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Sunday 11 March 2012

The Leaving Behind Of Liverpool

[Update at end of post]

In March 2009, on arrival back at Manchester Airport from a trip to Alicante, I heard the cabin crew tell a hushed planeload of punters that while the aircraft had been in flight, Manchester United had been demolished 4-1 at home by Liverpool. It was the latest sign of the continuing improvement under Rafa Benítez: the club posted its highest Premiership points total that season.

But all was not well behind the scenes: the club had been sold two years earlier to American duo Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who, when they were not fighting between themselves, were not taking the club forward, with a promised new stadium abandoned as the money ran out. Uncharacteristically for Liverpool, they are now on their third manager in three years, and have not recovered that 2009 benchmark.

Moreover, it does not look like the club will get back even to a Champions’ League place any time soon: right now, despite all the money expended on players, their league position is no more than two points ahead of Merseyside rivals Everton, a club with a fraction of the resources. Even the recent League Cup win was against a team from the second tier, and had to go to penalties.

And all of this, whisper it quietly, is down to leadership: Everton’s David Moyes – supported unequivocally at all times by chairman Bill Kenwright – is now the Premiership’s third longest serving manager after Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, and his teams consistently punch well above their weight. Kenny Dalglish has had less time in charge at Anfield, but a lot more cash.

Those extra resources, along with the presence of Steve Clarke as Assistant Manager, should have been enough to put some distance between Liverpool and Everton, but Dalglish’s leadership has lacked any inspiration. He equivocated over the Luis Suarez racism row when others would have acted swiftly. His team has difficulty breaking down determined and disciplined opponents.

When Roy Hodgson failed to win over both players and fans, it was a surprise to me that the manager’s job was offered to Dalglish. It was a greater surprise that he wanted to take it on. His record in the years after leaving Blackburn Rovers has been one of failure and then absence. Right now, Liverpool does not look like a team that is going to trouble the top clubs, either this season or in the future.

Liverpool needs a manager who can extract the best from the current squad, and who can put forward a strategy for building a team to challenge at the highest level, rather than being Premiership makeweights – which is where they are right now. That manager is not Kenny Dalglish. But after the League Cup win, there may be a reluctance to move against him.

So it is down to King Kenny to admit defeat and do the right thing.

[UPDATE 1 April 1600 hours: Liverpool at least won the Merseyside Derby soon after this post was originally published. But while Everton have won their other two matches, Liverpool have lost both. So now, after a visit to St James's Park that resulted in Newcastle outplaying them, Liverpool are actually behind Everton in the Premiership.

With seven games to play, they are eleven points shy of any European action next season, and after he got a needless red card today, first choice goalkeeper Pepe Reina will miss the upcoming FA cup semi-final ... against Everton. It is not the Liverpool way to play the dubiously beneficial party game known as "Sack the Manager", but Dalglish is not cutting the mustard.

And he isn't going to miraculously improve any time soon. He should never have taken the job. King Kenny was a great servant to Liverpool FC as a player and initially as a manager, but right now he is taking the club nowhere. The club are in a worse league position than when they parted company with Benítez. The game's up, Kenny]

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