Many Liverpool fans were dealt a large blow on Wednesday with the news of Kenny Dalglish’s departure. To many it was a surprise that he was not given more time to turn things around especially after winning a domestic cup and getting to the final of a second.
The cup success suggested that the club were at least pointed in the right direction. This though bore little credence with FSG and their master plan.
Sentiment was duly parked to one side and the bare facts were laid on the table. Liverpool finished the season in 8th position with a points total of 52, some 17 points off the champions league places. In 2010/11 season Liverpool finished the season in 6th some 10 points off the Champions League places. The naked truth of this is; Liverpool’s league form was in regression under Kenny this season.
Considering stage 1 of FSG’s master plan to restore the club to the highest echelon of European football, Henry an astute business man had to do what any top CEO must do, remove who he deemed responsible for his business not meeting their yearly targets. Thus the legend that is King Kenny Dalglish was given his walking papers.
Looking back over his reign it is far too easy to lose sight of what impact he has had during his second birth as Liverpool manager. Not long after Kenny’s return he was being referred to as a breath of fresh air for the club. By December 2011 there was no doubt progress was being made under Kenny, Liverpool looked like pushing for a strong finish in the second half of the season, with champions league football still a very realistic goal.
Sadly though for Liverpool and Kenny this all changed when an injury to a key player changed Liverpool’s destiny indefinitely. Without Lucas Liverpool struggled to reshuffle their pack. Spearing was put straight in the firing line and although he has decent defensive qualities he was never going to be able to cover Lucas’s work load.
Most of which had been covering the holes left in the centre when Charlie Adam was caught out of position. When Spearing inevitably failed to cover those holes, Adam’s lack of mobility was highlighted, that highlight turned to fluorescent when Kenny pushed him to share the defensive duties. Adam finished the season sixth on the table for most fouls committed. Even with him missing the last month of the season that’s a strangely impressive achievement.
With Lucas out and the Spearing / Adam partnership not clicking seamlessly, Jordan Henderson would have been the obvious choice in centre but Comolli’s transfer policy somehow didn’t include sourcing a right sided player. This forced Kenny to stifle Jordan’s progress by plying him on the right wing. There is no doubt this experience will be beneficial for him in the long run but for a team struggling in the league with a patched up midfield it was never ideal for him or the team.
Comolli and Kenny’s lack of foresight is simply baffling. Why wasn’t a right sided midfielder signed instead of the likes of Charlie Adam? Why wasn’t a decent defensive midfielder recruited as cover for Lucas? These are legitimate questions when picking holes in Comolli’s transfers.
The players he brought in for Kenny will be big players for Liverpool in the future; the future though is not something Kenny had the luxury to fantasise about. The future does however point at the crux of Comolli’s problems: Man City have built a title winning squad in a very short period of time, Chelsea before them did the same. Trying to do the same with players high in potential but low in winner’s medals is more of an experiment that a tried and tested method.
New players take time to gel, and when there were injuries to key players like Lucas/Gerrard and a hefty suspension for Suarez the inexperience of Liverpool’s squad was obvious to everyone.
Ultimately though the axe falls with the man who picks the team and sets the tactics, no excuses about players being readily available were enough to keep Kenny in the job after such a dismal league finish.
Dalglish reign did however bring in a strong base for any future manager to slowly build on and he has given the American owners the nostalgic branding that they have looked to retain. Dalglish has transformed Liverpool’s play from a narrow counter attacking team to a wide expansive possession retaining team. Dalglish’s reign may be looked at with hindsight as the first steps of progression for a squad which had certain limitations. Firstly though looking forward, any new manager should consider giving some balance to the wings by signing a natural right winger this summer and sourcing some reliable cover for the indispensable Lucas Leiva.
Does this mean that a flying winger and cover for Lucas will be enough for Liverpool to void the gap between them and championship winning teams? No, I think it will take 2-3 more seasons of steady progression under a new manager to get even close to that position. The question should be, as the years pass us by, will the frustration be too much for FSG to ignore if league success does not come?
They may see getting Liverpool back to the champion’s league as an opportunity to sell on the club.
So to the vacant manager’s position itself; it would seem the clubs options are limited with no carrot in the form of Champions league football to attract the very top managers. It looks like two possible strategies will be up for discussion around the boardroom table in Boston. Do they take a risk on a continental manager with potential or do they look for a manager with premier league experience.
In the past the owners have flirted with Didier Deschamp. However of the foreign talent out there Marcelo Bielsa , Andre Villas Boas (ABV) and Jurgen Klopp rank much higher than Didier when it comes to tactical awareness and club development. The later will be very hard to temp away from Borussia Dortmund, while Bielsa may also prefer to finish his project at Bilbao.
ABV is free and has premiership experience but does he possess the personal skills needed to win over the current squad. After all for Liverpool to move forward all players especially the senior ones must be 100% behind the man in charge. Roy Hodgson at Liverpool is an example of what happens if they are not.
Of the managers a bit closer to home Martin O’Neill and Roberto Martinez are being touted wildly in the press. O’Neill has proven again how robust he is, with a strong turnaround in form for Sunderland. Knowing how he would cope with a step up to a club fighting against the big five is just as much an unknown, as how the inspirational continental managers would fair.
Martinez and Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers, another who has been linked in the press, have both shown serious potential this season with their very refreshing approach to the game. For me however similar to players with potential, Liverpool desperately needs a manager with winning credentials.
Of course if Liverpool are looking for CV’s with wining credentials they should be looking no further than former boss Rafa Benitez. He knows the club and more importantly the Premiership and champion’s league inside out.
He has previously taken Liverpool to within four point of winning the title with a then highest ever league points for runners up. Many will point to the seasons after that campaign but please look at the bigger picture here, Rafa was fighting a much bigger battle than many knew, he was in an unmerciful power struggle with the past regime, his cash flow was strangled as promise after promise were broken.
He remained loyal fighting for a better club, a better transfer policy and a better future. In the end the off field struggle affected the on field performances and supporters grew frustrated. This enabled the then owners that small bit of wiggle room with the fans to allow them to move Benitez on.
With full backing from FSG Rafa has the ability to get the club back on the road to success. However the big stumbling block is his reluctance to work under a director of football. Rightly so as Benitez should never come back under this model, for it to work he has to have full control. Having the Spaniard working under a director of football would be a disaster waiting to happen however.
If FSG want to get traction as soon as possible though Benitez seems the obvious target. If they are going to be patient and look for steady progression year on year then they must break the bank for Biesla or Klopp. Whatever happens this summer it is going to be a make or break summer in determining Liverpool’s long term success, these important decisions are often the ones which cause businesses to fold or soar to the top.
Let’s all hope FSG bring in some seriously knowledgeable football counsel when making their final decision. After all this is football not business, right?
You can follow Justin Kearns on twitter @bettingclever1