Upon hearing the appointment of Kenny Dalglish in the most dramatic and romanticised of manners last week as caretaker manager for Liverpool until the end of the season, after the debacle of the Roy Hodgson reign, my brother texted me simply saying “Howard Kendall….you never go back.”
Now, this seemed to be a sentiment shared among many fans of rival’s clubs. That Liverpool, in their desperation, had plumped for a manager out of touch with modern football simply due to the overriding notion that a once great coach and players may be able to revive a club seemingly on its last legs. It had a ring of the Kevin Keegan about it. A decision made with the heart, not the head.
But it does all beg the question though – what are the minimum expectations expected of Dalglish? More pertinently, what will it take for him to gain the manager’s position full-time come the end of the season?
Dalglish is likely to be afforded a honeymoon period for quite some time yet, although the man himself thinks the better this ends, the sooner the club can get down to the serious work of cementing their Premiership place in the top half of the table.
For instance, Dalglish was praised for his selections and the formation he chose in last Sunday‘s FA Cup tie against Man Utd. Both of these were chosen by Hodgson before his inevitable dismissal. Dalglish even later conceded that he only first met the players at 10:30 am, the morning of the game. Fans are already looking for reasons to praise Dalglish in comparison to Hodgson. To be fair though, while in this instance it’s obviously misplaced, it won’t be hard on other fronts in the future.
But what if Liverpool continue along their current path of patchy results, stumbling from one game to the next? Does this then rule Dalglish out of the running for the job in the summer?
Damien Comolli, the club’s Director of Football Strategy stated last week that Dalglish would be on any shortlist that decided the club’s next manager and that if he performed ably in his time in charge, that he fully deserved to be considered. Phrasing it in another way – how poorly will Dalglish have to do, for the vast majority of Liverpool fans to clamour for the arrival of a new manager?
Well, during Hodgson’s time in charge, expectations were lowered to such an extent that a malaise has taken hold of Anfield in recent months. Results, and most importantly, performances, lacked fight, desire and any sort of coherent plan. So in that case at least, the only way is up as the saying goes. Dalglish can’t help but inspire some, if not all of that dressing room on match day. The man carries real gravitas and whenever he talks, people listen. He will command a respect from the off and that will surely lead to improved performances in the league. I imagine only if the club somehow contrives to get involved in a bitter relegation dogfight will Dalglish’s services be dispensed with.
But what is the bare minimum that NESV demand during his tenure? A top eight finish has to be seen as the bare minimum. While this Liverpool side, for all its faults, is desperately short on quality in some areas, it still has enough about it, even in a season where the underdogs refuse to resort back to the cannon fodder of old, to achieve this.
Of course, there is also the Europa League. Clive Tyldesley will surely have a field day about ‘Dalglish and those great European nights’ come the club’s tie against Sparta Prague on February 24th. I can hardly wait, can you?
If Dalglish somehow manages to drag this rabble to the quarter-finals or further and maintains a steady, if unspectacular course in the league, due to the corner the sentimental NESV have backed themselves into and the overwhelming feeling of support on the terraces, the job would undoubtedly be his to lose.
Hodgson was brought in to be a steady hand on the tiller as it were. A stabilising force while the club scoured the globe for the man ready to help the club challenge at the very top again. In essence, Hodgson was a caretaker manager himself, just like Dalglish, except his came with a three-year deal and a hefty pay-off. This unfortunately was not the case, despite most willing one of football’s good guys to succeed, his time was one of epic disappointment and his time at the club was anything but stabilising.
The former Fulham manager showed that fan pressure can be an extremely hard force to turn around, and that without their support, you’re going nowhere. Dalglish has this sort of goodwill by the truckload, and rightly so considering his absolutely astounding achievements at the club as both a player and manager.
In short, only a worsening of the current situation, in my eyes at least, will deny Dalglish from the return he so desperately wanted at the beginning of the summer when John Henry et al plumped for Hodgson instead. If he does okay or better, then it will be hard to prise the job from his grasp.