However hard it is to take for loyal Liverpool fans who canonised Kenny Dalglish long ago, the departure of the Anfield legend was very predictable and, dare we way, completely warranted.
What we are witnessing being played out is the continued decline of a once-mighty club. Liverpool’s owners are not concerned with the past, they want glory now. Dalglish is a link with the past and his moment of relevance has long passed. To appoint him as manager last year was a mistake and a desperate attempt to rekindle the Anfield of old.
Dalglish’s best days were as manager between 1985 and 1991. He walked away after title wins in 1985-86, 1987-88 and 1989-90, perhaps knowing that the club was about to lose its grip on English football. His cheque book team-building in the late 1980s – the signing of Aldgridge, Beardsley and Barnes almost broke with a Liverpool tradition of patient nurturing of talent and expert “stock-picking” of potential, and it started a broader trend. While the team that Dalglish constructed in 1987-88 was one of the most exciting and creative to be seen in post-war football, it was also a nod in the direction of short-termism. Once that team became less effective, Liverpool’s day was done. They have not won the title since 1990.
Dalglish had success at Blackburn – the first of the so-called “title buyers” – but since then, he has cut a somewhat dissatisfied figure, at least in public. His stint at Newcastle was not a happy one. The local media did not warm to him like they had Kevin Keegan, and his team lacked the joie de vivre of his predecessor. Tyneside may have been closer to his Glasgow roots, but it was a million miles away from his footballing heart.
His return to Liverpool in various roles, made him – along with the likes of Mark Lawrenson, Alan Hansen and countless others – a professional ex-Liverpool player. When he returned to the manager’s job, the Kop rejoiced, but he had been away from the Liverpool role for 20 years. Football had changed dramatically in that time and the balance of power had long shifted away from Merseyside. A Carling Cup win, eighth place and runners-up in the FA Cup was never going to be enough for a club that is trying to claw its way back to the elite.
Just consider where Liverpool are now in the grand scheme of things. Under Benitez, they won the Champions League – how?, you may ask – and had a couple of good runs in the competition. For the past two seasons, they have been out of contention. They have finished seventh, sixth and eighth in the last three campaigns. In the 21 Premier campaigns, they have only finished runners-up twice, third on five occasions, four times in fourth, twice in fifth and sixth, twice in seventh and eighth. Was Dalglish really going to halt a 20-year fall from grace?
While some fans may consider the decision a little harsh on “King Kenny”, it could just be that Mr Henry and Co. have seen the writing on the wall. The Luis Saurez case was badly managed. It required subtlety and diplomacy, the very qualities Dalglish showed back in 1989 when he impeccably dealt with the Hillsborough tragedy. But by claiming the FA were looking for a high-profile scapegoat to highlight their strong stance on racism, and developing a surly manner to the media – suggesting that, in some way, Suarez’s comments to Patrick Evra were “lost in translation”, Dalglish may have revealed he was not up to speed on current social sentiments. The club’s owners may have seen Dalglish as a link with a bygone era and out of sync with today’s game. His record in the transfer market was not good, though. Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson have disappointed, although all three may yet come good. And then there’s Charlie Adam. On the other hand, the man who replaces Dalglish will be Liverpool’s fourth in a little over three seasons, indicating “tycoon impatience” is ruling the roost at Anfield. Perhaps he should have been given more time, but that it is the one ingredient that football managers do not have these days.