At the full-time whistle last Saturday at Anfield, Liverpool were booed off the pitch but the same fans still sang Kenny Dalglish’s name. Dalglish is not liked or respected at Anfield, he is loved and admired.
As a player, he won the league championship seven times (twice whilst player-manager), the FA Cup twice (both as player-manager), plus three European Cups and one European Super Cup. Another league title followed as manager in 1989/90 – the last in Liverpool’s illustrious history. During his first managerial stint, Dalglish’s Liverpool won 218 games out of 371. A win ratio of almost 59%. Then, in 1991, the Scotsman shocked the footballing world by announcing his resignation whilst Liverpool were still topping the league by three points.
During the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s Anfield was the fortress of English and European football. A far cry from today’s footballing world. Dalglish’s second tenure as Liverpool manager has seen 31 wins in 64 games, a miserable win ratio of 48% which is only higher than Graeme Souness and ‘Woy’ Hodgson when compared to other Liverpool managers in the last 20 years. This season, Liverpool have played 15 league games at Anfield, winning a dismal five. Saturday’s defeat at home to Wigan (who remain unbeaten against Liverpool in three years) raised more than a few eyebrows. Liverpool are on their worst run at Anfield since 1953 when they were relegated. Saturday’s shock defeat compounded the disastrous midweek performance at Loftus Road as they let a 2-0 lead slip with 14 minutes to play against QPR. Liverpool have now lost five of their last six Premiership games. The ray of light in this sequence was the Steven Gerrard inspired 3-0 win over local rivals Everton.
King Kenny has been attacked by the media, but the fans’ loyalty will not buckle. Liverpool ended their six-year silverware drought last February by winning the Carling Cup. A win on penalties against second tier Cardiff resulted in substantial optimism for the future. At the time, John W Henry said, ‘our supporters have been through so much off the field, to win the silverware for the first time in six years is to bring back the kind of excellence they are used to.’ Not sure whether I would be offended if I were a Liverpool fan. League titles is the kind of excellence Liverpool fans expect to get back to – not scraping past the likes of Cardiff on penalties in the Carling Cup.
The pressure is mounting on Dalglish for Liverpool’s woeful league performance this season (currently sitting 8 points behind sixth placed Newcastle) plus his dealings in the transfer market. During his first stint as Liverpool manager, Dalglish made astute signings in the form of Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, John Barnes and Ray Houghton. This time around, that shrewdness is nowhere to be seen as his biggest signings have cost Liverpool an accumulated £115m and have largely been ineffective (Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Sebastian Coates, Jose Enrique and Charlie Adam). Carroll has been nothing short of a disaster at £35m. Both Henderson and Downing have struggled to live up to the expectations of their price tags. Only Suarez has consistently delivered top-end performances on the pitch but has engulfed the Anfield club in controversy. Dalglish’s protection of Suarez during the Evra affair was solely down to blind loyalty and did absolutely nothing for Liverpool’s PR ratings.
However, there are still eight league games left this season and the small matter of the FA Cup to play for. Liverpool are not in a crisis – yet. Yes, their league campaign up to now is forgettable but they face three winnable games in ten days against Newcastle, Aston Villa and Blackburn before a FA Cup semi-final at Wembley against Everton or Sunderland in mid April. For those nostalgic Red fans, seeing King Kenny triumph over the Blue half of Merseyside at Wembley, again, would be enough to silence the boo’s and keep the wolf from the door for another season.