Jim White

Liverpool must back flawed Dalglish

Jim White

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Liverpool have provided over the years far more media pundits than any other club. From Jim Beglin and Jan Molby, through Mark Lawrenson to the king of them all, Alan Hansen, ex-Liverpool players stalk the studios and newspaper columns of the land.

Largely they do not see their role as that of the critic. Products of the legend, they reckon their brief is to promote it. Thus, when one breaks ranks, you take note. John Aldridge's assertion this week that it was embarrassing to be a Liverpool supporter at the moment carried much more weight simply because who it was saying it. Aldridge is not one renowned for such angry judgement.

When his team won the Carling Cup in February, breaking a trophy-less duck of six seasons, Kenny Dalglish was asked whether it may prove the starting block, the catalyst to further success.

"It remains to be seen," he said. "But if we stopped right now, it has been a better season than it was last season."

It was as well the manager made that caveat. Because since Steven Gerrard lifted the three-handled trophy at Wembley, Liverpool have lost six out of seven Premier League matches. True, they have progressed to the FA Cup semi-final next weekend, but the aim of Champions League qualification - once a minimum requirement at Anfield - has disappeared as the reds have sunk an abject 34 points behind the leaders, whose name is probably best not mentioned here.

And as they have slipped, so the questions have inevitably started about the leadership. Dalglish may have delivered a trophy, but his judgement in other areas has been demonstrated to be questionable. There's his pointless, irrational tetchiness in press conferences, there's his ill-judged handling of the Luis Suarez business, but most of all there's his signings. Sure, Suarez, Jose Enrique and Craig Bellamy have — at times - all looked worthy of the red shirt.

But Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll must represent the worst return on an investment of over £60 million this side of putting your money into a savings scheme operated by Sir Allen Stanford. Sergio Aguero has scored 24 goals for Manchester City this season while Carroll has managed six for Liverpool. But the Argentine didn't cost his employers four times as much as Carroll. He cost £1m less.

Carroll's unhappiness was summed up in his performance last weekend at Newcastle. Before the game he told us he wouldn't celebrate if he scored against his former club. He needn't have bothered: it was never going to happen. Instead, his game, punctured by comedy diving and headless cart-horsing, ended in a sweary rant when he was substituted. As he slammed his way down the tunnel, it gave a picture of an unhappy player at an unhappy crossroads.

Indeed, Dalglish's recruitment policy could not have been put into sharper perspective than at St James's Park. At Newcastle, canny scouting has allowed the club to find the kind of real value in the market the sabermetrics fans in Liverpool's boardroom can only dream of acquiring. Ba, Cisse, Cabaye, Tiote: real potency at a third of the price Liverpool have forked out on duds.

This is the irony of Dalglish's position: his employers have long since publicly staked their reputation on the pursuit of the economics of Moneyball, and yet here they are presiding over the biggest collection of wasted money this side of a new NHS computer system. Something, you feel, is going to give. Damien Comolli, the director of football, the man charged with finding new talent and currently the chief hate figure on the fans' message boards, must be hoping his long-standing friendship with John Henry is strong enough to survive his profligacy this season.

Yet surely Dalglish is safe. True, he may not have delivered Champions League football, the financial holy grail of any serious club owner. But he has won a trophy, is in the mix for another and, more importantly, has brought life back to Anfield. I was at one of Roy Hodgson's final games in charge of the club last year, against Bolton, and the sense of decline was alarming, most worryingly demonstrated by the rows of empty seats in the Anfield Road stand. The place felt moribund.

Dalglish, by contrast, has filled the stadium, both with bodies and purpose. Unity has been restored. And for all his silly performances to the press, behind the scenes his generosity of spirit has brought a smile back to regulars and staff alike. The fans adore him. And they are the ones who pay the wages. It is a customer service knack all the more successful because there is no artifice to it.

Sure Dalglish needs quickly to address the decline. He needs to re-energise some of his squad. Most of all he needs to find someone other than Suarez and Gerrard to put the ball in the net. They may not be easy, but they are surmountable problems. Things are not going well in the league at the moment. But were Liverpool to part company with Dalglish without giving him proper chance to resolve the short-term issues, that would be really embarrassing.

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