As Dirk Kuyt slotted home a penalty against Sunderland on Sunday it was refreshing to see such unity amongst the Liverpool team as they unleashed the Marmite of football celebrations, the Bebeto baby rock, with each and every player grinning from ear to ear as the paid tribute to Lucas’ new son.
This type of spirit is what has been missing at Anfield over the last 18 months, as unsettled players and greedy owners threatened to destabilise all the hard work of the Benitez era. Roy Hodgson did his best to stop the club sliding into obscurity but could do little to stop want-away midfielder Javier Mascherano from upping sticks to Barcelona.
The exit of a key player can often leave players contemplating their own futures, but if that hadn’t dampened the mood on Merseyside then the dour first half of the season will have. A string of horrific results against the likes of Northampton, Blackpool, Stoke and Blackburn, coupled with a depressing brand of football meant that even the most positive of Liverpool fans were struggling to crack a smile, let alone the players that had to endure the torture that was Roy Hodgson’s training sessions.
The first sign of light at the end of the tunnel came when messrs Hicks and Gillet were finally ousted from the Anfield boardroom as New England Sports Ventures, headed by John W Henry, took over the reins at British football’s most successful club. Although this meant that off-field matters had finally been resolved after three turbulent years, the football being played on the pitch meant that there was still little to be happy about for fans and players alike.
Roy Hodgson had been brought in under the previous regime with a simple brief; to steady the ship, unite the club once again and to make sure that the club remained relatively competitive. Although he failed at the latter, he did manage to unite the club, though not in the way he would’ve wanted.
With the club languishing in the relegation zone there was not a single Liverpool supporter who wanted Hodgson to remain as manager and the Kop was united in their desire for change. After the division over Rafa Benitez’s exit it was nice to see the Anfield faithful all singing from the same hymn sheet, though I’m sure they would’ve preferred to have been united behind a successful Hodgson, but it was not to be.
Hodgson was sacked on the 8th of January and from the darkness of uncertainty emerged a shining beacon of light and hope in club legend Kenny Dalglish, who had been put back in charge till the end of the season. As well as being a great manager with a tactical brain to match the best in the world, Kenny is also a very witty and warm man who never fails to put a smile on the faces of fans, players and even the media. His arrival brought a feel-good factor and a belief that things could be turned around, that Liverpool could compete with the elite once again.
This was not a decision based on sentiment, as many cynics suggested, it was an appointment made in the best interests of the club. Who better to revive the fallen Reds than Kenny Dalglish? A man who was not only the club’s greatest ever player, but one of its most successful managers and someone who knew the club inside out after spending the past few years working at the Academy.
Any doubts over Dalglish’s ability to manage in the modern era were removed after just a few games, as results picked up and the team’s style of play improved as Kenny reverted back the ‘pass and move’ principles that served him so well as both a player and a manager in the past. Wins over both Chelsea and Man United are proof of the impact he has had since his return, as Liverpool climbed away from mid-table mediocrity into 6th.
Wins over lesser opposition were no longer lauded but expected, and draws and defeats labelled unacceptable as they should be at Liverpool. It’s just like the great Bill Shankly said:
If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.
But it was not just the results that left Liverpool fans looking like Cheshire Cats, it was the way in which we were doing it, the joy on the faces of the players that had been absent for so long. The departure of the sulky Fernando Torres to Chelsea and the arrival of enthusiastic duo Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll seems to have lifted the squad, and no longer do the Liverpool players have to try and force their strikers to celebrate a goal.
Off the pitch Dalglish has been a revelation too, keeping the media in the dark over our dealings (the Liverpool way) instead of indulging them like Roy Hodgson. No longer does our manager publically condemn his players, no longer does our manager alienate the youths and reserves.
The emergence of Martin Kelly never would have happened under Hodgson (with opportunities limited to defensive away ties in the Europa League) and is a highlight of the Dalglish era, while King Kenny’s belief that everyone can play their part has given Jay Spearing a new lease of life. Training is more enjoyable too, with dozens of players expressing their delight at the current regime and the excitement about the club’s future.
Happy players are usually effective and confident players, and a smile can do so much for team spirit. While Fernando Torres’ sulky pout spread negativity amongst fans and teammates, Luis Suarez’s grin has given everyone a boost and we have Kenny Dalglish, Steve Clarke and NESV to thank for that.