That this blog is a month old and has not weighed in on Kenny Dalglish leaves it in poor standing in the international blogmunity. Without a doubt, PST’s an inside-out looking team. We take care of our home bases (MLS, USMNT, USWNT) first. Still, we do feign opinions about the broader soccerverse, so we have to have something to say about the sharks circling Liverpool’s iconic manager. Should they pounce or seek other prey?
It occurred to me, while reading Pedro Pinto’s ‘pounce’ post yesterday, that there’s still a ton of noise in the debate. Pinto cites Liverpool’s 19th place in the Premier League since the calendar hit Jan. 1, a data point that may understate Liverpool’s problems. Taking a broader view of the slump, Liverpool’s six losses in seven is their worst stretch since the 1950s. But then you read Jonathan Wilson’s piece in support of Dalglish – saying short-termism is obfuscating Dalglish’s good work (which includes a League Cup) – and you’re baffled. Not only are two reasonable, learned, considerate in-the-knows on completely different sides, but there seems to be little reasonable middle ground.
And it all comes down to criteria. We’ve all become used to the idea that silverware matters, and in that sense, Wilson’s absolutely right. If Dalglish wants to give cup competitions the attention Wilson feels they merit, perhaps that’s admirable. But we’ve also gotten used to the idea that league is the primary battle in the modern game, and by that standard, Dalglish is certainly failing. Liverpool co-owner John W. Henry had explicit top-four aspirations after his summer spending (aspirations few dismissed). And then there’s the standards at a club like Chelsea, where you want it all. There is no reason not to be competitive on all fronts, and even then, you may still be out of a job if things seem to be slipping.
Perhaps the fact that Dalglish hasn’t restored Liverpool to that platform is enough to bring his guidance into question, but it wouldn’t be enough to fire him. Liverpool is one of the storied clubs in England, and it’s insane that we’ve gotten used to talking about them in this mitigating tone, but the path back to the top isn’t necessarily a smooth one. As Manchester City’s shown us, Real Madrid wasn’t built in a day. So it may be best to heed Wilson and take a longer-term view. How is Kenny forging the Liverpool of tomorrow?
But all that leads us back to Pinto’s point: Whatever Dalglish is doing, it’s not working, and there’s no excuse for LFC’s horrible 2012 returns. Those horrible returns are our best indication of what’s coming tomorrow. If Dalglish were only tasked with making progress, a League Cup isn’t enough to distract from relegation form. Had Henry, this summer, asked what all his spending would get him, would he have been satisfied if Dalglish answered “Regression in league, possible FA Cup, but definitely the League Cup”?
Perhaps we should reconsider our piddling regard for the League Cup. Liverpool did have to beat Chelsea then Manchester City before getting to Wembley. But while we’re reevaluating standards, we should also consider how little we’re expecting out of Liverpool. The Reds have only three points from their last seven matches, sit eighth with an anchor, and have scored 36 goals in 33 league games. A lot of those numbers are attributable to a post-League Cup malaise, but allowing your team to be in this deep a malaise doesn’t do much to recommend your leadership.
But with Liverpool already qualified for next year’s Europa League, there isn’t much benefit to canning Dalglish now. They’re not going to be in a relegation battle, and there is little plus to a Di Matteo-esque new coach bounce. And there’s nothing to be gained by showing a club legend the door based on poor league form when they’re playing for nothing. Even if Liverpool bows out to Everton in the FA Cup semifinals, there’s so little time left in the season that a dismissal only rocks a boat for the sake of the waves.
Liverpool and Dalglish need to acknowledge the first three months of this year have been unacceptable. For the run-in they need to establish an acceptable level of play – something that portends well to a 2012-13 under Dalglish – and use that as a benchmark.
Of course, if Dalglish really isn’t the man for the job, that plan only gives him an out.