There have been 7261 days since Kenny Dalglish last managed Liverpool FC, and in that time Liverpool have played 1423 matches, won 3 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 UEFA Cup and the 2005 Champions League. They have not won the league since.
Dalglish famously resigned after a 4-4 FA Cup 5th round draw with Everton – which remains to this day one of the all time classic games. However, it was often assumed that the toll of managing the club during the Hillsborough disaster made him want to relinquish management at Liverpool.
His strike partner Ian Rush said, “He used to take all the pressure off the players and heap it on himself. Looking back, you can see how it all built up inside him and he didn’t tell anyone. It does take a toll when you manage a big club, and he had things to cope with that no one else had experienced – I think he went to every funeral after Hillsborough.”
“It would have been great if he could have just taken a year out and then come back refreshed but it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen.”
Liverpool dynastically passed the torch to Souness and then to Roy Evans, before the club lost faith in the Boot Room, and Dalglish became King again but this time at Blackburn Rovers. Who will ever forget the Kop willing Rovers to defeat Liverpool to deny Manchester United the title in 1995?
Roy Hodgson was treated poorly by Liverpool fans during his brief tenure, but when Dalglish made it publicly clear that he thought he should succeed Benitez, it was almost in their interest that Hodgson should fail. Liverpool and Dalglish only seperated due to exceptional circumstances, it’s only right that he is given the chance to return to club to former glories.
Such was the body blow of Dalglish’s sudden departure in 1991 that Liverpool lost their next three matches. 3-1 Away at Luton who were 17th in the League, the FA Cup replay against Everton, and 1-0 at home to Arsenal who leapfrogged them at the top of the table.
Liverpool lost 6 of their 14 remaining league games in the 1990-91 season, and ended up 13 points adrift of eventual champions Arsenal.
It will be a big ask for Dalglish – quality players will be reluctant to come to a club with no guarantee of European football and with an interim manager at the helm. Besides, NESV might not be too keen to give him money to burn this January transfer window, instead relying on his man-management to propel Liverpool up the table and ensure a reasonable final position before paving way for a clean slate in the summer.
Kenny’s past record in the transfer market has been mixed. His most recent managerial role in the Premier League, at Newcastle United, saw the shrewd acquisitions of Shay Given, Nobby Solano and Gary Speed alongside the less remarkable Temuri Ketsbaia, Stephane Gui’varch and the nepotistic John Barnes (35) and Ian Rush (36).
At Blackburn he obviously had a lot of money to spend, but no one would argue breaking the British Transfer Record for Alan Shearer was a bad bit of business as he went on to life the Premier League title for Rovers, before gaining the club an £11million profit four years later.
Bruce Grobbelaar tells a story on the after-dinner-speaking circuit that one of the reasons for Dalglish’s departure at Liverpool was the board’s refusal to sanction a £2.5m transfer of Shearer from Southampton. A signing that, according to Grobbelaar, Dalglish told the Liverpool board would secure their place as the “top club in England for the next 10 years.”
Dalglish’s transfer dealings at Liverpool were significantly less successful after Hillsborough than before. Pre-Hillsborough it is hard to point to a signing and say that there was an error, which may be as much a statement about the strength of scouting at Liverpool, but the manager had the final say, and to start with Dalglish did not buy rubbish.
Steve McMahon was his first signing from Aston Villa (£350k) and was a central figure on Merseyside for around six years, and sold for £900k to Manchester City when he was past the peak of his powers.
Stan Staunton was brought from Irish Premier League side Dundalk (£20k) and made 148 appearances for Liverpool before Aston Villa paid £1.1m for his services in 1991.
John Alridge, Barry Venison and Nigel Spackman gave solid services to the club, before being sold on again for more than what they cost.
John Barnes arriving from Watford for around £900k was one of the biggest bargains of the transfer market at the time, as was Ian Rush, who returned from Juventus for less than what he was sold for. Peter Beardsley (£1.9m) enjoyed four fantastic seasons at Anfield before Souness disgarded the player in favour of Dean Saunders, a move he would later come to admit was a mistake.
So it’s apparent that shrewd transfers were a large part of Dalglish’s winning formula, particularly at Liverpool, but also in his tenure at Blackburn. A lot of money was spent but it had the successful impact it needed in bringing league success to Ewood Park. However, evidently his post-Hillsborough transfers didn’t have the same level of undiscovered quality his previous signings personified.
Jamie Redknapp aside, the acquisitions between Hillsborough and his departure from Liverpool were poor. It’s completely fair to give him and the club and pass on this, some things are more important than football – but the network did not deliver as it once had. The poor nature of Dalglish’s later signings go some way to excuse Graham Souness’ tenure. However, his own transfer policy does not cover him in glory (think Paul Stewart).
Glenn Hysen was 29 when he arrived and solid – but his capture from under the noses of Manchester United promted SAF to get Gary Pallister from Middlesbrough. An undoubtedly better long term signing, and one that helped Utd bridge and overcome the gap between their league rivals.
Steve Harkness stayed at Liverpool for eight years but only averaged 13 appearances a season over that time. It is fair to say he was not the sort of player a title side required.
Don Hutchinson was a disappointing acquisition on the field, but did turn a nice profit – when the club sold him following a “nads out” incident in one of city’s nightspots.
Jimmy Carter, a £800k signing from Millwall, played eight games for Liverpool, David Speedie (£675k) managed twelve and Ronnie Rosenthal was signed for £1m. Ronnie initially impressed the Kop – scoring seven goals in his first eight league appearances, but only managed fourteen more in the next three seasons and was shipped on for a £750k loss.
So, had Dalglish not jumped in 1991 – Liverpool may not have had such a poor run of results from his departure until the end of the season, and they may even have won their 19th title. But, it is hard to see a sustained challenge from *that* Liverpool team, even if Beardsley and Staunton had stayed. He would have had to refresh the team, and his 89-91 signings do not give you counterfactual confidence that he would necessarily get it right, that’s disregarding Grobbelaar’s comments on a potential Shearer signing.
Can you imagine Liverpool with Alan Shearer, knowing the partnership he forged with Beardsley for England and Newcastle?
Graham Le Saux and not Julian Dicks comes in at left back, and he befriends a young academy prospect called Robbie Fowler.
Henning Berg is added for £400k, Rob Jones is still picked up by the scouting network, Tim Flowers is the long term successor to Bruce Grobbelaar and Steve McManaman comes through the ranks.
That is a team that could have challenged for titles in the early 90s, instead King Kenny took his gifts to Ewood Park and we know he did deliver there, albeit briefly.
Is ten years out of management too long? Can Dalglish motivate a side of underperforming players that Liverpool somewhat overpaid for?
If anyone can, he can – and I for one wish him all the success in the world.
Follow James on Twitter, @thejamesdixon.