The willing savior plays scapegoat and we should all be thankful.
By Sam Mathius
Stark numbers, disheartening statistics, and anemic attacking form marked Liverpool’s season. The end of the season was a welcome one, even given the capture of the Carling Cup. Perhaps no one was more relieved to see the campaign end than Kenny Dalglish himself.Now his second spell as Liverpool manager is over as well. The writing has been on the wall since the sacking of Damien Comolli as the club’s Director of Football in April. In the wake of that development, Dalglish did the admirable thing even if it didn’t do him any favors: he didn’t distance himself from Comolli’s record of subpar signings for the club. With Jose Enrique providing the exception, the likes of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, and Charlie Adam headlined a group of new players that failed to find their feet in the squad. Downing never got going (0 goals and 0 assists in the league) and only looked confident and willing to take on defenders down the wing in a handful of games. Henderson was often an absent bystander on the field, trying to find some way to influence the game as he was shuffled between the right flank and central midfield. Adam displayed some of the more suspect tackling ability in Europe this season.
It seems harsh to axe Dalglish in the wake of an unprecedented class of flops but he ultimately had to take the brunt of the blame. Some of the Scots tactical decisions were suspect. It was never going to be easy to fill the Lucas sized gap in the midfield; however, a reckless Charlie Adam was not the answer. It took several weeks for Dalglish to put faith in a young Jay Spearing who lacked Adam’s passing ability but was a much more assured presence to buffer attacks from the back line. That’s even considering the wee man’s many rush of blood to the head moments.
The management of Downing and Henderson were equally bewildering at times. Alternate options were spurned in favor of keeping out of form players in the lineup. The experience and clever play of Maxi Rodriguez was often left on the bench while an expensive Downing made the same uncreative runs and passes down the left side of the pitch. A confident Jonjo Shelvey was recalled from a promising loan spell at Blackpool after Lucas’ injury, only to sit on the bench as Henderson did little to warrant the number of starts he made. Token appearances at the end of the season showcased a Shelvey that looked sapped of confidence and unable to make simple passes. Dirk Kuyt was another player who seemed to be shunned in favor of Henderson, despite the young Englishman looking confused and lost on the flank.
It’s far from being a singular an explanation for a poor season and is a harsh assessment of Dalglish’s managerial ability. There were a number of factors that made this year a difficult one for the manager and club. The Luis Suarez racism scandal was a delicate situation that provided an endless distraction for the club. An attack labeled as being toothless was simply unlucky at times. With 488 shots taken, only one club (Chelsea – 489) took more shots in the league this year. According to BleacherReport, Liverpool hit the post or missed penalties on twelve occasions in the league up to the March 3rd loss to Arsenal. Had each strike gone in, it would have resulted in an additional eight points for the Reds. Even so, factoring that in, a Champions League spot wouldn’t have been in the cards. Still, that loss to Arsenal was demoralizing. In that game alone, a penalty was missed and the post was struck twice. What could have been a 4-2 win for Liverpool, who played the better football on the day, was a heartbreaking loss that effectively ruled us out of the race for fourth. Of the twelve league matches after that game, the Reds lost seven including low-lights against relegation candidates Wigan and QPR.
With the continual increase of quality competition in the EPL, it’s difficult for all managers to meet and exceed expectations, particularly when luck hasn’t been on your side. Had the attacking ability of the club been augmented by a bit more confidence, depth, and luck the season would have turned out much differently. After all, Liverpool’s defensive record was the third best in England, just after Manchester City and Manchester United.
Kenny Dalglish will always be King. His reputation hasn’t been tarnished as many fear. The last several years have been difficult for the club on the field and this season wasn’t going to be any different. Don’t forget that Dalglish was very much the club’s savior after Roy Hodgson’s departure. He pumped life, confidence, and excitement for the next season into the team and fanbase.
Even so, some things can’t be ignored, particularly his tactical approach. Too often it was stale and uninventive despite stagnant play that was cagey and negative. The desire to take a chance and mix things up was ironically absent from a club led by a man who reached legendary status for his creative attacking skill.
Perhaps we’ve asked and expected too much from a man who has already given everything to the club. A slow process of rebuilding in the wake of those former owners who shall not be named started with the appointment of our King. He was the only one that we could rely on. He was the only one we could ask to make the sacrifice. Keep in mind, he was never labeled as a long-term solution, more so a bridge through a difficult period that realistically wouldn’t bear fruit for the club. He placed his excellent record and hero status on the line to take a chance on a club that was lacking in many departments.
An eighth-place finish seems like a failure after a summer of heavy spending. However, placing this last year in the context of Liverpool Football Club’s recent history, fans may look back on this year as being one of the bet managerial jobs ever done. It would be a travesty to think less of a man’s reputation for leading us to two cup finals, humbly playing the scapegoat in the Suarez-Evra saga, and most importantly never dropping his head while serving the club with grace and pride. Instead of diminishing his illustrious record with Liverpool Football Club, Kenny Dalglish has only enhanced his standing with his second spell as manager. In many ways, he’s brought us through the fire. For that he deserves our best wishes and total respect. The King he will forever be.
Now it’s time to move on. The names that have been knocked around to fill the managerial position include Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Martiniez, and Rafa Benitez.
Let us know what you think about Kenny’s departure and whom you want to see in charge. Comment below.