Before providing punchlines to Alex Ferguson’s greatest accomplishments, Alan Hansen played with and under Kenny Dalglish, giving him a unique perspective on the King’s return to (and, as of yesterday, exodus from) the Anfield coach’s box. The perspective, as articulated today in The Telegraph, comes across as the view of an ardent Dalglish loyalist, providing all the leeway you’d expect from somebody overlooking results in the name of a predetermined narrative.
That narrative: Dalglish is an icon and a good coach. If Liverpool stumbled under him, it couldn’t be his fault (this is obviously an untenable way of evaluating managers).
The best example?
Until the last couple of days, though, I do not think anyone saw this coming because there was a feeling that Kenny had done enough to earn another year.
Perhaps Hanson’s speaking about some close knit clan of Liverpool alums that’s called to order by him and Mark Lawrenson after they tape BBC’s Match of the Day, because Dalglish’s firing, while not supported by all, surprised almost nobody. I would be shocked if England’s major media outlets had the copy written the day after Liverpool last the FA Cup.
In one of many moments of inconsistency, Hansen admits the case for dismissal was made while discussing how difficult it would have been to sack Dalglish had Liverpool won their FA Cup final.
… I cannot believe that the owners would have parted company with Kenny had he also guided the team to the FA Cup.
How can you get rid of a manager who wins you two trophies? Had Andy Carroll’s goal stood in the FA Cup final against Chelsea, Liverpool may have ended the season having won two of the three competitions that they entered, so there would have grounds for optimism in the build-up to next season.
It also would have been difficult to fire Dalglish if he qualified Liverpool for Champions League.
For all its inconsistency and seemingly deliberate indulgence of a proximity-induced blind spot, Hansen’s piece is still well worth the read. Parting ways with a figure as iconic as Dalglish is never easy, and speaking as an ex-Liverpool player – one of the more prominent in the British media – Hansen helps shed light on some of the difficulties.
Let’s face it, Kenny might be too big a figure for the owners and the new manager to have around the club because, whoever comes in, they are never going to be bigger than Kenny Dalglish in the eyes of most people with an affiliation to the club.
I think it’s safe to say Hansen’s exaggerating here. After all, Dalglish has left Anfield before and (apparently against all odds) others have managed to fill his shoes. His ex-teammate’s hyperbole almost obscures the real issue he touches on: No matter who comes in, they will be compared to Dalglish by loyalists only willing to look at King Kenny’s best qualities.
That means whomever is named manager not only has to improve results, he’ll have to do so while keeping players content and appealing to supporters – two areas in where Dalglish absolutely excelled. If he has a legion of retired ex-teammates in prominent positions on Fleet Street, that would clearly help. Even if he does, with some of the relationships Liverpool veterans have cultivated with the English media, we’re sure to know quickly if Dalglish’s replacement rubs the Reds’ core the wrong way.
Hanson touches on the concern.
In my opinion, the likes of Luis Suárez, Pepe Reina, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger would be more likely to stay at the club under Kenny Dalglish than anybody else.
Again, it’s a good point that’s undermined by hyperbole. Would the players prefer an eighth place finish under Dalglish to Champions League contention under somebody with a reputation like Guardiola, Mourinho, or Ancelotti? Liverpool’s not going to get those managers, but they can get somebody whose managerial quality falls just short of them. I doubt Suárez, Skrtel or Agger are as devoted to Dalglish as Hansen seems to be (though I may be underestimating the impact Dalglish had on the youth of Uruguay).
Loyalty, however, gives us the best part of Hansen’s piece: his insight into what the Liverpool managerial post must have meant to Dalglish:
Whenever I would call him on a Sunday, I would ask him where he was and he would be down at the Academy. He was non-stop.
So as his friend, I am really upset for Kenny because I know just what it meant for him to be back at Anfield.
He will be torn apart by the way it has ended and the reality that he will no longer be able to go back and mix with the players.
It was the only job he wanted so, knowing him as I do, I don’t think there is any chance whatsoever of him managing again at another club.
Even before reading insight like this, it’s difficult not to feel for Dalglish. As much as evaluating his contributions requires you to put his iconography aside, he is an icon, and not just because he was one of the best players LFC’s ever known. He was an icon because he’s likable, and it hurts to imagine people we like being told they’re being replaced.
For more, go over to the Telegraph. It’s a worthwhile read, one which eventually gets to the heart of Fenway Sports Group’s dilemma:
Kenny has a trophy this season and finished eighth, so what will happen in 12 months’ time if the new man finishes seventh and wins nothing?