Liverpool have been the talk of the Premier League in the past few weeks with the return to the helm of Kenny Dalglish and, in the first of a new weekly column, Iain Swan gives his thoughts on the return of a club hero.
Lo! it came to pass, that on the Feast of Epiphany the three wise men from the East(Coast of America) did beckon the chosen one back from the Holy Land and he was proclaimed the messiah.
Joy at the return of the prodigal (if I may mix my Biblical metaphors!) was short lived. Two defeats on the trot, the first from their hated rivals, Manchester United eliminating them from F.A. Cup, their best chance of silverware this season, the second at Blackpool plunging them into the relegation mire.
Dalglish looked less like “King Kenny” and more like King Canute, unable to turn back the tide of despair that has engulfed Liverpool and threatens to wash them up on the less salubrious beaches of the Coca Cola Championship if they are not careful.
But at Anfield on Sunday there were the first signs that “The Second Coming” may produce a miracle afterall. Whilst Liverpool’s first half performance hardly brought back memories of their seventies and eighties heyday, there were signs of improvement. It was a typical derby, a hundred miles an hour, full of passion and commitment – indeed the most invigorating moment was the Kop’s welcome for Dalglish complete with an impassioned rendition of the club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. There were, however, a couple of moments that suggested better days were ahead.
One was the opening goal scored by Raul Meireles, one of Roy Hodgson’s summer signings who have yet to fully convince the faithful that they have what it takes to play for the once mighty reds, the other was a run and shot by Fernando Torres which cannoned off the post.
It was the Spaniard’s best moment in a first half performance that suggested Dalglish may be able to coax out of him something like the displays that delighted English football in his first two seasons in the Premiership. It was the lack of such that has, more than anything, marked Liverpool’s decline over the past two seasons.
Dogged by injury last season which preceeded a dreadfully disappointing World Cup, despite Spain’s victory, Torres returned to Merseyside lacking fitness and with a new manager; Roy Hodgson having replaced his Spanish mentor, Rafael Benitez. The striker has lived up to his knickname El Nino – the kid, by appearing to sulk like a child during the opening half of the season as Hodgson struggled to steer the reds through the takeover battle and poor run of form.
To this observer, Torres’ body language was indicitive of someone who was working his ticket. He never seemed happy under the Hodgson regime as he battled for fitness and form and, had Dalglish not been appointed, it seemed odds on that Torres would engineer a transfer this summer. Although where he would have gone remains a mystery, his star has waned since the days Chelsea and Manchester City were allegedly willing to pay £50million for his services and a return to his native land seems unlikely as the only clubs that could afford him and satisfy his ambitions; Barcelona and Real Madrid have better options. With Benitez losing his job as coach of Internazionale, another door appears to have closed.
Torres reputedly earns £110,000 per week owes Liverpool and it was the former European Champions who put him on the footballing map following his transfer from Atletico Madrid on 2007. In Spain he was a promising youngster, nothing more, it was at Anfield in his first two seasons that he became a scoring sensation and made the continent take notice.
In his defence, the 26 year old has been the victim of Benitez ‘s unfathomable transfer policy. First Peter Crouch was allowed to leave Anfield, then Robbie Keane was hired expensively and then inexplicably sold at a loss six months later, leaving Torres to shoulder most of the striking duties on his own without a partner or adequate back up when his notoriously weak hamstrings would fail.
That said, Hodgson and the Liverpool fans that idolise him should have expected more from their star striker than a couple of sensational goals against Chelsea and the surly demeanour he has shown recently. To quote Liverpool’s most famous sons, the club face a ” long and winding road” back to where they once were but if Dalglish can get Torres back on track the may find the streets paved with gold and silver once again.