid-late 1980s. This is a game between 12th and 13th in the table, with a loss for either likely to draw the drop zone closer.

Dalglish's return undoubtedly lifted spirits among Liverpool fans, for whom all but the tiniest minority saw Roy Hodgson as the wrong manager at the wrong club at the wrong time. The proclaimed king is seen as a unifying figure, in contrast to the civil war that Rafael Benitez had seen fit to wage, although the Scot's refusal to publicly back the Hodgson regime barely helped pull together club, fans and manager.

The secret was out that Dalglish had wanted to succeed Benitez himself, a fact that would always undermine Hodgson the minute things started to go awry, which they did somewhat rapidly. The fans were soon singing of reliving all their yesterdays for a man who walked away 20 years before. Do Arsenal fans yearn to have George Graham back? Will Bobby Campbell be recalled for an emotional Stamford Bridge return? Would even Manchester United fans want the Alex Ferguson of 1991 back? Those were different times, and they were very different clubs too. That Liverpool still feel Dalglish can revive the club reflects a lack of modernity. But such is the emotional make-up of the club, it is a place where the past must have its day again before the future can ever start.

Sentiment has played its hand, and Liverpool's walk down memory lane already looks full of obstacles. Dalglish's presence is a stumbling block to the no-doubt careful plans of Fenway Sports Group, a legacy of being asked back to the club by Benitez in an ambassadorial role. Dalglish is used to getting what he wants at Anfield, and he wanted the boss's job. Like Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer at Newcastle, the club could not progress until he was given his head, his chance for redemption. For now, any chance of recruiting the manager Fenway want is set to one side while a legend is serviced.

That Liverpool can now be compared to the ever-chaotic Tyneside club signifies a fall from glory into tragicomedy, and Dalglish's return has met with many a wry reaction. And like so often at Newcastle, organisational questions are already being raised.

There is no chief executive at present, and Steve Clarke has joined the coaching staff while Sammy Lee remains. And the return of the king's resulting press conference included the presence of 'director of football strategy' Damien Comolli, a man whose job title certainly did not exist in the days of Anfield's 'Boot Room'. Dalglish's press-room interaction with his colleague was often halting, as questions began to be asked about possible transfer targets, and, pertinently, when the issue of recruiting a permanent new manager was raised. Both remain the greyest of areas after a series of non-committal answers.

Dalglish could hardly deny that he wants a longer term j, though by May he may not crave it so. Such a decision lies in the future, while the past, both immediate and ancient, needs to be cast adrift if Liverpool are to rescue anything from a horrible season.

The present is a team listing towards possible disaster, with a manager whose ring-rustiness looks to be matching the lack of sharpness his players have shown in their two games under him. Dalglish's current aim is not to reach for honours but to achieve safety - some climbdown from his previous time in charge. Kenny or no Kenny, the past must take a back seat if any semblance of glory can be revisited at Liverpool. But for now, that will have to wait. Sentiment still rules at Anfield.

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